Big Ten still excels at player development

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
5:00
PM ET
National signing day can be a bit of a downer in Big Ten country.

As leagues like the ACC annually draw praise for signing a bunch of supposedly program-changing recruits, the Big Ten typically gets nudged to the backdrop. Why? Besides Ohio State, Big Ten programs don't produce nationally acclaimed recruiting classes year after year. Penn State and Michigan will sign some big-time classes, and programs like Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa get on the national radar from time to time. But overall, the Big Ten doesn't have as many sexy recruiting programs as, say, the SEC, ACC or Pac-12.

The Big Ten, in my view, features more developmental programs than other BCS automatic-qualifying conferences. Wisconsin and Iowa certainly fit the bill, and Nebraska, while bringing in decorated recruiting classes from time to time, might be the best example of this genre. Programs like Purdue and Northwestern also have been competitive without scores of elite recruits.

I roll my eyes a lot on signing day. I also look forward to seeing how Big Ten coaches develop the players they get.

This very long intro brings us to a fascinating post Saturday on the Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants, entitled: "The best (and worst) college programs and conferences at developing recruits into NFL players."

It uses recruiting ratings from 2002-08 and NFL draft data from 2004-present to calculate which programs and conferences are getting the most out of their players, compared with the BCS average of number of draft picks per two-, three-, four- and five-star recruits.

Here are the BCS averages:
  • 4.9 percent of two-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 143 (fifth round)
  • 8.1 percent of three-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 124 (late fourth round)
  • 16.7 percent of four-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 107 (early fourth round)
  • 38 percent of five-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 81 (third round)

The poster uses this data to calculate the average number of draft picks a team should produce according to the recruiting ratings. Teams are then judged on Development Ratio.
Take the number of recruits a program turned into draft picks and divide that by the number that an average BCS program would have produced from the same recruiting classes. For instance, let's say some college program brought in 20 4-star recruits, and 80 3-star recruits, and that 15 of them were drafted. The average BCS program, by the numbers above, would have had 10 of those recruits drafted. So our example program has a development ratio of 15/10 = 150%

According to the formula, USC has the nation's best development ratio (184 percent) since 2002, followed by Ohio State (183 percent) and Iowa (169 percent). Penn State and Wisconsin rank 13th and 14th, respectively, while Nebraska comes in at No. 20 and Michigan is No. 29. Iowa's recent run of draft picks cements it among the nation's best developmental programs, but it's interesting to see that Ohio State also excels at turning average recruits into pros.

I was particularly interested in how the leagues rated as far as player development.

According to the post, the Big Ten boasts the strongest development ratio (114 percent), followed by the Pac-12 (109 percent), Big East (107 percent) and ACC (103 percent). Although the SEC and ACC both had more players drafted, more heralded recruits and simply more recruits because of an additional team in each league, the Big Ten elevated more middling recruits to the NFL.

There's a lot other interesting stuff here, but it provides more evidence that player development remains the Big Ten's bread and butter.

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