Big Ten a real bust in bowls, but draft will be different

Published: Saturday, Jan. 10 2009 9:32 a.m. MST

College bowl game results suggest the Big Ten has inferior talent. NFL teams say differently.

A Chicago Tribune study revealed the talent in the Big Ten, in NFL terms, is superior to the talent in the Pac-10 and Big 12. The only conferences with advantages over the Big Ten are the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In the last five drafts, 166 Big Ten players were chosen, third highest among conferences. The SEC led the way with 192 players, followed by the ACC with 176. The Pac-10 had 157 while the Big 12 had 143.

If you break it down to first-rounders, the Big Ten also fared pretty well. The conference has had 28 such players in the last five drafts, including one chosen first overall_Jake Long of Michigan by Miami last year. Only the ACC (39) and the SEC (37) have had more first-rounders. The Big 12 and Pac-10 each had 17.

The Big Ten's "specialty" is offensive linemen like Long, Dave Diehl of the Giants from Illinois, Steve Hutchinson of the Vikings from Michigan and Joe Thomas of the Browns from Wisconsin. The conference also has had quite a few cornerbacks and linebackers taken.

On opening-day lineups, the Big Ten also fared better than the Big 12 and the Pac-10. The Big Ten had 105 starters on opening day this season, compared with 70 for the Big 12 and 67 for the Pac-10.

Teams from the SEC had 135 starters and teams from the ACC had 113.

In the last Super Bowl, the Big Ten had better representation than any other conference with 11 starters split between the Giants and Patriots, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from Michigan and Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress from Michigan State. The ACC had seven starters, the SEC six, the Big 12 three and the Pac-10 one.

That makes it difficult to explain a 1-6 Big Ten record in bowl games this year (losses to three teams from the Big 12, and one each from the SEC, Pac-10 and ACC), and a 9-20 mark over the last five years.

Colts President Bill Polian, who knows the Big Ten as well as anyone and had five starters from the Big Ten on his opening-day roster, says some of the Big Ten's bowl record could be attributed to unfavorable matchups. In other cases, he pointed out teams from other conferences might have been more excited about playing in a particular bowl than Big Ten teams were.

Polian believes the talent in the conference is comparable to the talent anywhere in the country - with the exception of a handful of dominant schools such as Southern California, Alabama, LSU and Florida.

It's also a factor that talent has been dispersed throughout the Big Ten, whereas in the Pac-10 the talent is more concentrated at USC, and in the Big 12 it's more concentrated at Texas and Oklahoma.

Over the last five years, every team in the Big Ten except Indiana and Michigan State has had at least one first-round draft pick. If more of those players had attended one or two schools, perhaps the Big Ten's bowl record wouldn't be so lopsided.

Quick hits: I have no problem with the Browns hiring Eric Mangini, who had winning records in two of three years as Jets coach. But I do have a problem in the Browns hiring Mangini before they hired a general manager. That is like putting the running back in front of the offensive line.

Great to see Matt Millen broadcasting again. No matter what he did as president of the Lions, there should be no argument he is one of the best football television analysts of a generation.

Goodbye, Pacman Jones. And good riddance.

NFL executives: Chargers' tiny Darren Sproles no full-timer

Given the way Chargers utility man Darren Sproles performed against the Colts, some might think the free-agent-to-be is ready to become a full-time player. But three front-office men who spoke to the Tribune thought differently.

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