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Friday, April 29, 2011
Does this draft signify a future Big 12 shift?

By David Ubben

The last time Texas and Oklahoma didn't have a first-round pick?

That was 1998.

The following year, Kansas State and Texas A&M battled for the Big 12 title, with the Aggies earning a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Every year since, the Sooners or Longhorns have played for a Big 12 title -- winning nine of 12 championships -- and at least one program had a first-rounder the following April.

Von Miller
Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick, was the first Aggie taken in the first round since 2003.
That streak ended on Thursday night. In a new 10-team Big 12, could we see a new champion come fall? Texas or Oklahoma have won every Big 12 title since 2004.

Oklahoma will be a tough out next year, likely to open the season atop the polls. Next year, they're sure to have at least one first-round pick, and perhaps more. Texas struggled to a 5-7 season in 2010 and will start anew with a handful of fresh faces on the coaching staff in 2011.

But Oklahoma and Texas aside, it's impossible to ignore the rise that other programs in the Big 12 have experienced, culminating in a historic night for three programs.

Excusing Texas' last season, this year's first round is more about Big 12 programs building something big than Oklahoma or Texas eroding.

Want to give your program added credibility? Draft picks are second only to wins in doing so. Nights like these schools had will pay off on the recruiting trail in the future.

Baylor topped the list, adding its second and third first-round picks in Big 12 history. Before Jason Smith in 2009, the Bears hadn't had one. The last time two players from the program were picked in the first round in the same year? 1957.

Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins both were drafted earlier than projected, with Taylor headed to the Cleveland Browns and Watkins the Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, Watkins provided one of the night's signature moments when his five Canadian firefighter buddies cheered him on from the stands with Watkins pointing in their direction from the stage.

Missouri is further along in its own rise, adding a pair of top 10 picks after having none since Justin Smith went fourth overall in 2001. Aldon Smith pulled a surprise, going seventh overall to the San Francisco 49ers, significantly earlier than most mock drafts had placed him, and shockingly, ahead of his quarterback. Blaine Gabbert followed three picks later, when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him at No. 10.

That gave the Tigers five first-round picks in three years after Smith had previously been the lone first-rounder for Mizzou since the Big 12 began in 1996.

Von Miller went No. 2 to the Denver Broncos, the Aggies first first-round pick since 2003.

Missouri's come the closest of any team in that group to a Big 12 title, reaching the Big 12 title game in 2007 and 2008, where it lost to Oklahoma.

Will either of the three teams eventually reach a Big 12 title? Who knows. But it's clear that all three programs have coaches that are getting them closer and closer.

All three teams are deeper than ever, well-equipped to weather this talent drain. Texas A&M should start the season in the top 15 and looks like a title contender. Despite losing Gabbert, Missouri is better than ever nearly everywhere else. Baylor is building on its first bowl appearance since 1994 and has a great chance to exceed its seven wins from 2010.

Texas and Oklahoma have run the Big 12 on the field for a long time. There are no guarantees in this game, but last night's draft is more evidence that their monopoly could be in jeopardy.