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Headlines: Translating Recent Draft Success into Conference Success?

Brian: Jeff, I was at a bar on Saturday night to see our boy Christian's Rage Against the Machine cover band, Evil Empire, play in Hoboken. On one of the TVs in between sets, they were playing ESPN's SportsCenter where, later in the broadcast, they got to the NFL Combine and the NFL Draft coverage. I caught a glimpse of Todd McShay's 2009 NFL Mock Draft Top 5 on the screen. Here's a rundown of McShay's top 5:

  1. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
  2. St. Louis Rams: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
  3. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
  4. Seattle Seahawks: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
  5. Cleveland Browns: Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
What struck me instantly was the presence of 3 ACC players in the Top 5, or ... 60%! Add in Virginia's OT Eugene Monroe, and you have 4 of the Top 10 draft prospects coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The most Top 10 prospects for any one conference. Quite frankly, I was a little taken aback by this fact on the SportsCenter screen.

While the ACC has had tremendous success over the past few years in the NFL Draft, the perception of ACC football around the country is that the conference is still down. My question to you is this: what, if anything, can the ACC do to start translating NFL Draft success into a better perception of ACC football around the country?

Jeff: Good math, Brian! I'm glad to see that BC education paying off! 3/5=6/10=60%!!

But seriously, yes it is unfortunate that the conference has heard its members be named so many times on the first day of the draft yet have had poor bowl records and extremely poor BCS showings in the last several years.

Boston College alone is looking at having at least 3 first rounders in 2 years, yet no major out of conference victories or bowl game victories to show for it.

Virginia is going to having a top 10 pick 2 years in a row yet this year they barely edged out Duke in their division's standings and got embarassed at home by USC to start the season.

Clearly top level talent is not the problem in the ACC, so I think it leaves us to point the finger at depth and coaching. Unfortunately, the SEC is still where it's at for college coaches with almost all their coaches making more than the newly hired Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. There are no coaches in the ACC that can hang with the top coaches in the country. Bobby Bowden is certainly past his prime and Frank Beamer is just not quite in the Nick Saban / Les Miles / Urban Meyer, /Bobby Petrino league.

Depth is another issue. Look at recruiting classes headed to the SEC and you'll see the 20th name on a list be someone that every ACC school would be thrilled to have. Also, quarterbacks that hardly see any snaps transfer from these schools to then be successful at their second stops. I remember when Horrace Dodd transfered from Penn State to Boston College I believe because he wanted to play running back and the Nittany Lions wanted to make him a linebacker. BC fans got excited that we were getting a player that Penn State had had on scholarship. Top tier conferences should not be excited getting that kind of leftovers. Times are changing at B.C., but there's still a ways to go.

Brian: I think you largely have to look at the types of positions that are being drafted Top 10 out of the ACC. Take a look at the last four year's draft results for the ACC:

2005: cornerback (#8 overall)
2006: defensive end (#1), offensive tackle (#4), tight end (#6), linebacker (#9)
2007: wide receiver (#2), defensive end (#4)
2008: defensive end (#2), quarterback (#3)

With the exception Calvin Johnson and Matt Ryan, most of these Top 10 draft picks either play on the lines or on defense. While they had solid contributions to their college teams, largely these position players can't significantly alter the result a game like a Matt Ryan or a Calvin Johnson. The conference could be hurt by not having the high-profile offensive superstars going in the first 10 picks.

Take a look at the same Top 10 ACC draft picks by team:

2005: Miami (#8)
2006: NC State (#1), Virginia (#4), Maryland (#6), Florida State (#9)
2007: Georgia Tech (#2), Clemson (#4)
2008: Virginia (#2), Boston College (#3)

I think it also hurts the conference where these Top 10 draft picks come from. For all the great recruiting classes that Miami and Florida State keep reeling in, they each only have 1 Top 10 draft pick in the last four years. And non-traditional powers like BC, Wake, NC State and Virginia are all producing Top 10 picks. I've made this point numerous times, and maybe it goes back to your point about coaching, but until Miami and Florida State start capitalizing on the wealth of talent they sign every February, the perception of the conference will continue to be that it is a second rate football conference to the SECs, Big XIIs and Pac 10s of the country.

Jeff: There is perception and then there is also wins and losses. USC throttling Virginia and Alabama doing the the same to Clemson to start the season last year really hurt perception of the ACC even though Clemson fired their coach and UVA was the second worst team in the league. Both those losses hurt perception of the league more than was justified. The ACC failing to win BCS games, the Chic-Fil-A bowl, and the Gator Bowl is not perception, it's losses. Some of the national perception is unfair, but some is warranted.

Top 25 teams don't get a whole lot of publicity and coverage for a conference, top 10 teams do and the ACC had no teams that you could even make a weak argument for being top 10 last year.