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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

The Big 12's NFL Problem

Gerald McCoy, 2010 NFL Draft
Before life intervened, I had been meaning to write for a week or so about the ballyhooed analysis that Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants published earlier this month about college football programs and NFL player development.

Anyway, for Sooner Nation and other fans from around the Big 12, the major takeaway from the BHGP study is that the numbers indicate the league blows when it comes to developing players for the big time. (This jives with College Football Matrix's recent comparison of recruiting and draft picks.)

Of course, this raises the question of why Big 12 programs apparently sucks at developing NFL prospects. Some of the potential explanations percolating in the blogosphere:

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1. It's the Style, Stupid

Football purists who despise the Big 12's fondness for pass-heavy offensive attacks will certainly gravitate towards one BHGP explanation: The spread doesn't prepare players for the next level.

Simply put, the prototypical, Big Ten style of smashmouth football better equips players for the pros. Exhibit A would be the breakdown of the Big 12 versus other conferences in linemen and defenders.

2. Texas Sucks

Brian Cook of MGoBlog intimates that the Rivals recruiting service, which provides the rankings upon which BHGP bases its analysis, has a bias towards Texas talent and tends to inflate the rankings of the state's players. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a conference that feeds from the Lone Star breadbasket underperforms in April.

(Conversely, Cook contends the recruiting services don't scout the Midwest particularly well, which is why the corn-fed Big Ten overachieves in the draft.)

3. Continuity

BHGP notes that the programs at the top of the developmental food chain enjoyed notable stability during the period in question. The benefits of this continuity are supposedly three-fold:

  • less turnover in the coaching ranks means less turnover in personnel as well and more time to work with players;
  • long-tenured coaching staffs can mine contacts in their wheelhouses to find under-the-radar recruits; and
  • coaches with more goodwill have a longer leash when it comes to taking a chance on less-heralded recruits.

Because the Big 12 tends to chew through coaches more quickly than the other major conferences, it would stand to reason that the conference would struggle to achieve its pro potential.

I suspect there may be some kernels of truth in these three explanations. I'll go ahead throw another hypothesis out there: What if programs don't "develop" NFL players so much as "accrue" them?

Wisconsin Badgers Offensive LineSay there really are meaningful difference in styles and philosophy between a conference like the Big Ten and a conference like the Big 12. That would likely require recruiting different types of players. A no-huddle, spread team would go after lighter, quicker offensive linemen, for example. A defense in a grind-it-out league would have to be built around beefier players in the front seven. And so on.

If the pro game more closely resembles one style versus the other, it follows that NFL teams would gravitate towards players from one conference over the other. Note, though, that under such a system, the college game serves more as a sorting mechanism for the NFL, as opposed to a true "finishing school" where prospects learn skills that will translate into the next level.

For recruits, that would mean your odds of making the league don't actually begin to improve or worsen when you pick which school you will attend. That die is more likely to have been cast when the scholarship offers started showing up.