April 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Matt Charboneau

Big Ten comes up short in draft compared to mighty SEC

Wisconsin center Travis Frederick (72) was the lone Big Ten player drafted in the first round Thursday, selected by the Dallas Cowboys at No. 31. (Jonathan Daniel/Detroit News)

This year's draft lacks buzz of most seasons, mostly because it is devoid of marquee names or superstar quarterback.

Something else the draft is lacking this year, at least in the first round, was much of a presence from the Big Ten.

In fact, for 30 picks on Thursday, it appeared the Big Ten would be shut out of the first round for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger and began holding a draft in 1967.

Entering the 2013 draft, the last time a first round passed without a Big Ten player being selected was in 1953 when there were only 11 selections.

But with two picks remaining, the Big Ten avoided getting left out of the opening round when Wisconsin center Travis Frederick was taken 31st overall by the Cowboys.

It was surprising. Most projections had him as a third-rounder, maybe creeping into the latter portions of the second round. He was taken ahead of the likes of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Purdue defensive end Kawann Short, both believed to be on the fringe of the first round.

As relieved as some might have been to hear Frederick's name called, it doesn't change the fact the Big Ten has fallen quite a ways from 2006, when it had eight first-round selections.

Of course, coming off a 2012 season that was as disappointing as any in recent memory, the fact there was just one first-round player might not seem like a surprise.

Last season, the Big Ten was 2-5 in bowls, and its lone representative in the BCS (Wisconsin, Rose Bowl) finished 8-6 overall and got into the conference championship game only because Ohio State was on probation. Of the bowl-eligible teams, only Northwestern finished with three losses or better.

Sure, the Buckeyes were 12-0 and likely would have played in a BCS bowl, but even they didn't have a first-round player.

SEC vs. Big Ten: No contest

The Big Ten's performance is hard to ignore.

And so is the debate about which conference is the best — the Big Ten or Southeastern.

That's no longer even close as the SEC has dominated — on the field and in recruiting.

The SEC has produced the last seven national champions, while the Big Ten has managed to reach the BCS title game twice during that time. Its last champion was Ohio State in 2002.

And now that domination has continued into the draft.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed 13 players from the SEC as first-round selections in his mock draft — and not one from the Big Ten. A glance at most other projections revealed the same thing. By the time it was all said and done, the SEC had 12 players taken in the first round.

The numbers don't lie. The bigger question remains: Why?

The simple answer is better players reside in parts of the country other than the Midwest.

Yes, recruiting is key, even if rankings are questioned. What's not is the end result, and the SEC keeps churning out top talent.

"Alabama, LSU, and even Georgia are prospect factories right now. Those schools have blue chippers stacked up," an NFC scout told ChicagoSide.com. "The Big Ten doesn't boast that kind of talent or depth."

Change on the way?

Some signs are pointing to this being nothing more than a rough stretch in the Big Ten.

Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke have shot their teams back up recruiting rankings, with both bringing in top-10 classes the past two seasons. That follows two straight years when not one Big Ten team was in the Rivals.com top 10. The SEC had four each in those years.

And now we're seeing those players enter the NFL draft. Not surprisingly, it's the Big Ten that is coming up on the short end.

Will it last? That remains to be seen. But there is little doubt that until the entire Big Ten catches up in the battle for the top prospects, it will likely lag in producing some of the most sought-after players in the NFL.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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