The Power Five Conferences and the NFL Draft

2014 was a significant year in college football. The BCS was dissolved and the College Football Playoff instituted in its place. The NCAA also granted increased autonomy to the football powers represented by the five major conferences plus Notre Dame. These conferences are known as the Power Five Conferences and include the Atlantic Coast, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12 and Southeastern conferences. The increased autonomy has very little to do with on-field activities. While each of the conferences has a weak sister or two, the 65 colleges included in the Power Five were the principal powers in college football before 2014 and are likely to continue to be so in future years. This article will examine the degree of the impact the Power Five colleges have on the NFL draft. This will include both a comparison of the Power Five with the rest of college football and then a comparison of the conferences within the Power Five. Power Five vs. the Rest of College Football The level of dominance by the Power Five can best be illustrated by comparing both the number of draft choices and the success of those selections. As a starting point in this analysis, all colleges were divided into one of three groups:
  • The Power Five
  • The five other conferences that used to be designated as BCS colleges
    • This includes the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sunbelt Conference
  • All other schools
The conference affiliations that existed in 2014 were used for the entire 20-year period (1995-2014 drafts) of the analysis. Selections for each category were compiled by Draft Range (as defined in past articles). As a reminder, the eight Draft Ranges are 1-4, 5-14, 14-24, 25-46, 47-73, 74-114, 115-187 and 188 and later. The following table shows the percentage of selections for each Draft Range and college category: The table indicates that over 73% of all draft selections are from the Power Five, with that percentage starting in the 90-95% range and decreasing to 65% by the end of the draft. Clearly, the Power Five dominates the draft. There are no significant differences in the success rates for any of the nine milestones identified in earlier articles. As an example, the following table compares the actual number of five-year starters and the projected number based on the article “Draft Probabilities” and leads to a conclusion that there is no drafting bias in favor of Power Five colleges. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="507"] Difference of (3) due to roundings[/caption]   There are some real differences, though, in the mix of playing positions drafted. Some of the differences noted are as follows:
  • Proportionately more wide receivers and corners are selected from colleges other than the Power Five
  • Proportionately more linebackers are drafted by the Power Five
  • Proportionately fewer QBs are drafted by the Power Five but they are drafted higher
    • 31 QBs were drafted in the top 14 selections over the 20 years with 24 being from Power 5 colleges
Comparing the Power Five Conferences Although the Southeastern Conference has a clear lead over the others, the conferences, with the exception of the Big 12, are relatively close in the number of draft selections. The percentage of the whole for each is as follows:
  • Southeastern                 24.7%
  • Big Ten                           22.3%
  • Atlantic Coast               22.0%
  • PAC 12                            19.5%
  • Big 12                              11.5%
Notre Dame is excluded from this analysis due to a lack of comparability (e.g., the experience of a single school does not compare to a conference). The number of selections by Draft Range during the study period is as follows: It should be noted that both the SEC and ACC are more prominent earlier in the draft than in the full draft. The two conferences combine for 54% of selections (29% for the SEC and 25% for the ACC) in the first three Draft Ranges versus about 47% for the full draft. The Big 10 and PAC 12 are less prominent in those ranges, accounting for 34% of draftees in the first three Draft Ranges versus almost 42% for the entire draft. The distribution of draft selections, both in total and by individual Draft Range, makes it quite feasible to compare the subsequent performance of the draft selections by conference. It would be rather confusing from a presentation standpoint, though, if all nine milestones were used in reporting the results of the analysis. Instead, this article focused on only three of the milestones. These are five-years starters, three-time Pro Bowl selections and selection as an All Pro at least once. The following table compares the actual achievement by conference to the projected achievement based on the probabilities established in the article “Draft Probabilities”. A number in parentheses indicates a deficit in performance, meaning that the number of players achieving the milestone is less than projected. As can be seen the Atlantic Coast Conference has the most impressive results when taken in totality. The Southeastern Conference performs well in the context of five-year starters but not so much with players earning post-season honors. The SEC produced the greatest number of five-year starters but trailed the ACC in both the Pro Bowl and All Pro categories. Finally, the conferences were reviewed to see if there were any significant differences by playing position. The following table shows the number of five-year starters by position. Not surprisingly, the Big 10 produced the most five-year starters among offensive linemen but it was unexpected that they also led in wide receivers and linebackers. The ACC led only at running back but ranked fairly high at all positions. The SEC led in defensive linemen and corners. The PAC 12 had the most quarterbacks and safeties. The next logical step is to perform a similar analysis at the individual college level. That will be a topic for a future article. Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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