As usual, the first few picks of the NFL Draft were a foregone conclusion, leaving us with two overarching storylines at the end of the first round, at least as far as ESPN is concerned: a) The official end of the Tebow Watch, with college football's golden child going 25th to the Denver Broncos; and b) The "fall" of Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, projected as a top-10 pick, into the second round on Friday night, which remains as silly, manufactured and self-serving a narrative as it was when ESPN pulled the same schtick on Clausen's Irish predecessor, Brady Quinn, three years ago, when they began speaking in hushed tones and ushering him off camera like someone in his family had just died. ("Jimmy, after months of being built up by our own analysts and publications, can you explain the deep personal shame of being one of the few quarterbacks on the planet good enough to be paid millions of dollars as a second-round pick?")
Neither Clausen nor Tebow -- nor Texas' Colt McCoy, also passed over, as expected -- attended the ceremony in New York, probably because they didn't want every unguarded facial expression to be interpreted by the omnipresent cameras as a moment of excruciating anguish after another player's name was called, and they were right.
Here is the real story of the first round, as pointed out by the NFL Network's Rich Eisen at the end of the night: Notre Dame? With Clausen falling out of the first round, the Irish had zero players picked. Southern Cal? With safety Taylor Mays, offensive tackle Charles Brown and defensive end Everson Griffen passed over, the Trojans had zero picks. Ohio State? Zero picks. LSU? Zero picks. Miami? Zero picks. Florida State? One pick, with the final selection of the evening, and it could be the Seminoles' last of this draft.
Between them, those schools produced 82 first-round picks from 2000-09, more than 25 percent of all first-rounders in that span. (That holds for Miami, FSU, USC, LSU and Ohio State even if you remove the Irish, who produced only three of that number.) The Buckeyes, Trojans and 'Canes have had more players drafted in the event's 75-year history than any other schools -- Miami alone had four first-rounders in 2001; five in 2002; four in 2003; six in 2004; and three in 2007, extending its astonishing streak of drafts with at least one Hurricane picked in the first round to 14 consecutive years. (It finally ended last year when the only 'Cane selected, linebacker Spencer Adkins, didn't come off the board until the sixth.) If the Saints hadn't taken cornerback Patrick Robinson with 32nd and final pick tonight, it would have been Florida State's third straight draft without a first-rounder, a scenario that wouldn't have seemed conceivable even five years ago.
For one of those teams, the may be good news: Like Florida and Oklahoma in the '09 Draft, Ohio State didn't have a first-round prospect because all of its best players (many of which weren't eligible for the draft yet, anyway) returned to school for a national championship run this fall; like the Gators and Sooners tonight, the 2010 Buckeyes should produce a bevy of sought-after talent over the next two years.
For the others, the lack of elite, first-round talent -- again -- is just another sign of how far the programs have fallen their lofty perches, despite the consistently promising recruiting rankings. For LSU and USC, the diminishing returns on the field and in the draft reflecting pool are new enough and potentially shallow enough to write them off as brief, passing lulls. Miami, Florida State and Notre Dame, though, all mired much deeper in their struggles against mediocrity, are more sobering examples than ever of how quickly even the best pipelines can become hopelessly diluted, or just finally run dry.