Published Monday, April 29, 2013 AT 11:13 AM / Updated at 12:06 PM
Mad Chatter, April 29
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

So, so much to tackle over the weekend, from Big Ten divisions to NBA playoffs to college baseball. We’ll cover it all. But let’s start with the NFL Draft and those 63 picks from the SEC.

I’m sure you’ve heard the stat by now. The ACC’s 31 picks in the draft were matched only by the SEC West (31) and the SEC East (32). The SEC has dominated the college football polls. They have dominated National Signing Day. Now they’re dominating the draft, too.

I have no doubt that the SEC is the nation’s best football conference. By far. But at some point, its reputation will exceed its performance. I look at the NFL Draft numbers and wonder if we’ve reached that point.

If I’m judging a newspaper competition, I can compare the nuts and bolts of dozens of stories. But my opinion largely comes down to feeling. Writing — like football — is art, not science. Yet if I’m consistently told that the Dallas Morning News, for instance, produces the best writing, won’t I subconsciously favor their writers when I sit down to judge?

I wonder if SEC bias is an emerging concern in NFL war rooms.

– The Patriots didn’t draft a single SEC player. They did, however, take three players from Rutgers — Bill Belichick must have shot the round of his life the day he evaluated Scarlet Knights’ film. They also took one from Illinois.

– The Ravens drafted two Division II players and two Big Ten grads, but just one SEC player (Florida’s Matt Elam).

– The Steelers drafted Georgia’s Jarvis Jones in the first round, who mysteriously fell down the board, but not another SEC player in the entire draft. They drafted two from the Big Ten.

– The Giants selected just one SEC player, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, who played most of his career in the Big 12. They also took one from Ohio State.

– The Falcons didn’t draft a single SEC player.

– The Packers chose one Big Ten player (Micah Hyde) and two from the SEC, including Eddie Lacy, who — like Jarvis Jones — was a rare SEC star who slipped lower than expected.

Those franchises — arguably the six best and most stable in the league — selected 52 total players. Seven came from the Big Ten. Only five were from the SEC (counting one from A&M). That’s 9.6 percent of their total picks.

The other 26 franchises called an SEC name 28.7 percent of the time.

Maybe it’s coincidence. But my hunch is industry leaders recognize that SEC popularity has affected player evaluations. And they can get better value elsewhere.

They’re smart enough to go against a trend. They’re secure enough to say, “Hey, wait a second. Yes, the SEC is great. But the sixth-best cornerback in the SEC isn’t better than the third-best in the Pac-12.” They trust their eyes, not the media narrative.

* Let me put it another way: On fantasy football draft night, nobody wants Steven Jackson. Yes, he might be 10th on the ESPN cheat sheet. Yes, he might get 1,400 total yards every year. Yes, he might be strong and fast. But dangit, he’s old by running back standards. And he plays for the Rams.

It’s a lot more enticing to draft Chris Johnson or Darren McFadden or a trendy young guy like Ryan Mathews. So Jackson always falls below market value. I guarantee Bill Belichick would be the guy who walks into your living room, doesn’t say a word the entire draft, eats all your chicken wings and steals Steven Jackson in the fourth round.

I’m intrigued by the SEC’s dominance of college football, but even more fascinated by how the SEC’s reputation changes college football. For instance, we’re reaching a point at which some voters (or selection committee members) will favor a one-loss SEC team over an undefeated team in the Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten or ACC. That’s a huge break from voting tradition and has significant consequences.

Will the 2013 NFL Draft be another landmark in the SEC’s conquest? Or will franchises like the Patriots, Ravens and Falcons reap rewards for betting against SEC hype?

While you ponder that, Nick Saban is recruiting his next 5-star.

***

>> I intend to write more about Big Ten divisions on a quieter day. But for now, count me among the group praising just about everything. It’s good for the Big Ten. It’s good for Ohio State-Michigan. It’s great for Nebraska.

I don’t buy the idea that the Big Ten West will be the new Big 12 North. Over the past 20 years, Wisconsin has more wins and more Big Ten championships than Michigan. You’re not losing much swapping the Wolverines for the Badgers. Iowa probably won’t regain elite status under Kirk Ferentz, but the Hawks take football more seriously than Colorado or Missouri ever did.

Moreover, I think Nebraska’s schedule will be just fine. The nine-game conference season opens the door for a tougher September. And “parity-based scheduling” means Nebraska, in theory, should play Ohio State and Michigan more often than Indiana and Maryland.

A typical schedule will look something like this:

One non-con cupcake (Western Michigan, for example)
One non-con minor test (Houston)
One non-con national test (at Oklahoma)

Minnesota
at Northwestern
Iowa
at Illinois
Purdue
at Wisconsin
Michigan
at Michigan State
Rutgers

That’s at least four big games (one non-con, one non-division, two in division). Combined with a potential Big Ten championship game, I don’t think Nebraska fans will have any complaints.

>> The first season of nine conference games is 2016. As Jeff Culhane of the Husker Sports Network pointed out Sunday, it’s also the only year Nebraska had filled all four non-conference dates. That means NU must dump one of these games: Fresno State, Tennessee, Wyoming, Northern Illinois (in Chicago). My vote is to drop Fresno, whom the Huskers will play in 2014.

>> Winners and losers in Big Ten realignment. I still can’t believe Michigan State went to the East. Wait ‘til you get a load of the Spartans’ schedule in 2016.

>> Nine Big Ten games doesn’t eliminate the Iowa-Iowa State series, thankfully.

>> Let nothing I wrote above suggest otherwise, the Big Ten’s draft class was a train wreck, as Adam Rittenberg details here.

>> What NBA player does Doug McDermott most resemble? I wrote a column about that and McDermott’s NBA future.

>> As happy as Creighton is to see McDermott’s return, Michigan State may be the biggest winner of April. Two of Tom Izzo’s best players and potential top-20 picks, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, decided to come back to school. The Spartans will enter 2013-14 as the Big Ten favorite.

>> If you missed Steph Curry’s third quarter last night (watch every basket here), you need to adjust your bed time. My goodness he’s a joy to watch.

>> Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon was devastating and potentially altered the Lakers’ 5-year plan. But Russell Westbrook’s meniscus is far more significant to the playoffs. After seeing how much energy Kevin Durant used Saturday night, it’s clear the Thunder are in big trouble. Kevin Martin isn’t good enough to get own shot. And OKC doesn’t have creator at point guard. If only James Harden were still around…

>> Adrian Wojnarowski on Durant and the new Thunder.

>> Speaking of the Lakers, Dwight Howard needs to go. I don’t just mean out of LA. I mean to Milwaukee or Toronto or Charlotte, someplace I won’t see him on my TV the next five years. His act is tired.

>> Well, so much speculation that Husker baseball might receive an at-large bid. losing four straight — credit Kyle Kubat for stopping the streak — dents Nebraska’s NCAA tournament hopes. It does not, however, change NU’s hopes of a conference title. Nebraska needs to get its act together quickly with contender Indiana coming to Haymarket. Win the league (or get an automatic bid at the conference tournament) and this can still be a successful season.

>> Finally, props to ESPN for investing in college baseball’s Road to Omaha. Televising all 16 regionals is outstanding.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com