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The Big 12's "talent deficiency," in context

After the NFL Draft, a new round of pundits pronounced the Big 12 dead or on life support, the victim of a dearth of NFL draft picks.These reports were greatly exaggerated, and lacked any attempt at context.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the basic tenets of advanced statistical analysis is that an average is a better measure than a raw total. In their rush to pronounce the Big 12 dead, some have forgotten this.

The almighty SEC, winner of zero of the last two national titles, led the way with 54 selections. That's more than double the Big 12's paltry 25.

If your internal radar is beeping, then congratulations. You detected that raw totals may not tell the whole story. Three of the conferences in front of the Big 12 have 14 schools, while the Pac-12 has the number its name would imply. For those who are lagging here, that means all those conferences have more schools than the Big 12.

So let's put those numbers in a more meaningful format:

Average NFL Draft Selections Per School

SEC: 3.9

ACC: 3.4

Pac-12: 3.25

Big 10: 2.5

Big 12: 2.5

The average SEC team has 1.4 more NFL players than the average Big 12 team. Auburn had five selections, more than double K-State's two selections. Good thing. Those picks were worth a six-point win in Manhattan last fall.

If you follow any of SB Nation's FSU alums recruitniks on Twitter, you surely heard them touting Florida State's 11 draft picks. An impressive haul, for sure. You may also have heard mention that 97% of two-star recruits don't get picked in the NFL Draft.

Sorry if I keep triggering that internal radar. It gets annoying, I know.

So Florida State rolled to a national title this year, right? Err, no. Modest Oregon, home to a mere five selections, punked the Seminoles, 59-20, in the semifinals. Similarly untalented Ohio State rolled over both Alabama (seven selections) and the Ducks to win the national title.

It doesn't stop there. Texas had five picks and went 6-6. Oklahoma had six picks and went 8-5. Miami had seven selections and went 6-7. Florida had eight picks and went 7-5.

What have we learned? There are two take-home lessons.

  • Raw totals mean little without context. The average Big 12 team has approximately one fewer NFL-caliber player than the average SEC, ACC or Pac-12 team, and the same number as the average Big 10 team. But congrats on winning April, I guess.
  • A team's NFL Draft selections have less correlation to team success than you'd be led to believe by tweets and superficial NFL Draft coverage. The reasons for this are many and varied and don't require specific explication here. They're similar (in result) to the reasons why recruiting at a non-elite level isn't necessarily a bar to competing at a high level in college football.
  • BONUS: Conference draft selection totals tell you nothing about any individual team within that conference.

Not that any of this matters. Nobody has the attention span for more than a sound bite, so the chart in the first tweet in this post is all most people bother to understand.