In the wake of O.C.C.'s excellent (and depressing) post on when the Cowboys acquired their starting 22, I thought it might be interesting to consider where the current roster of Cowboys played their collegiate ball. My thinking going in was that, with "competition" being such a watchword over the course of the Garrett administration, Dallas would have looked to the most competitive teams, from the most competitive conferences, in an effort to stock the roster with guys who have proven they could survive the crucible of competition.
In the past, the best example of this collegiate crucible could be found at Miami, FL. Not only did "The U" produce multiple first-rounders over a lengthy period, but the team was so deep in talent that the second string defensive tackle might well be better than the starter on 100 other college squads. In the Jimmy Johnson years, he took advantage of this (and of his familiarity with the Miami players), bringing in talented role players like Jimmy Jones, Darrin Smith and Kevin WIlliams.
More recently, we see that kind of depth at schools like Alabama and LSU. Last year, for example, the Tigers' third corner, Ron Brooks, who only received significant snaps when Tyrann Mathieu was injured, was drafted in the fourth round by Buffalo. Just because Brooks couldn't beat out the likes of Mathieu and blue-chippers Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne doesn't mean he can't be a good NFL player. This begs the question: to what degree have the Cowboys taken advantage of such treasure troves of talent, as they have worked to build what Jason Garrett yesterday termed a "championship team."
A look at where the 90 prospective Cowboys currently on the training camp roster hail from after the jump...
What I've done is determine how many players the Cowboys have from each conference. As you might imagine, this is not the most concrete operation, as there has been a great deal of fluidity and movement in conference memberships in recent years. So this is a loose rating, based on reasonable estimates. Some of these were easier than others; for example, I placed Lawrence Vickers, who played at Colorado, currently a Pac-12 team, in the Big 12, because that was the case when Vickers was on the team.
Here's the global list of how many Cowboys played in each conference:
Big 12: 12
Big 10: 7
Conference USA: 5
Mountain West: 5
Big Sky: 3
Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic: 3
Lone Star: 3
Big East: 2
Ohio Valley: 2
Colonial Athletic: 1
Missouri Valley: 1
Pennsylvania State Athletic: 1
South Atlantic: 1
What to make of all this? I was surprised, frankly, at how many Cowboys come from ACC schools. Several of these guys - Baraka Atkins and Harland Gunn (Miami, FL); Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech) and Mario Butler (Georgia Tech) - are longshots to make the roster, and there are others who are on the bubble. But there remains a core group - North Carolina's Bruce Carter and Gerald Sensabaugh; Phil Costa (Maryland); John Phillips (Virginia); and Kyle Wilber (Wake Forest) - who figure to play prominent roles in 2012.
What this makes clear is that, when looking at conference distribution, its important to focus on the players most likely to start and to make the 53 man roster and to dismiss the totals inflated by bottom-of-the-roster guys. So, I broke the list into three groups: 1) starters and key contributors; 2) bubble players and 3) training camp fodder. This exercise lent some clarification: of the eleven SEC players, seven are category one types, and the rest are bubble players. Two of those, Marcus Spears and Clifton Geathers, are more than likely to make the team. Similarly, five of the seven players from Big 10 schools figure to be key contributors.
To return to the idea I was discussing before the jump: which school is most frequently represented? It's no surprise: LSU, with four (Spears, Danny McCray, Nate Livings, and Claiborne), all of whom are likely to land on the 53. Of the twelve Big 12 players on the roster, on the other hand, only four seem to be roster locks, suggesting that Dallas prefers to flesh out a training camp roster with local products (a thesis given further credence when we note that three players hail from the obscure but resolutely local Lone Star conference).
The biggest surprise? That the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), which boasts such pigskin powerhouses as Findley, Michigan Tech, Northwood, and Ohio Dominican, has given us three Cowboys, all of whom have a chance to make the roster. Start with prize free agent Brandon Carr (Grand Valley State), add the leading candidate for the third receiver spot, Andre Holmes (Hillsdale) and complete the trifecta with defensive lineman Rob Calloway (Saginaw Valley State), and we have a peculiar preponderance of worthy candidates from the tiniest of conferences.
I'm not sure what this means, other than the old truism that there are many routes to the NFL continues to hold true. Considering the number of players Dallas has from perennial powerhouses Alabama and Ohio State (zero and zero), there may in fact be nothing truer. Sure, the roster has its share of guys forged in the competitive environment of the super-conferences. But case studies like Holmes and Carr show another kind of competition: negotiating the long, uphill road to NFL success. Jason Garrett, the former Ivy leaguer who fashioned himself a long career through sustained effort, understands this kind of competition, and values it just as highly as he does that which took place on the practice fields in Baton Rouge.