One way of discerning whether U of L has the talent to hang with some national programs is to look at the ultimate judge of talent — the NFL Draft.
In my column today, I cited the number of players drafted from U of L over the past three seasons and compared it to the number drafted from SEC schools over the same period. I didn’t go back farther, because I don’t think anyone is claiming that U of L has been playing at an SEC level over the past 5 or 10 years.
(The numbers are readily available from this link at NFL.com or by running a Google search for “NFL Draft history.”)
Anyway, the numbers from the past three seasons, and where U of L would fit:
South Carolina 8
Ole Miss 6
Mississippi State 4
I also ran the numbers from the same time frame comparing U of L to the current Associated Press preseason Top 10:
Virginia Tech 17
West Virginia 5
Of the 14 Cardinals drafted, I thought it worth pointing out that ALL were from SEC states.
One other interesting note. When John L. Smith was coach of the Cardinals, he pointed out that the biggest gap between U of L and the most elite teams was on the line, particularly the defensive lines. So, where has U of L improved its talent level the most in recent years. Some of its highest draft picks have been on the offensive line (Jason Spitz) and defensive line (Amobi Okoye, Dewayne White, Elvis Dumervil). This year, U of L features a defensive lineman, Peanut Whitehead, who is an Alabama native who chose U of L over Auburn and Alabama. And finally this — look at the two-deep at linebacker. Every player comes from the SEC states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Want to call them SEC rejects? I’d think twice. Look what happened when somebody called U of L’s Florida natives “Miami rejects” last year.
I had originally set out to do a column on this subject alone, but talked to enough people around the country that said that while these comparisons are all well and good, they don’t reflect two of the most difficult elements of SEC play — depth and the week-in, week-out nature of the schedule.
In other words, if U of L were playing Florida this season, it would be one of the Cardinals’ biggest games of the season. U of L, I think would beat Florida. But how would it do if it had to back that game up a week or two later with LSU? And a trip to Georgia? And Tennessee?
There’s just no way of knowing.
Still, the draft numbers show that it isn’t a question of talent. Also, it isn’t a question of coaching. U of L’s last two head coaches have been plucked by the Big Ten and NFL, respectively. The last offensive coordinator to leave U of L is head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
One of these days, maybe we’ll get to see it work out on the field.