SEC maintaining NFL draft edge

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UPDATED 4/28/2012 @ 12:17 p.m. ET: With the first two days and three rounds of the 2012 NFL draft in the books, and with rounds 4-7 set for Saturday afternoon and into the evening, the SEC continues to hold an edge over all other conferences in players selected, although the gap has closed considerably since the first round Thursday night.

After watching nine of its players drafted within the first 18 picks opening night, the SEC saw “just” seven more selected in the next 77 picks, leaving the six-time-defending BcS champion conference with 16 players taken during the first three rounds.  Close on the SEC’s heels, however, are the Big Ten and Pac-12 with 14 apiece.  The only other conferences in double digits are the ACC (12) and Big 12 (10).

Below is the conference draft “leaderboard”, with the individual total for rounds 1-3 in parenthesis:

SEC: 16 (nine in 1st, five in 2nd, two in 3rd)
Big Ten: 14 (four, seven, three)
Pac-12: 14 (four, six, four)
ACC: 12 (three, three, six)
Big 12: 10 (five, two, three)
Big East: 7 ( two, three, two)
C-USA: 5 (one, one, three)
Non-FBS: 5
MWC: 4 (two, zero, two)
Sun Belt: 3 (zero, zero, three)
MAC: 2 (zero, zero, two)
Ind.: 2 (two, zero, zero)
WAC: 1 (zero, one, zero)

As far as individual schools go, it’s still defending BcS champion Alabama standing atop the draft with five players selected, four in the first round and one early in the second.  Illinois (Ron Zook, ladies & gentlemen), LSU and Stanford each have four apiece, while Boise State, Cal, Cincinnati, Clemson, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wisconsin have seen three players each selected.

The only other schools with more than one player selected are Baylor, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, USC and Virginia Tech.

LSU and Wisconsin are the only schools with at least one player selected in each of the first three rounds.

Perhaps more interesting than the top draft performers are the schools who have yet to hear one of its former player’s name called.  That list includes the likes of Florida, Florida State, Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, Pittsburgh and Washington (why no team has snagged running back Chris Polk is beyond me) among the 67 Div. 1-A (FBS) programs that have been shutout thus far.

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Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote the following: “Given the fact that they’re the five-time reigning national champions, it should come as no surprise that the SEC reigned supreme above all other conferences when it came to the number of players selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.”

Exactly 364 days later, and with a sixth straight crystal trophy stuffed firmly into its hip pocket, it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

From Alabama’s Trent Richardson at No. 3 overall to the Cleveland Browns (thank you, thank you, thank you Tom Heckert) to Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower at No. 25 to the New England Patriots, a total of 10 players from the SEC were taken in the first of seven rounds of the annual NFL draft.  Of the first 18 picks on the night, exactly half (nine, for those mathematically challenged) came from SEC schools — and, yes, Texas A&M was included as an SEC school for this exercise.

As was the case in 2011, the Big 12 was next up after the SEC, with five players selected on the draft’s first day.  Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 had four players apiece selected, while the ACC had three.  Appropriately enough, the Mountain West had two players taken, and both came from flagship program (for now) Boise State.

Just as apropos is that the best team in 2011 from the top conference the past six years dominated individual school honors on the night as well.  Heading into the first day of the draft, many mock projections had five players from Alabama being selected.  The Tide fell just short of that mark, however, “settling” for four players — Richardson, safety Mark Barron (No. 7, Jacksonville Jaguars), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (No. 17, Cincinnati Bengals) and Hightower.  Defensive end Courtney Upshaw was the only Tide player projected to go in the first round who didn’t, although he shouldn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called in the second round Friday evening.

Two other SEC schools — LSU and South Carolina — had two players each selected, as did Baylor, Boise State, Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Stanford and USC.  No other school had more than one player taken.

After the jump are some random notes sent out by the various sports information departments across the country regarding players selected in the first round of the NFL draft:

Andrew Luck becomes the fourth Stanford quarterback to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, following Bobby Garrett (1954; Cleveland), Jim Plunkett (1971; New England) and John Elway (1983; Baltimore).  Stanford is the only school that has produced four quarterbacks who were selected first overall in the NFL Draft.

— Luck and guard David DeCastro (No. 24, Pittsburgh Steelers, absolute steal) gave the Cardinal two first-round selections in the same draft for the first time since 1992.

— With quarterback Robert Griffin III going to the Washington redskins at No. 2 and wide receiver Kendall Wright going to the Tennessee Titans at No. 20, it is the second consecutive year and only the third time in the 77-year history of the draft that Baylor had two players’ names called during the first round.

— The four first-round selections tied Alabama’s school record, equaling the mark of four set just last season when Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James Carpenter and Mark Ingram all went in round one. UA has now had 11 first-round picks during head coach Nick Saban’s tenure with the Tide and 10 in the past three years.

Dontari Poe is the first-ever defensive lineman for Memphis to be selected in the first round, and is the first defensive player drafted in the first round since defensive back Jerome Woods was selected as the 28th overall pick, also by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1996.

Chandler Jones (No. 21, New England Patriots) is the first Syracuse player to be chosen in the first round since defensive end Dwight Freeney was the 11th overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2002.

Quinton Coples (No. 16, New York Jets) was the 20th first-round pick in North Carolina history, and it’s the second straight year a Tar Heel defensive end (Robert Quinn, No. 14, St. Louis Rams) has gone in the top 20 of the draft.

— With wide receiver Michael Floyd (No. 13, Arizona Cardinals) and safety Harrison Smith (No. 29, Minnesota Vikings) off the board, it marks the first time since 1994 that Notre Dame has seen two players taken in the first round.

— With wide receiver quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s selection by the Miami Dolphins at No. 8 overall, Texas A&M had players taken in the first round in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program’s history ( Von Miller, No. 2 overall pick to the Denver Broncos in 2011).  The last time an Aggies QB was selected as high as Tannehill?  1941 with Mario Pugh, which oddly enough was the same sound made by most NFL fans in general and many Dolphins fans specifically upon hearing of the reach selection.

— Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (No. 10, Buffalo Bills) and defensive end Melvin Ingram (No. 18, Sand Diego Chargers) of South Carolina were selected in the opening round, the first time that’s happened for the Gamecocks since 1981.  They join the tandem of running back George Rogers (1st pick overall by the New Orleans Saints) and tight end Willie Scott (14th pick overall by the Kansas City Chiefs) as the only set of Carolina teammates to be selected in the first round of the same draft.

— Two Boise State players (defensive end Shea McClellin, No. 19, Chicago Bears; running back Doug Martin, No. 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) were taken in the first round of the 2012 draft; prior to this year, the Broncos had two first-round picks in the program’s history.

— LSU head coach Les Miles, on the Dallas Cowboys trading up to No. 6 for cornerback Morris Claiborne: “I couldn’t be happier for Mo. He’s very deserving of this. He’s a guy that will work long and hard to be the best professional football player that he can be. It also makes me very happy that he went to the Dallas Cowboys. He’s going to look great wearing the star.”

— Saban, who wins the really cool quote of the night: “It is very exciting for these guys. But the first thing I remember is going into these guys’ houses when they were in high school or going to their high school to see them when they were juniors. I’m saying ‘that doesn’t seem like it was that long ago’ but the guy you met then and the man they are now – that is one of the great things about college football. To see these guys develop, grow and mature, personally, academically and athletically really makes you feel proud. And that is one of the things I love about college coaching.”

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.