Five-stars? Two-stars? NFL pays it no mind

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Every February there’s a frenzy of hype as a fresh new recruiting class for every college football program is announced, with hope springing eternal From Fan Base X that this group of incoming freshman will push Team X over the top.  Or keep them there.

Nearly three months later, the drill is repeated at the NFL, with the draft signaling a new day has dawned for woebegone franchises as fans cling to any sliver of hope that this is the draft that will turn things around.  (In Cleveland, this is commonly referred to as “our Super Bowl”.)

Does one in any way, shape or form relate to the other, though?  Not particularly, but the numbers are nonetheless (mildly) intriguing.

Counting last night’s opening segment, there have been 128 players selected during the first round of the NFL draft the past four years.  Interestingly, there have been nearly as many two-star-or-lower players* selected in the first round between 2009 and 2012 (20) as there have been five-star prospects (23).  The latter’s numbers are somewhat skewed, however, as there were just 120 recruits given four-star ratings between 2006-09.  For comparison, there were more than 900 recruits — may be more than 1,000; I didn’t go beyond the Rivals250 — who received a four-star rating during the same time frame.

Continuing down that same path, where the NFL really finds the bulk of its players, however, is in the other two ratings slots.

In those four years, nearly 40 percent of the first-round selections (51) came into the collegiate ranks as four-star recruits.  Three-star recruits have a significant impact as well, with 33 of those players over the four years taken in the first round.  All told, nearly 66 percent of the players taken in the first round since 2009 have been three- or four-star recruits.

If you’re looking to become the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, however, the brighter the hue of the blue-chip player coming into college, the better the odds are that recruit will hear his name called first by the commissioner.  Of the eight No. 1 overall picks since 2005, six have either been four-star — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, 2012; Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, 2008; LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, 2007; North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, 2006 — or five-star — Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, 2011; Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, 2009 — prospects in their respective recruiting classes.

The only No. 1 overall pick who fell outside that rarefied star air?  Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who parlayed a two-star entry into college football into being the first pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL draft.

(Writer’s note: Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was a three-star prospect and the top pick of the 2010 draft)

Below is a year-by-year breakdown of  the first round of the NFL draft:

2012
5-star — 4
4-star — 13
3-star — 10
2-star — 4

2011
5-star — 7
4-star — 11
3-star — 11
2-star — 3

2010
5-star — 6
4-star — 15
3-star — 6
2-star — 5

2009
5-star — 6
4-star — 12
3-star — 6
2-star — 7

(*Brandon Weeden, selected by the Cleveland Browns at No. 22 overall, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002 and played professional baseball through 2006.  He enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007 as a “no-star recruit”.)

Buffalo clinches bowl eligibility with three-game winning streak

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In his third season as Buffalo’s head coach, Lance Leipold is taking the program bowling. And how they got there is commendable. Entering the month of November with a record of 3-6, the Bulls had no margin for error. A three-game winning streak to close out the regular season seemed like a reach, but on Friday afternoon the Bulls put the finishing touches on just such a winning streak.

Buffalo (6-6, 4-4 MAC) rushed out of the gates to a 24-7 lead on Ohio (9-4, 5-3 MAC) on their home field, but the Bulls needed a big play on special teams and defense to close the books on a bowl-clinching 31-24 victory. Tied at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Ohio was forced to punt from their own seven-yard line. K.J. Osborn returned the punt 39 yards to the Ohio six-yard line. Two plays later, Emmanuel Reed gave the Bulls the lead with a short touchdown run. Then the game was put in the hands of the defense.

Ohio has a masterful drive rolling out, spanning 62 yards over 13 plays and wasting away nearly all of the clock after starting the drive with 8:10 to play. On 4th and 12 at the Buffalo 13-yard line, Nathan Rourke‘s pass was picked off by Khalil Hodge in the endzone with a little more than a minute to play. Ohio could call two timeouts to stop the clock, but the Bulls still managed to pick up a first down to close out the game.

While not to discredit Buffalo for their achievement here, it is worth noting Ohio’s fate in the MAC East Division race was settled earlier this week. The Bobcats were eliminated from clinching the division after Akron wrapped up the division with a win earlier this week. Had Akron lost, Ohio could have clinched the division with a win against Buffalo.

The MAC now has seven teams that have met the six-win minimum to go to a bowl game this season. This is Buffalo’s first bowl season since 2013, but Leipold is no stranger to a college football postseason. Leipold won six Division 3 national championships with Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007 through 2014, and his D3 powerhouse program only missed the postseason once during that run.

Arkansas blows 21-7 lead as Drew Lock leads Mizzou’s rally for halftime lead

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It was a tale of two quarters between Missouri and Arkansas, with Arkansas rushing out of the gates for a 21-7 lead only to see Missouri battle back to take a 31-28 lead into halftime. Missouri kicker Tucker McCann kicked a 37-yard field goal in the final minute of the half to give Missouri the lead.

Arkansas cashed in on an interception by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock on the game’s opening possession by traveling 70 yards on five plays to take a 7-0 lead with a Devwah Whaley goal line run. Mizzou’s Ish Witter capped a 92-yard drive later in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7, but the Razorbacks stormed right back with a quick four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive highlighted by Austin Allen‘s 57-yard pass to Jordan Jones for the score. Moments later, a good punt return by Henre’ Toliver gave the Razorbacks the ball at the Missouri 29-yard line and two plays later David Williams ran in from 16 yards out for a score to push the lead to 21-7.

Lock led a second-quarter charge for the Tigers with three touchdown passes, including one from 55 yards and another from 56 yards as the big plays doomed Arkansas.

No. 12 TCU locks up Big 12 title game date with Oklahoma

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After a few-year sabbatical, the inaugural renewal of the Big 12 championship game is officially set.

Needing just to get past one-win Baylor, No. 12 TCU did just that as the Horned Frogs outlasted the feisty Bears 45-22 in Fort Worth.  With the win, TCU locks up the other spot in the conference title game opposite Oklahoma, with that matchup going down in Jerry’s World next Saturday.  The Sooners have already beaten the Horned Frogs this season, 38-20 in Norman two weeks ago; a second win over the same team will likely push OU into the playoffs.

TCU finishes the 2017 season 7-2 in conference play.  Iowa State (5-3) needed a win over Kansas State Saturday plus a TCU loss today plus a couple of the other 5-3 Big 12 teams to win in order to send them to the league title game.

Kenny Hill paced the Horned Frogs once again, passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the win.  His 26 completions (in 36 attempts) went to 11 different receivers.  The quarterback added another touchdown on the ground.

A little bit of a concern, especially with Baker Mayfield and the high-powered OU offense looming, TCU gave up 314 yards passing, including 301 from freshman signal-caller Charlie Brewer.  Conversely, they did hold the Bears to just 2.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Pitt stuns No. 2 Miami, ends Hurricanes’ perfect season

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Pitt’s done gone and done it again.

On Dec. 1, 2007, a 4-7 Pitt team stunned second-ranked West Virginia in a 13-9 upset in Morgantown, costing the Mountaineers a spot in the BCS title game.  Just a week shy of the 10th anniversary of that upset, 4-7 Pitt played host to second-ranked Miami — and the Panthers did it again, jumping out to a 10-7 halftime lead before holding on away for a 24-14 win.  The loss ends the Hurricanes’ nation’s-best winning streak at 16 games in a row.

Thanks in very large part to Pitt’s defense, Miami’s offense could muster next to nothing on the day, churning out just 176 yards of offense while the game was still within reach (they finished with 234).  True freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, however, seemingly put the game out of reach when, on a fourth-and-five, scampered nearly untouched on a naked bootleg for a 22-yard touchdown that made it a three-score game with just under three minutes remaining.

However, a U touchdown less a minute later made it a 10-point deficit with 2:16 left in the fourth, with the Hurricanes recovering an onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff to give them a flicker of hope; a Malik Rosier fumble on that next possession snuffed out said flicker.

This is actually the third time in a decade the Panthers have knocked off the No. 2 team in the country, including last year’s dumping of Clemson — a fact that head coach Pat Narduzzi used in calling his shot to his team at halftime.

For The U, it’s a potentially crippling loss.  Or, it could mean almost nothing.

Playing with fire for most of the season — they trailed at the half in five of their 11 games, including today — the Hurricanes finally got burned; whether it’s a first-, second- or third-degree burn remains to be seen.  The good news for The U is they will still face No. 3 Clemson in the ACC championship game next weekend, with the winner likely (maybe) (possibly) earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.  This loss, though, erases any margin of error the Hurricanes had heading into that game as they won’t make the playoffs as a two-loss at-large team.