As someone who, admittedly, hadn’t been paying much attention to the NFL Draft until just before it started, I was startled to find that the #1 overall pick, Eric Fisher was from lowly Central Michigan from the MAC. Now certainly I do not wish do denegrate the MACtion the Mid American Conference provides, but the MAC isn’t the first conference most people think of when thinking of a first draft pick. However, it makes sense that he was an offensive tackle, because the midwestern schools are well known for producing great offensive linemen. Play up the cornfed farmer stereotype all you want, the lines are big and strong in the Great Lakes and Great Plains. Then again, one thing you always need from an offensive lineman is stability, and the MAC is as close to stable as any FBS conference can be. Since this latest merry-go-round started up, all the MAC has done is lost Temple and added UMass, both only in the MAC for football.
Along that line, I decided to take a look at the first round draft picks and see what players have had to deal with conference realignment during their college tenure. Many players joined a team expecting to play in one conference, only to be part of another conference before they left for the NFL. For this, I will consider all schools that have moved between 2008 and 2012, as well as a seperate category for schools leaving for another conference this summer. (I realize that there are underclassmen that didn’t play all four years, but all the first-round draftees were from FBS schools, only Western Kentucky realigned in FBS in 2009 and 2010, and the Hilltoppers didn’t get a first-round draftee.)
In all, 17 current FBS teams were in different conferences for 2008 than they were this year. At least another 23 current FBS teams will change conferences in the next three years, with another 5 leaping from FCS to FBS. With this in mind, seven of the first 32 players drafted come from schools that changed conferences, or have announced they will by 2015. The highest drafted was #2 Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M, who left the Big 12 for the SEC starting last season. #5 Ezekiel Ansah played for BYU, who left the Mountain West for football independence in 2011. #8 Tavon Austin starred for West Virginia, who left the Big East for the Big 12 this past summer. #12 D.J. Hayden left Houston, who will themselves leave Conference USA behind for the AAC, or The American, as they prefer it. #13 Sheldon Richardson played at Missouri, who made the Big-12-to-SEC jump with Texas A&M this last season. #14 Star Lotulelei played for Utah and saw his team leave the Mountain West for the Pac-12 in 2011. Finally, #19 Justin Pugh played for Syracuse, who leaves behind the Big East and says hello to the ACC next year. (Pugh was also the only player drafted from this year’s Big East in the first round, so the debate about whether the transition from the Big East to the American is a moot point thusfar.)
Also of note, 27 of the 32 first round draftees came from one of the big five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), though the Big Ten only had one in Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick. The other six were from Central Michigan (stable in the MAC), BYU (went indy, rumored to join a few different conferences), Houston (moving to the American), Syracuse (moving up to the ACC), and Notre Dame (solidly indy, though starting the scheduling thing with the ACC). Other than the draft’s #1 pick, the other four from outside the power conferences are all touched by realignment, and might have their team’s performance partly to thank for the promotion.
I’m planning to do a wrapup after the draft completes covering the full list of players drafted from realigned schools, so keep your eyes peeled for that. This is Nathan, hoping your team’s early drafts pan out, and a diamond in the rough falls to your team’s late-round picks.