Combine math makes overachievers of Northwestern, Mississippi

Pat Forde

Ratings for every FBS team:
Sagarin rank Combine participation rank Difference
1. Alabama T3 Plus-2
2. Oregon T16 Plus-14
3. Texas A&M T9 Plus-6
4. Georgia T3 Minus-1
5. Notre Dame 6 Plus-1
6. S. Carolina T7 Plus-1
7. Florida 5 Minus-2
8. Kansas State T16 Plus-8
9. Stanford T22 Plus-13
10. LSU T1 Minus-9
11. Fla. State T1 Minus-10
12. Oklahoma T9 Minus-3
13. Ohio State T7 Minus-6
14. Clemson T33 Plus-19
15. Oregon St. T45 Plus-30
16. Texas T33 Plus-17
17. Ok State T45 Plus-28
18. Baylor T45 Plus-27
19. Utah State T45 Plus-26
20. Michigan T64 Plus-44
21. N'western T90 Plus-69
22. Wisconsin T22 Even
23. Nebraska T33 Plus-10
24. Ole Miss T90 Plus-66
25. Vanderbilt T64 Plus-39
26. BYU T45 Plus-19
27. Louisville T64 Plus-47
28. Arizona St. T33 Plus-5
29. SJSU T45 Plus-16
30. Penn State T22 Minus-8
31. UCLA T9 Minus-22
32. TCU T33 Plus-1
33. USC T9 Minus-24
34. Mich. St. T22 Minus-12
35. Cincinnati T22 Minus-14
36. Texas Tech T90 Plus-53
37. Syracuse T22 Minus-16
38. N. Illinois T90 Plus-51
39. Missouri T33 Minus-7
40. Boise State T45 Plus-4
41. Miss State T33 Minus-9
42. UNC T9 Minus-34
43. Arizona T64 Plus-20
44. UCF T90 Plus-45
45. Ga Tech T45 Minus-1
46. Tulsa T90 Plus-43
47. W. Virginia T22 Minus-26
48. Miami T45 Minus-4
49. Ark. St. T90 Plus-40
50. La Tech T16 Minus-35
51. Rutgers T9 Minus-43
52. Washington T64 Plus-11
53. Va Tech T16 Minus-38
54. Iowa State T45 Minus-10
55. Tennessee T16 Minus-40
56. SMU T33 Minus-24
57. Fresno St. T45 Minus-13
58. Pitt T64 Plus-5
59. Kent State T64 Plus-4
60. Utah T45 Minus-16
61. UL-L T90 Plus-28
62. NC State T22 Minus-41
63. Arkansas T9 Minus-55
64. SDSU T45 Minus-20
65. Ball State T64 Minus-2
66. Minnesota T90 Plus-23
67. Toledo T90 Plus-22
68. Iowa T45 Minus-24
69. Purdue T45 Minus-25
70. Duke T45 Minus-26
71. BGU T64 Minus-8
72. Ohio T64 Minus-9
73. Indiana T90 Plus-16
74. UL-M T90 Plus-15
75. Cal T16 Minus-60
76. Nevada T22 Minus-55
77. Auburn T33 Minus-45
78. Navy T90 Plus-11
79. Rice T64 Minus-16
80. ECU T90 Plus-9
81. MTSU T90 Plus-8
82. USF T33 Minus-50
83. Virginia T64 Minus-20
84. UConn T22 Minus-63
85. WKU T64 Minus-22
86. Kentucky T64 Minus-23
87. Kansas T45 Minus-43
88. Temple T64 Minus-25
89. Maryland T90 Even
90. Troy T90 Minus-1
91. Wazzu T64 Minus-28
92. Marshall T64 Minus-29
93. Houston T64 Minus-30
94. Wake T64 Minus-31
95. UTSA T90 Minus-6
96. CMU T64 Minus-33
97. BC T33 Minus-65
98. WMU T90 Minus-9
99. N Texas T90 Minus-10
100. Wyoming T90 Minus-11
101. Memphis T64 Minus-38
102. Texas St. T90 Minus-13
103. Miami OH T64 Minus-40
104. Illinois T22 Minus-83
105. FIU T45 Minus-61
106. AFA T90 Minus-17
107. Buffalo T90 Minus-18
108. CSU T90 Minus-19
109. FAU T90 Minus-20
110. UTEP T90 Minus-21
111. UAB T90 Minus-22
112. UNM T90 Minus-23
113. E. Mich. T90 Minus-24
114. Army T90 Minus-25
115. Tulane T90 Minus-26
116. Colorado T45 Minus-72
117. UNLV T64 Minus-54
118. Hawaii T33 Minus-86
119. S. Ala. T90 Minus-30
120. Idaho T64 Minus-57
121. S. Miss T45 Minus-77
122. Akron T90 Minus-33
123. NM State T90 Minus-34
124. UMass T64 Minus-61

While performing my American civic duty and watching the NFL scouting combine on TV, it became clear how many college teams underachieved in 2012.

There were multiple Tennessee Volunteers looking impressive in all their drills, fresh off a 5-7 season. There were a handful of California Golden Bears, skillfully putting their 3-9 train wreck behind them. And even four players from Illinois, which went winless in a bad Big Ten and 2-10 overall.

On the flip side, I wondered where the Northwestern Wildcats were. And the Vanderbilt Commodores. And the Northern Illinois Huskies. They all had highly successful seasons, with hardly a 2013 pro prospect to show for it.

This led to an exercise in combine math.

I looked up the 2012 season-ending Sagarin Ratings. Then I looked up the school-by-school list of combine participants, and ranked those from most (LSU and Florida State each had 13) to least (35 schools had zero). Then I did the math on the difference between the two rankings.

[Also: Michigan State's Chris Norman chooses seminary over NFL]

A big plus number (high Sagarin rating, low number of combine participants) indicates a program doing a lot with a little. A big minus number (low Sagarin rating, high number of combine participants) indicates a program doing a little with a lot.

Admittedly, this is an imperfect formula. Some teams that had big plus numbers are simply populated with young talent not yet draft-eligible (Louisville springs immediately to mind). And the sample sizes of players at the combine are small enough that a single player can make a big difference (Ball State had one player, a punter, which moved it from a 35-way tie for 90th into a 30-way tie for 60th in the participant rankings).

But looking at the biggest numbers on both ends of the spectrum, it seems to be a pretty revealing look at which coaching staffs seemed to maximize their available talent and which coaching staffs squandered it.

Or, if you want to look at it the other way: which programs have done the best job of recruiting and developing NFL-level talent (regardless of win-loss records).

So the beauty of combine participation – or lack thereof – is in the eye of the beholder. Depending on how you choose to view the math.

The biggest plus numbers were as follows:

Northwestern: plus-69. Sagarin Rating 21st. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Wildcats went 10-3 and won the Gator Bowl.

Mississippi: plus-66. Sagarin Rating 24th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Rebels went 7-6 and won the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Texas Tech: plus-53. Sagarin Rating 37th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Red Raiders went 8-5 and won the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Northern Illinois: plus-51. Sagarin Rating 39th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Huskies went 12-2 and lost the Orange Bowl.

Louisville: plus-47. Sagarin Rating 27th. Combine participant rating tied for 64th (one). The Cardinals went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl.

Michigan: plus-44. Sagarin Rating 20th. Combine participant rating tied for 64th (one). The Wolverines went 8-5 and lost the Outback Bowl. (If offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, considered a lock first-round pick, had entered the draft, the number would have been plus-25.)

[Also: NFL scouts blame coaching for Matt Barkley's struggles]

UCF: plus-45. Sagarin Rating 45th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Golden Knights went 10-4 and won the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

Tulsa: plus-43. Sagarin Rating 47th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Golden Hurricane went 11-3 and won the Liberty Bowl.

Arkansas State: plus-40. Sagarin Rating 50th. Combine participant rating tied for 90th (zero). The Red Wolves went 10-3 and won the Bowl.

The biggest minus numbers were as follows:

Hawaii: minus-86. Sagarin Rating 119th. Combine participant rating tied for 33rd (three). The Warriors went 3-9 in a bloody first year in the Mountain West Conference.

Illinois: minus-83. Sagarin Rating 105th. Combine participant rating tied for 22nd (four). Ron Zook recruited plenty of talent to Champaign. He never knew what to do with it, and neither did first-year replacement Tim Beckman.

Southern Mississippi: minus-77. Sagarin Rating 122nd. Combine participant rating: tied for 45th (two). The Golden Eagles went a miserable 0-12 in Conference USA, but were not completely bereft of talent. Now you know why they fired Ellis Johnson after just one season.

Colorado: minus-72. Sagarin Rating 117th. Combine participant rating tied for 45th (two). Another school that had to fire a coach quickly (Jon Embree after just two seasons) because the product was so bad.

Boston College: minus-65. Sagarin Rating 98th. Combine participant rating tied for 33rd (three). Notice a theme here? Frank Spaziani was fired at season’s end.

Connecticut: minus-63. Sagarin Rating: 85th. Combine participant rating: tied for 22nd (four). The Huskies were 5-7 in a woeful Big East.

UMass: minus-61. Sagarin Rating 124th. Combine participant rating tied for 64th (one). In their first year as an FBS program, the Minutemen went 1-11.

Florida International: minus-61. Sagarin Rating 106th. Combine participant rating tied for 45th (two). The Golden Panthers surprisingly fired Mario Cristobal after a 3-9 season. It was ugly, but perhaps not as ugly as the laborious search to replace him. (Job not quite as popular as some at FIU seemed to think.)

California: minus-60. Sagarin Rating 76th. Combine participant rating tied for 16th (five). This was probably the winner in the category of tangible talent underachieving. Thus the decision to fire longtime coach Jeff Tedford.

Arkansas: minus-55. Sagarin Rating 64th. Combine participant rating tied for ninth (six). OK, maybe this was the winner in the category of tangible talent underachieving. Bobby Petrino’s mess was not ably cleaned up by John L. Smith.

Nevada: minus-55. Sagarin Rating 77th. Combine participant rating tied for 22nd (four). The Wolf Pack went 7-6 against a soft schedule and lost the New Mexico Bowl to Arizona.

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