With 35 picks, Big Ten well-represented at NFL draft

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The last eight months or so have been pretty good for Big Ten football.

Entering the 2014 season, little was expected from the much-maligned conference, a notion hammered home in early season losses by Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin in marquee matchups.

Dumping on the Big Ten was easy, especially considering the funk the conference had been experiencing over the last decade.

It had not produced a national champion since 2002, and with Ohio State recently coming off a season on probation in 2012 and all sorts of problems at traditional powers like Michigan and Penn State, the Big Ten had fallen far behind the Southeastern Conference, as well as power conferences like the Pac-12 and Big 12, in terms of national respect.

But while most were cracking jokes, there was some hope.

Michigan State, over the last five seasons, had become a national contender, though many outside of the Midwest have been slow to come around to that fact. And, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer.

All Meyer has done in three seasons in Columbus is never lose a regular-season conference game, capping that with last season's national championship just as the College Playoff selection committee was being criticized for including the Buckeyes.

But Ohio State, on its third quarterback, beat Alabama then Oregon, ending the Big Ten's championship drought. Coupled with Michigan State's second consecutive top-five finish in the polls, the Big Ten forcefully reminded the rest of college football that it isn't going anywhere.

Add in coaching hires like James Franklin at Penn State before the 2014 season and Jim Harbaugh recently at Michigan, and there is a buzz being generated by the Big Ten.

That momentum continued over the weekend at the NFL Draft.

The Big Ten was still behind the SEC, which had 54 players selected, as well as the ACC (47) and the Pac-12 (39). But the 35 players selected from Big Ten schools was an improvement from the 30 taken a year ago.

The Big Ten also had three first-round selections, including its first top-10 pick since 2008 when Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff went No. 5 to Washington.

He was followed by Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, who went No. 11 to Minnesota, and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, the 15th overall pick to San Diego.

While the draft numbers hardly mean the Big Ten has taken over as the country's dominant conference, it does show it is trending in the right direction.

Only one of the conference's teams — Illinois — did not have a player drafted over the weekend and all but Purdue had at least two players selected, including newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.

And while the 35 players selected overall and three in the first round were decent for this season, all signs point to those numbers taking a dramatic leap in the 2016 draft.

It's always difficult to project nearly a year ahead, but most mock drafts will soon be dotted with names from Big Ten schools, especially those from the powerful East Division.

Ohio State will likely have its share with defensive end Joey Bosa near the top of most lists along with quarterback Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott and linebacker Darron Lee. Michigan State will be right behind with quarterback Connor Cook, defensive end Shilique Calhoun and offensive tackle Jack Conklin all expected to be potential first-rounders.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg will no doubt be rated highly as could his teammate, defensive tackle Anthony Zettel (Ogemaw Heights). And there's little doubt there will be some surprises along the way, as well.

It's enough to have commissioner Jim Delany smiling, at least while he takes a break from contemplating freshmen eligibility and jumping into the debate over whether coaching staffs should be allowed to hold satellite camps.

There will be no chest thumping — that's hard to do when the SEC is still the unquestioned big dog, a notion backed up by championships and players drafted into the NFL. But the Big Ten is fighting its way back into the ring.

"Obviously it is a one-year cycle and we've got do it for a while," Meyer said this spring. "But there is a lot of pressure on the Big Ten to keep it rolling because it did help change the perception."

He was talking about the conference's success in the bowl season, highlighted by victories from Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. But he could have been talking about the Big Ten as a whole.

It's taking the necessary steps and some are bigger than others. The draft was just another example the Big Ten is stepping in the right direction.

Picks by conference

SEC, 54

ACC, 47

Pac-12, 39

Big Ten, 35

Big 12, 25

American Athletic, 11

Mountain West, 10

Conference USA, 6

Missouri Valley, 4

Mid-American, 4

Colonial Athletic, 3

Sun Belt, 3

Independents, 2

Ohio Valley, 2

South Atlantic, 2

Southern, 2

Southland, 2

Big Sky, 1

Big South, 1

Liberty, 1

MEAC, 1

SWAC, 1

Picks by school

Alabama 7; Arizona St. 4; Arkansas 5; Auburn 5; Baylor 2; Boise St. 1; Boston College 3; Buffalo 1; BYU 0; Central Arkansas 1; Central Michigan 1; Chattanooga 1; Clemson 5; Colorado St. 2; Delaware 1; Delaware St. 1; Duke 2; East Carolina 1; Eastern Washington 1; FAU 1;

Florida 8; Florida St. 11; Fresno St. 2; Georgia 5; Georgia Tech 3; Hawaii 1; Hobart 1; Illinois St. 1; Indiana 1; Iowa 3; Kansas St. 3; Kansas St. 2; Kentucky 2; LSU 4; Louisiana-Lafayette 1; Louisville 10; Mars Hill 1; Marshall 1; Maryland 2; Memphis 2;

Miami 7; Miami (Ohio) 1; Michigan 3; Michigan St. 4; Minnesota 4; Mississippi 1; Mississippi St. 5; Missouri 6; Monmouth (NJ) 1; Navy 1; Nebraska 3; Newberry 1; North Dakota St. 1; Northern Illinois 1; Northern Iowa 1; Northwestern 2; Northwestern St. 1; Notre Dame 1; Ohio St. 5; Oklahoma 6;

Oklahoma St. 1; Oregon 5; Oregon St. 5; Penn St. 3; Pittsburgh 1; Purdue 1; Rice 1; Rutgers 2; Samford 1; San Diego St. 1; San Jose St. 1; South Carolina 4; South Florida 2; Southern Cal 6; Southern Illinois 1; Southern Miss. 1; Stanford 6; Tennessee St. 2; TCU 2;

Texas 5; Texas A&M 2; Texas Southern 1; Texas St. 2; Towson 1; Tulane 2; UAB 2; UCF 2; UCLA 3; UConn 2; Utah 4; Virginia 2; Virginia Tech 2; Wake Forest 1; Washington 4; Washington St. 2; West Virginia 4; William & Mary 1; Wisconsin 2; Wyoming 1.