If new Texas head coach Charlie Strong can be brutally honest about his team’s title chances in 2014, perhaps the Big 12 as a whole should be equally candid about the current talent level in the league as a whole. The painful truth is that it appears to have declined the past few years.
Throughout most of the past decade, the Big 12 has been considered one of the two best football conferences in the NCAA’s FBS division. Only the SEC, with its run of seven straight national championships from 2006-2012, has enjoyed a better track record. Unfortunately, this may no longer be the case. Instead of overtaking the SEC for the top spot, many feel the Big 12 has been nudged back to third place by the Pac-12. And the news only gets worse from there. The ACC, and the Big 10 have positioned themselves to push the Big 12 even farther down the ladder.
There are numerous ways to determine a league’s strength. Web sites devoted to this type of thing are scattered across the internet. But you don’t have to rely on complicated mathematical formulas to realize the Big 12 is slipping. The conference’s performance in the NFL Draft is enough to paint an accurate picture.
Take a close look at the NFL Drafts held during 2009-2012. The first three represent the last years the league actually had a dozen teams. 2012 was the last draft which included Missouri and Texas A&M as conference members. From 2009-2011, the Big 12 had 88 players drafted overall, with 24 of those being in the first round. That is an average 2.44 players drafted per school. Only the SEC (with 25) had more first round selections during that period. In 2012, these numbers stayed fairly constant (25 picks overall, 5 in Round 1).
Last year, however, the numbers slipped. The league produced 3 first round picks, it’s lowest since 2008. Even more alarmingly, the Big 12 had only 22 players drafted, for an average of 2.2 players per school. That is an all-time low for the conference. And if you believe the experts, those numbers are going to dip even further in this year.
First of all, there are only three early entries in this draft from the Big 12. The SEC has 28 and the Pac 12 has 25. At this point, the league could look at the glass as half full and declare that there is a lot of talent coming back this year. There is some truth to that. Both Bryce Petty of Baylor and Texas’ Cedric Reed decided to come back for their senior years. Those two could well be the 2014 Big 12’s Player-of-the-Year on either side of the ball.
On the other hand, this could just as easily be evidence that the talent level in in the conference is dropping. Four short years ago, the conference had nine players selected in the first round. This year, only two (Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and TCU’s Jason Verrett) are considered safe bets to go among the first 32 picks. And according to some mock drafts, the league will see less than 20 of its players’ names called during the selection process. If that comes to pass, it will be the first time since its inception that the Big 12 falls below an average of two players drafted per school. It is time for the member schools to ask themselves if this just a passing trend or the start of an actual decline.
BIG 12 PLAYER PROJECTIONS BY ROUND IN THE 2014 NFL DRAFT
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Will Clark, DE, West Virginia
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
Mike Davis, WR, Texas
Gabe Ikard, G, Oklahoma
Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Ty Zimmerman, SS, Kansas State
Cornelius Lucas, G, Kansas State
Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech
Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
Donald Hawkins, OT
Tracy Moore, WR, Baylor
Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
OTHER POSSIBLE SELECTIONS:
Anthony Fera, PK, Texas
Kirby Van der Kamp, P, Iowa State
John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
Kerry Hyder, DT, Texas Tech