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Posted on Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

NFL Draft statistics show how Big Ten football faltered in last decade

By Pete Bigelow

The Miami Dolphins selected Michigan left tackle Jake Long with the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Five picks later, the New York Jets scooped up Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston with the No. 6 selection.

Since then, it’s been a rough road for the Big Ten.

The conference hasn’t placed a player in the top 10 since then, a drought that underscores the Big Ten’s precarious position in college football’s battle for conference supremacy.

That dry spell is expected to continue this week when the NFL Draft begins Thursday night - no Big Ten players are projected to go in the top 10, a consensus shared by almost all draft analysts.


Former Michigan offensive lineman Jake Long is the last No. 1 NFL Draft pick from the Big Ten Conference.

File photo

Eight players from the SEC, seven from the Big 12 and five from the ACC have earned top-10 nods since Gholston’s selection. Is the recent draft history an anomaly or emblematic of the Big Ten’s slide? Consider the following statistics from the past 20 years: From 1991 to 2000, the Big Ten produced 21 top-10 picks, SEC schools produced 19 and Big 12 schools 13. In the decade that followed, the conferences went in opposite directions.

From 2001 to 2010, the SEC strengthened its position, sending 24 players into the draft’s top 10. The Big 12 produced 20 top-10 players in that time. The Big Ten had 11.

To recap: from one decade to the next, the Big Ten’s share of the top-10 picks fell by almost half.

Should top-10 draft picks be too narrow a snapshot of the SEC’s rise, look at the conference-by-conference breakdown of first-round draft picks over the same time period. The Big Ten’s didn’t necessarily slide outright, but the SEC has taken a larger share.

From 1991 to 1995, NFL teams selected 25 Big Ten players in the draft’s first round and 24 from SEC teams. In the past five years, 2006 to 2010, the Big Ten again had 25 first-round picks, but the SEC had 36.

In five-year chunks over the past 20 years, the Big Ten stayed stagnant in terms of first-round picks - 25, 26, 27 and 25 - while the SEC made the biggest gains: 24, 32, 31, 36.

The talent gap helps explain why SEC schools have won five consecutive national championships, why Big Ten schools have won only one in 13 years and why the conference went 1-3 in head-to-head bowl games against SEC opponents this past season.

It was after the Big Ten compiled a 1-6 record in the 2008 bowl season that it commenced an expansion process that resulted in the addition of Nebraska to the conference.

How do the numbers move with the Cornhuskers aboard? Interestingly, perhaps ominously, they show similarities to the Big Ten trends in the NFL Draft. In the 10-year draft period from 1991 to 2000, Nebraska produced five top-10 picks and eight first-rounders. In the 10-year period from 2001 to 2010, the Huskers had one top-10 pick - Detroit Lions fans know him well - and three first-rounders over that time.

As many as six SEC players could be drafted in the top 10 in the week ahead while the Big Ten gets shut out again. The SEC's grip on top talent in recent years is clear. There's not much the Big Ten can do about those figures for now, but its challenge in the years ahead is clear.

Pete Bigelow covers Michigan football for He can be reached at (734) 623-2556, via email at and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.



Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

Let's be more objective. The Big 10 doesn't pay its coaches as well as coaches in the SEC by and large. Michigan is a prime example. Carr and Rich Rod to some extent were underpaid compared to national standards. Saban left the Big 10 for the big bucks and Les Miles wouldn't come here from LSU for half his salary. In Michigan's case something else is operating, and it applies to the basketball program as well. Michigan does not wish to have a high profile coach. It's bad enough these guys are paid more than the college president, but some of them have much stronger loyalties to the profession than to the University. We rationalize it and say they're corrupt or don't graduate their students at very high rates. We always seem to find something wrong with them so eventually they're not hired. But the truth of it is that we are not willing to take a risk on these top coaches for fear of embarrassment of scandals, litigations, and other troubling events. Look at the damage Rich Rod did in the little time he was here. Because of high academic standards and cowardice, we're doomed to have top coaches in major sports (does not apply to hockey and baseball where we have the best).


Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 8:53 p.m.

The SEC is dominating because of rampant oversigning, golden handshakes, and world-class "southern hospitality" from "hostesses" on recruiting visits. Until a school like Bama or Auburn has to actually suffer consequences for their actions, they will keep on doing what they are doing. TSIO is the only Big Ten school that is as corrupt as the top SEC schools are. That is why, despite a head coach who has all of the imagination of a cardboard cutout, TSIO won the Big Ten so many times last decade. I wish the NCAA would either enforce their rules or throw out the book, let players get money from whoever will give it to them, and let Michigan compete on a level playing field.

Jim Nazium

Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

The NFL doesn't care about character or criminal background so much, the SEC embraces thugs, criminals, rapists, arsonists, drug dealers, etc.... and yes, they probably do pay them in dufflebags full of cash. The BIg Ten, ( not so much that Ohio school ) are Schools that crank out scholars, scientists, professors, doctors, judges, lawyers, engineers, nurses, teachers, etc.... and have a Student Athletes that are more likely to become one of the above AND have a chance at a professional sports career. The SEC, well let's just say after their scholarships run out, or they flunk out, the student probably ends up going back to a life of crime and always wished they would have finished their degrees.

George Wallace

Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

I'm guessing you went to a Big Ten school because you certainly sound like a well-educated representative of our conference. Your comments make me proud.


Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

Simple explanation. Ohio State notwithstanding, the SEC pays more. Plus, they probably oversign 30% more players than the Big Ten.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 11:22 a.m.

"There's not much the Big Ten can do about those figures for now, but its challenge in the years ahead is clear." Do you mean to increase the graduation rates of its players while providing a watchable product for its fans? Or do you mean to "step up to the plate" and crank out more employees for the NFL?