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Sendoff Saturday: What Senior Days Suggest About Underclass Declarees

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Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby appears to be the first big-name underclassman to declare himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.
Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby appears to be the first big-name underclassman to declare himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

Eighteen seniors will take their last steps inside The Shoe on Saturday. It's Senior Day at Ohio State, one of the college game's great universal traditions -- a chance for the home fans to honor the departing student-athletes prior to the last football game the vast majority of them will ever play.

Bradley Roby will be one of those 18 honorees, though he's technically not a senior. At least not on the right half of the hyphenate.

Academically, Roby is a senior. In terms of his football eligibility, he's a junior. Which means he could come back to play cornerback in Columbus for another season, should he so choose. Unlike C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant and Carlos Hyde, Roby doesn't have to go.

But he's gone.

What little mystery may have remained was snuffed out earlier in the week when Urban Meyer outed him. Roby passed up the chance to turn pro once before, following his All-America redshirt sophomore season. Opportunity's knock, apparently, will not go unanswered a second time.

Roby is perhaps the first underclassman this season to declare himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. Or at least to have his coach declare it for him.

Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL; he's not officially declared for the draft, though he's reportedly left school to rehab the knee and prepare, as best he can, for the Scouting Combine. Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla never made a public announcement; he just left the Ducks in October and reportedly has signed with an agent.

Brett Hundley's "people" allegedly have met with Jay-Z's agency about representation, Kelcy Quarles' dad reportedly told a South Carolina fan site that he son would be done, and a Florida State recruit supposedly ratted out James Wilder Jr's intentions to come out after this season.

But Roby seems to be the first underclassman officially into the prospect pool. His participation in any Senior Day activities on Saturday would confirm what already seems a foregone conclusion.

What is potentially more interesting at Ohio State are the guys on the sidelines who will not be acknowledged during Saturday's ceremony. Guys like Ryan Shazier (who's ready for the NFL) and Braxton Miller (who's not). Both will announce their plans at some point in the coming weeks, without pomp or fanfare.

There's no "Declaration Day" sendoff to acknowledge the presumptive final home game of those underclass prospects. There are no ovations, no marching out to midfield with mom. When the season is over, they arrive at their decision and depart for the pros. 

It's a dynamic developing across the country. Three hundred miles up the road from Columbus, Notre Dame will honor its seniors on Saturday. Louis Nix III is expected to walk with his mother (and, presumably, with crutches after Thursday's surgery to repair a torn meniscus) in the Senior Day ceremony -- a pretty clear signal that he's NFL-bound. Stephon Tuitt, though, a true junior, will not. His intentions remain private, for now.  

The underclass exodus is inevitable this time of year. An unprecedented number of underclassmen (73) were eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft, and this year's number could challenge that mark. Our midseason big board is littered with them.

And so today is a chance for fans across the country to celebrate the final home games not only for the seniors on their squads but for their team's most talented juniors. This likely will be Teddy Bridgewater's last game at Papa John's, Sammy Watkins' last turn to rub Howard's Rock, maybe Donte Moncrief's last stroll through The Grove.

Next week, we'll zoom in more on these forthcoming decisions and get prescriptive -- Who should stay and who is ready to go? 

But for this week, the more important draft news might be made by those participating in the pregame activities than in the actual games themselves.