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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Real No. 1

I came across this article in the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal. Based on the article some of the Polynesian kids at certain colleges may have a better chance to make it to the Pros due to the program the play in.

Florida (2): Second string Wide Receiver Louis Murphy is expected to contribute this season.

Tennessee (4): Jesse Mahelona was drafted this past spring by the Tennessee Titans and Albert Toeaina is a free agent with Carolina. Junior Defensive Tackle JT Mapu may have a future in the NFL once he finishes his career in Knoxville.

Notre Dame (11): Anthony Weaver formerly of the Irish is the starting Defensive End for the Houston Texans.

Nebraska (13): Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola is on the cusp of becoming an All Pro, joining St Louis alumni and division opponent Olin Kreutz. Cornhusker Toniu Fonoti of Tampa Bay is entering his 5th season in the NFL.

USC (14): Last season Samoans Troy Polamalu and Lofa Tatupu made the Pro Bowl with Polamalu being widely considered one of the top defenive players in the game. Adding to the mix this season are Arizona Cardinal offensive lineman Taitusi Lutui and Detroit Lion Fred Matua.

Texas A&M (15): Misi Tupe is a transfer from Dixie College.

Texas (16): Defensive Lineman Roy Miller earned ample playing time as a true freshman for the current National Champions.

Wisconsin (17): Donovan Raiola is an undrafted free agent Offensive LIneman with the St Louis Rams.

UCLA (18): Shannon Tevaga is in line to be the next Samoan from the Westwood campus in the NFL. Shannon will be joined by younger brother Sonny Tevaga this fall on the Bruins offensive line.

Washington (19): Olin Kreutz is a perennial Pro Bowl selection at Center for the past 5 years. Kreutz may have another UW alum in his division with free agent Manase Hopoi of the Minnesota Vikings. Current senior defensive line starters Donny Mateaki may join these Huskies in the NFL next season.

Cal (20): Center Marvin Philip is expceted to make the Pittsburgh Steelers roster following an All American career at Berkeley. Current defensive lineman Nu'u Tafisi and Abu Ma'afala with good senior years should have an opportunity to play at the next level.

Iowa (23): Tight End Anthony Moeaki coming off a stong freshman season is expected to contribute to the Hawkeyes run for a Big 10 title.

Arizona State (24): Current Sun Devils may have future pros in Michael Marquardt and Brandon Rodd.

Kansas State (25): El Camino JC transfer Moses Manu is expected to contibute right away at the Manhattan campus.

Oklahoma (27): Defensive Lineman CJ Ah You had a strong junior year following his transfer from Snow JC via BYU. Ah You returns as a starter.

Colorado (28): Current Buffs include Jacksonville Jags Chris Naeole. Former Buffs Vaka Manupuna and Sam Taule'ale'a are attempting to make the Washington and Buffalo squads.

Stanford (30): Sione Fua and Tevita Pritchard were highly recruited high school athletes who are expected to contribute in the coming years at the Palo Alto campus.

The Real No. 1

Which school trains the best NFL players? Measuring each pro's impact last year, Sam Walker crunches the numbers to find top contributors and underrated programs. And the winner is...
August 18, 2006; Page W1

On the cusp of the 2006 college football season, the Florida State Seminoles have a few things to be concerned about. That bitter loss to Penn State in the Orange Bowl, those preseason polls that have them finishing outside the top 10 or the trio of freshmen who'll be playing at tight end.

But there's one thing the players shouldn't be too worried about: whether they'll be able to hold down a job in the National Football League.

Forget all the plaques, trophies and hard-won jugs and buckets you see in campus trophy cases. After poring over detailed summaries for hundreds of games in the NFL, we've devised a new yardstick for measuring the greatness of college football programs -- how well their alumni perform in the pros.

With 45 players taking the field in the NFL last season and more than 25 starting regularly for some of the league's best teams, Florida State came out on top. In fact, they blew away the next best school by a wide margin. "I'm surprised, but in a good way," says Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, who's prowled the sidelines in Tallahassee since 1976. "I'd like to think we're working our players harder than some of these other guys."

To create these rankings, we copied down the official rosters for every NFL game played last season, giving each player a separate entry for each game -- about 27,000 in all. We grouped the players by college, and then gave each school points based on the role their alumni played. Starters earned more than substitutes or benchwarmers, and players involved in wins gained extra points. So under our system, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, who started every game for a team that won 14 of 16, earned 94 points for his alma mater, Tennessee -- while a decent bench player from an average team would earn about half that. We tallied each school's total points to arrive at an "alumni success score" for more than 250 schools from Notre Dame to Northern Arizona.

[Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, from Tennessee]
Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, from Tennessee

What did we learn?

There's no sense in questioning the primacy of college football in Florida. Coming in second, just behind the Seminoles, was the University of Florida, with downstate rival Miami also cracking the top 10. Our alumni success scores also affirm the power of traditional college football heavyweights like Tennessee (No. 4), Ohio State (No. 5) and Michigan (No. 6) -- schools where, incidentally, players regularly compete in front of home crowds in excess of 100,000. Overall, representatives from the schools in our Top 10 accounted for more than one-fifth of all the alumni success points earned by players in the NFL last year, while schools in the Top 30 accounted for nearly half.

Plenty of Surprises

But there were plenty of surprises. Aided by everything from former NFL coaches to solid academics and rigorous conditioning programs, some colleges have sent more players to the NFL than their records would justify. Though they don't always crack the postseason polls, Virginia, Purdue, Texas A&M and California all made our Top 30, while North Carolina -- a team that hasn't ended a season ranked in the AP poll since 1997 -- finished ahead of powerhouses like Penn State, Texas and USC.

Another mystery: How little all this seems to matter to NFL scouts. To test whether NFL teams have been valuing college programs properly, we gave every school a score based on how many of its alumni were taken (and in which rounds) during recent NFL drafts. We assumed schools with high alumni success rates would have high draft scores. That wasn't always true.

[New England Patriots' Tom Brady, from Michigan]
New England Patriots' Tom Brady, from Michigan

Take Miami: NFL scouts have rewarded the school's players more often and with higher draft picks than players from any other school lately. But for a number of reasons, including injuries, the Hurricanes managed only a No. 7 ranking on our alumni success chart. The same goes for Oklahoma: Products of the Sooners' system have been highly prized in the draft but limped in at 28th overall.

Perhaps the loudest surprise came from one of the quietest programs in our study: East Carolina. While Pirates players have been all but invisible to NFL scouts in recent years, the school still had eight alums playing in the NFL last season who racked up 401 success points -- more than better-known schools like Missouri, Kentucky and Tulane. Head coach Skip Holtz says the school's under-the-radar status helps its players come to the NFL ready to knock down walls if necessary. "It's not a mentality of, 'Look, I played in the biggest of the bigs, I'm all-conference, I'm the man,' " he says. "It's more like, 'I've got to prove that I can get this done.' "

College programs can't do everything, of course. In recent years, new NCAA regulations have reduced the time coaches can work with players. Now that more colleges are running schemes like the "spread offense" that aren't popular in the pros, NFL scouts are paying more attention to raw talent. No matter how well-coached a player is, he isn't likely to play in the NFL if he doesn't meet the basic physical requirements. Mike Giddings Jr. of Pro Scout Inc., a firm that assesses talent for NFL teams, says scouts start their evaluations by looking for one thing. "Speed, plain and simple," he says. "Then strength." The easiest way for a school to produce pros, he says, is to recruit the best athletes.

[Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers, from North Carolina]
Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers, from North Carolina

Nonetheless, the schools in our Top 30 didn't get there by recruiting alone. One reason some college programs make good pro pipelines, NFL executives say, is because they've hired a coach with pro experience. Several schools on our list -- including USC, Notre Dame and Nebraska -- have improved their standing lately by hiring from the NFL. North Carolina coach John Bunting not only worked in three NFL cities, he's one of the few college coaches who also played in the league. Another is Baylor's Guy Morriss, whose school also made our list of the most-underrated NFL pipelines.

After leaving the New York Jets in 2001 for the top job at Virginia, Al Groh has been casting his offense and defense in the NFL mold. The Cavaliers are one of the few college teams that use the 3-4 defensive alignment popular in the pros -- three down linemen and four linebackers -- which may help explain their solid alumni success. When one of his alums visits from the NFL, Mr. Groh says, the typical response is: "Wow. So much of what we did up there was what we were exposed to here."

Welcoming the Scouts

Off the field, coaches with NFL resumes often make another adjustment: giving a warm welcome to pro scouts. While most schools are imposing more restrictions on when NFL scouts can visit campus to watch practices and study game film -- Penn State allows scouts to visit for only one week all season -- many former pro coaches have kept the door open. At USC, ex-NFL coach Pete Carroll has offered scouts almost unlimited access. In North Carolina, Mr. Bunting keeps a meeting room open and gives scouts generous access to coaches, video technicians and trainers. "Those guys know they're welcome on campus," he says.

Among 250-plus schools that sent alumni to the NFL, these produced players who performed better than their draft level would have predicted..:
1. East Carolina 66.8
2. Arizona 60.3
3. San Jose State 50.9
4. West Virginia 50.0
5. Colorado State 46.5
6. Baylor 46.1
7. Indiana 44.8
8. So. Mississippi 37.6
9. Georgia Tech 34.2
10. North Carolina 31.2
...while alumni of the following schools performed below the level their draft status would have indicated.
1. Texas Christian 8.2
2. Oregon State 10.7
3. Miami (Fla.) 10.9
4. Oklahoma 12.1
5. Arkansas 14.6
6. Wisconsin 15.4
7. Ohio State 15.6
8. Georgia 15.8
9. Oregon 16.0
10. Utah 16.2
Underrated: Schools whose alums made fewer than 112 appearances on NFL rosters last year weren't included; Overrated: Schools with fewer than 40 Draft Success Points weren't included.

By the same token, many of these ex-NFL coaches encourage their pro alumni to come back to campus to work out with current players or just talk to them about life at the next level. Some coaches send T-shirts to NFL alumni or offer them sideline passes to the games. If NFL players come to campus the day of a meeting, Mr. Bunting says, "I'll put them in front of the team."

At East Carolina, the football program has followed another road to NFL success. As a lesser-known school surrounded by major programs, the Pirates have a tough time landing recruits with ready-made NFL size and speed. So the challenge, according to Mr. Holtz, is building them from the ground up. For years, this was the job of strength coach Jeff Connors, who trained many of the school's current NFL players. He describes his approach as "extreme conditioning." When players weren't sprinting up stadium steps carrying 65-pound bags of concrete, he was making them run ten 300-yard sprints, each in under 55 seconds, with only 30 seconds of rest in between.

Thanks to a diet and weightlifting program designed by Mr. Connors, one Pirates player, Dwayne Ledford, added 80 pounds to his 235-pound frame and later caught on with the New Orleans Saints. "There's no possible way anyone conditioned harder than we did," Mr. Connors says. Today Mr. Connors works for another school on our list, North Carolina, where he's still coming up with unique training methods. "I have a sand pit that I'm enjoying," he says.

NFL executives say there's no consensus for what makes a great college program. Some think academics are crucial, others say grades bear little relation to a player's football intelligence. Our results on this subject aren't definitive, either: While players from many schools with high academic standards showed up on our list, Stanford's alumni didn't quite live up to their draft expectations.

So who do the scouts like? Tom Modrak, assistant general manager of the Buffalo Bills, says he never misses a scouting trip to Ohio State -- not just because of the talent and the intense pressure the players face, but because the staff embraces scouts. "They're rooting for their kids to make the next step," he says. Not surprisingly, the Bills have drafted six Buckeyes since 1999, including three in the first round.

'They're Overachievers'

Scot McCloughan, personnel chief for the San Francisco 49ers, has two favorites. The first is Michigan, where he's a big fan of the school's offensive linemen. They're not "fancypants footwork guys," he says, but they tend to be intelligent Midwestern kids with sound technique and a solid work ethic. "They're overachievers," he says. His other choice is Miami, a school where current NFL stars like Ray Lewis make a point to visit their alma mater to push the undergrads -- even calling to ride them when they don't measure up. "The message is, 'You gotta represent us in the NFL and keep this tradition going,' " Mr. McCloughan says. "Ninety-five percent of those kids have one goal in life -- to play in the NFL. When they don't make it, they feel they're letting the school down." Whether or not they ultimately pan out, Mr. McCloughan says, "they're ready to play their rookie year."

As for Florida State, the secret seems to be continuity. Mr. Bowden, who's 76 years old, has had the same defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews, since 1983. "We hardly ever lose a coach," Mr. Bowden says. Over the years, the Seminoles have hammered out an ironclad system. They recruit top athletes, keep the schemes relatively simple and let their athletes win games.

While other coaches focus on complex game plans, Mr. Bowden emphasizes fundamentals like blocking, tackling and holding on to the football -- an approach he likens to preparing a soldier for battle. "You've got all the artillery, bombers and bazookas, but if you can't handle that rifle, you can't make it."

If he's done his job, Mr. Bowden says, a Seminole player will arrive in the NFL with superior athletic talent, a deep appreciation for the fundamentals and above all, respect. "We hope he is obedient to his coaches, obedient to his parents and obedient to authority," Mr. Bowden says. "It's so easy to see the ones who are not."

Write to Sam Walker at sam.walker@wsj.com4

The Dow Jones College-Football Success Index
Seeking a different way to measure the success of college football programs, we looked at how many of each school's alumni have made it to the NFL and how effective they've been there. After copying down every player who appeared on an NFL game roster in 2005 and sorting them by college, we devised a six-point scale and gave every player a score based on what role they played in each game (a start was worth more than a substitution) and the outcome (a win was worth more than a loss). The totals for all players from each school are tabulated in "Alumni Success Points." To see how the performance of a school's players squared up with the perceptions of NFL scouts, we also ranked schools by how popular their players have been in five recent NFL Drafts -- a statistic we call "Draft Success Points." By dividing a college's Alumni Success Points by its Draft Success Points, we were able to give each school a "Draft Value," which shows whether or not its players have lived up to their draft promise -- in other words, whether a school is overrated or underrated by the NFL. Below, from a field of more than 250 colleges, the Top 30 programs in the Dow Jones College-Football Success Index. (For more details on our methodology, see How We Did It.)
1.Florida State
2,72014418.9 (19)Michael Boulware
Derrick Brooks
Chris Hope
Greg Spires
No contest: Former Seminoles blew away the pack, finishing first by an 11% margin. Scouts say top athletes and an emphasis on teaching fundamentals make the Seminoles great pros.
2,45012020.4 (17)Jevon Kearse
Andra Davis
Gerald Warren
Cooper Carlisle
Mike Peterson
Max Starks
Gators have had some rocky seasons lately, but it's not for a lack of talent. Alumni linebackers Andra Davis and Mike Peterson were 5th and 8th in the NFL in total tackles last year.
2,42015315.8 (26)Hines Ward
Champ Bailey
Robert Geathers
Odell Thurman
George Foster
Stingy defense helped Bulldogs finish in the Associated Press Top 10 for four straight seasons. Three of its four Pro-Bowlers play defense, including Denver interception machine Champ Bailey.
2,35011021.4 (12)Peyton Manning
Jamal Lewis
Deon Grant
John Henderson
Gibril Wilson
Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts (14-2 last season) was one of the NFL's most valuable players, racking up 94 success points for the Volunteers out of a possible 96. But nearly 60% of Tennessee's points came from alumni on lousy teams like Green Bay.
5.Ohio State
2,31014815.6 (27)Orlando Pace
Terry Glenn
Joey Galloway
Mike Vrabel
NFL scouts love the Buckeyes, who had five players taken in the first round of this year's draft. But thanks to a few notable busts -- like RB Maurice Clarett, drafted last year by Denver -- Ohio State players didn't fare well on our Draft Value scale.
2,25010222.1 (10)Tom Brady
Amani Toomer
Ty Law
Maurice Williams
Ian Gold
Steve Hutchison
Larry Foote
Wolverines in the NFL get high marks for intelligence and work ethic. They also outperform expectations. Pro-Bowl linebacker Cato June of the Indianapolis Colts and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots were both taken in round 6.
2,17020010.9 (30)Santana Moss
Clinton Portis
Edgerrin James
Jeremy Shockey
Reggie Wayne
Vince Wilfork
Overrated? Hurricanes are the top dogs in the NFL draft and produced three of the NFL's top 10 rushers in 2005. But injuries to several first-round picks, including cornerback Mike Rumph and tight end Kellen Winslow, helped hold them to 7th in alumni success.
2,0507128.9 (2)Willie Anderson
Carnell Williams
Chris Gray
Rudy Johnson
Running back central: 28% of Auburn's points came from ball carriers, led by 2005 NFL Rookie of the year, Tampa Bay's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
2,0108324.2 (7)Tory James
Alan Faneca
Eddie Kennison
Recently departed coach Nick Saban, a former NFL assistant now leading the Miami Dolphins, knew how to prepare players for the NFL. Last year, five LSU rookies earned late-season starts, including Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears.
10.North Carolina
Tar Heels
1,8706031.2 (1)Julius Peppers
Willie Parker
Alge Crumpler
David Thornton
Jeff Saturday
Brian Simmons
Surprise! Underrated Tar Heels haven't dominated opponents or the NFL draft, but produce loads of budding stars and Pro-Bowlers like Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker and Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers. Head coach John Bunting is a former NFL coach and player.
11.Notre Dame
Fighting Irish
1,8508721.2 (12)Sean Mahan
Renaldo Wynn
Luke Petitgout
Veterans keep the ratings up, but where are the stars? Irish had only two NFL draftees in 2006 and no Pro-Bowlers. Coach Charlie Weis, formerly of the New England Patriots, plans to change this.
12.Penn State
Nittany Lions
1,8207325.0 (5)Kyle Brady
Jeff Hartings
Brandon Short
Hidden gems. Secretive Nittany Lions aren't a favorite of NFL scouts, but drafted players tend to pay off handsomely. Kansas City's Larry Johnson led the AFC in rushing last season.
1,8208920.4 (16)Grant Wilstrom
Mike Minter
Will Shields
Kyle Vanden Bosch
Former NFL coach Bill Callahan's passing attack should produce more offensive stars. For now, Cornhuskers score with defenders like Tennessee sack machine Kyle Vanden Bosch.
1,6308718.7 (20)Carson Palmer
Keyshawn Johnson
Troy Polamalu
Lofa Tatupu
Glamour boys. Head coach Pete Carroll, also plucked from the NFL, has made Trojans the newest darling of NFL scouts. School had 11 total players drafted in 2006 with eight coming from their pro-style offense. Surprise rookie LB Lofa Tatupu scored big last season in Seattle.
15.Texas A&M
1,5807022.6 (8)Ty Warren
Pat Williams
Steve McKinney
Aggies have fewer alumni draft picks than rival Texas and a lot fewer NFL stars, but the average player is a little more effective. Most Aggie starters have six or more years of NFL experience.
1,4908817.0 (23)Derrick Dockery
Casey Hampton
Derrick Johnson
National champs sent only three players to the NFL this year from the nation's top offense. One problem: Longhorns' shotgun formation isn't popular in the NFL.
1,4909715.4 (28)Dan Buenning
Casey Rabach
Chris Chambers
Al Johnson
Hike! More than 20% of the Badgers' alumni success points came from NFL players who snap the ball, including center Casey Rabach and Pro-Bowl long snapper Mike Schneck.
1,4906722.2 (9)Jonathon Ogden
Donnie Edwards
Ryan Nece
Bryan Fletcher
Volume play: Bruins had 27 different players on game rosters in the NFL last year, but only eight frequent starters, including nine-time Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden.
1,4606024.3 (6)Mark Brunell
Jerramy Stevens
Lawyer Milloy
Olin Kreutz
Veteran NFL alumni like Washington QB Mark Brunell, Atlanta DB Lawyer Milloy and New England RB Corey Dillon are keeping up appearances, but Huskies had only one player drafted in 2006.
Golden Bears
1,4006421.9 (11)Tony Gonzalez
Tarik Glenn
Deltha O'Neal
Doormat no longer. Golden Bears have made the top 25 two years straight and sent some brainy players to the NFL, like New England linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, a high-scorer on the Wonderlic test.
1,3806720.6 (15)Drew Brees
Kyle Orton
Chike Okeafor
Landon Johnson
Kelly Butler
Don't let the quarterbacks fool you. While QBs Drew Brees and Kyle Orton stole the spotlight, Boilermaker linebackers accounted for more than 35% of the school's total alumni success points. NFL teams drafted two more linebackers this year.
1,3605126.6 (3)Tiki Barber
Ronde Barber
Patrick Kerney
Heath Miller
Former NFL coach Al Groh and his NFL-inspired 3-4 defense make his players attractive at the next level. Rookie defensive end Chris Canty was a nice surprise in Dallas last year.
1,3307817.1 (22)Eric Steinbach
Casey Wiegmann
Mike Goff
Schools with alumni starting for the 14-2 Indianapolis Colts scored some extra points in our poll. The Hawkeyes had two of them, including Pro-Bowl safety Bob Sanders.
24.Arizona State
Sun Devils
1,3206320.9 (14)Jake Plummer
Terrell Suggs
Levi Jones
Todd Heap
Sun Devils haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 1997, but 12 of the school's NFL draft picks made contributions last season, including Denver quarterback Jake Plummer.
25.Kansas State
1,3106520.1 (18)Ryan Lilja
Damion McIntosh
Terence Newman
De-clawed. Wildcats have only had four players drafted in the last three years. Only one, Arizona center Nick Leckey, started regularly in the NFL last year.
26.Virginia Tech
1,2807716.6 (24)Michael Vick
Andre Davis
Ben Taylor
Keion Carpenter
DeAngelo Hall
Entourage: Alumni Michael Vick has lots of company in Atlanta. With five Hokies on the team, the Falcons account for 44% of the school's NFL starts.
1,24010312.1 (29)Stephen Alexander
Roy Williams
Tommie Harris
Time will tell. Sooners had 11 players drafted in 2005 and five of these rookies started in at least one NFL game last season. But will they live up to the hype?
1,2304825.5 (4)Michael Lewis
Matt Lepsis
Chris Naeole
Fading glory: Buffaloes have the worst recent draft record of any team on our list. NFL veterans with at least eight years of experience accounted for nearly half the school's points.
Crimson Tide
1,1806717.6 (21)Shaun Alexander
Chris Samuels
Michael Myers
Deshea Townsend
Pro-Bowl RB Shaun Alexander of Seattle led the NFL in rushing last season and topped all Crimson Tide alumni wih 93 success points.
1,1707116.5 (25)Kwame Harris
John Lynch
Eric Heitmann
Tank Williams
Smart only goes so far. Cardinal alumni are academic stars who make a good showing here given the team's lackluster performance on the field. But draft value is well below average.
How We Did It: Alumni Success Points were tabulated using records taken from official NFL summaries of every game played during the 2005 regular season. Points were awarded based on the following scale: 6 points for a player designated as a "starter" whose team won the game. 5 points for a starter on a losing team; 4 points for a player designated as a "substitute" on a winning team ( all kickers and punters are listed as substitutes); 3 points for a substitute on a losing team; 2 points for a player who was on a team's active roster but did not play; 1 point for a player who was listed as "inactive." Final scores are sums of all points earned by a school's alumni over the entire season. Draft Success Points is a measure of how players from each college were valued by NFL teams in five drafts from 2001 to 2005. The NFL Draft has 7 rounds. We awarded 7 points for every player taken in the first round, 6 for every player taken in round 2, and so on, all the way to 1 point for a player taken in round 7. The school's final score is a sum of all points earned by its alumni in those drafts. Draft Value was calculated by dividing a school's total Alumni Success Points by its total Draft Success Points. A high score is an indication that a school's players perform better than NFL scouts seem to expect, while a low score indicates that the players have not measured up to these expectations.
-- Compiled by Sam Walker, Bryan Keogh and Worth Civils

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