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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

The SEC Wins Again; the SEC Always Wins

College football’s version of Catch-22 goes as follows: The SEC wins national championships because the best recruits opt to play in the SEC; the best recruits opt to play in the SEC because not only do they win – earning national attention in the process – but they also play against the best; by playing and succeeding against the best, these players go high in every spring’s N.F.L. draft; and because players from the conference are taken high in every spring’s N.F.L. draft, the best recruits opt to play in the SEC. This will end when another conference offers to prospective recruits just what the SEC can offer, and not just over one season, but over the span of several years.

Once again, the SEC dominated the first round of the N.F.L. draft: eight of the first 18 picks came out of the SEC and nine in the opening frame overall – 10 if you count Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, which joined the conference the second the Aggies closed out the 2011 season with a win over Northwestern.

It’s hard to believe that one league can so thoroughly dominate college football’s defining storylines both on the field and off, winning hardware in January and again, in a way, in April. Even if the Pac-12 and Big 12 were the first conferences off the board last night, it has only been a year since the SEC, in former Auburn star Cam Newton, had the first quarterback and player come off the board.

This year, the SEC had to wait until the third pick, when Cleveland — which swapped picks with Minnesota — moved up to take Trent Richardson. The SEC would have another three players go in the top 10: Mo Claiborne to Dallas at No. 6, Mark Barron to Tampa Bay at No. 7 and Stephon Gilmore to Buffalo at No. 10.

Again at No. 12, when Philadelphia moved up to grab Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox. Two picks later, L.S.U. defensive tackle Michael Brockers went to Arizona. Then Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17; Melvin Ingram to San Diego at No. 19; Dont’a Hightower to the Patriots at No. 25. Nine of your first 32 picks, including five — Claiborne, Barron, Brockers, Kirkpatrick and Hightower — who played in January’s B.C.S. title game.

It was the SEC’s day, once again, just as it was at this time a year ago, and just as it was in January. Alabama, for the second straight year, had four players go in the first round. Six of those eight players were from the same recruiting class, which boggles the mind. In one class — roughly 25 recruits — Nick Saban and his staff signed six future first-round picks. Only in the SEC.

The full conference breakdown: nine from the SEC, five from the Big 12, four from the Pac-12, four from the Big Ten, three from the A.C.C., two from the Big East, two from the Mountain West, two from Notre Dame and one from Conference USA. Both of the Mountain West’s representatives, Shea McClellin and Doug Martin, came from Boise State.

The Big Ten didn’t have a player come off the board until the 23rd pick, when Iowa’s Reilly Reiff was taken by Detroit. That started a run of four Big Ten players in eight picks, but the league hadn’t had its first player taken that late in the draft since 1968. Illinois had two first-round picks — Whitney Mercilus to Houston at No. 26 and A.J. Jenkins to San Franciso at No. 30 — which reveals, once again, that Ron Zook can recruit as well as anyone. Zook is no longer employed at Illinois for a reason.

Brandon Weeden, who went 22nd overall to Cleveland, is the same age or older than all but 10 players currently on the Browns’ roster. Weeden, 28, is obviously not your typical quarterback prospect; by taking him that high, Cleveland is looking at Weeden to step right in and compete for the starting role from day one.

The three biggest reaches of the first round involved defensive linemen, which isn’t surprising. In a quarterback-driven league, N.F.L. franchises are always looking at linemen as a way to even the playing field: that’s why Seattle reached for West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin at No. 15 — Irvin’s a wonderful edge rusher, but he’s entirely one-dimensional. But if your one dimension involves getting to the quarterback, that’s often enough to move you into the first round.

If Dontari Poe went No. 11 overall, then the starting trio along the interior of Mississippi State’s offensive line should have gone 8th, 9th and 10th. With his blend of size, speed and strength, Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, who went No. 21 to New England, should have dominated the Big East; instead, Jones never came close to turning his immense physical gifts into high-level production.

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  1. Woodysc says:

    Of course, Baylor had more first round picks then Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, and Miss. St. combined!

    As did Ok. State, Illinois, Boise St, and Notre Dame.

  2. Scott says:

    The 2008 and 2009 Alabama recruiting classes were the Luck/RGIII of recruiting. Hard to pick which you’d take:

    Mark Barron (1)
    Terrance Cody (2)
    Marcell Dareus (1)
    Dont’a Hightower (1)
    Mark Ingram (1)
    Barrett Jones (2013 draft)
    Julio Jones (1)
    Robert Lester (2013 draft)
    Damion Square (2013 draft)
    Courtney Upshaw (2)

    Also included Jerrell Harris, Brad Smelley, Michael Williams, and Destin Hood (2nd round MLB draft).

    James Carpenter (1)
    DJ Fluker (2013 draft)
    Nico Johnson (2013 draft)
    Dre Kirkpatrick (1)
    Eddie Lacy (2013/14 draft)
    AJ McCarron (2013/14 draft)
    Trent Richardson (1)
    Chance Warmack (2013 draft)

    Also included Kenny Bell, Quinton Dial, Kevin Norwood, and Anthony Steen.

  3. Eksynyt says:

    No one will ever overtake the SEC. Quite moribund the way college football has become, really. No one else with even a hope.

  4. rammerjammer says:

    you’re dead on Scott with the 2008/2009 stuff, in fact I commented about it on a Bama board a few days prior to this article.

    Also, Darrington Sentimore could sneak in on the 2009 class, even though he is at Tenn.

  5. widespread seminole says:

    This year marked the first time in 25 years that FSU did not put a player in the first 3 rounds of the draft. That will change dramatically next year as the Noles will have between 9-13 players drafted, depending on whether anyone decides to leave early. Jenkins, Werner, and Rhodes are all 1st round locks.

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