As a father, it is my job to explain the inexplicable. Queries come out of nowhere -- "Daddy, why . . . " and I respond, quickly, with authority and confidence, convincing and credible. For the time being, anyway, my kids believe I have all the answers.
Soon enough, they'll be in middle school and I'll be an idiot in their eyes (no matter how right I actually am). I'm in no rush for that demotion. But it's coming, earlier than I would like.
It's coming because my son is becoming increasingly interested in college football. And while I escaped without ever having to answer why polls determined a champion rather than a playoff, eventually, inevitably, he's going to ask the question, the one for which there is no answer.
"Daddy, why are there 14 teams in the Big Ten?"
In the momentary pause before I begin the tap dance, my infallability will be gone. Idiot status achieved.
I'll try to explain that there was once a league called the Big Eight, and when it expanded by four teams, it became the Big 12. And that the Pac-10 added two teams and renamed itself the Pac-12. Thanks to the Common Core, he has the math skills to follow that logic.
But I won't be able sell to him what I can't fathom. I'll start talking about such football concepts as "brand integrity" and hope that he's still young enough to get distracted by Michigan's cool helmets.
I've said all that to say this . . . the Big Ten, in name only, may be a punchline these days, but its product is not. And there are few people outside the Big Ten footprint -- which now stretches from Nebraska to exit 9 on the Jersey Turnpike -- who have held the league's NFL prospects in higher regard than I have. No matter how flattering Nick Saban's words were to an Ohio audience this spring.
Four players from the Big Ten were taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. I had six with first-round grades.
With the exception of Ryan Shazier (23rd on my final Big Board, and the 15th pick of the draft), each of the six were selected lower than I had them ranked. In fact, seven of the eight Big Ten prospects I ranked in my top 50 were taken later than my grade warranted:
Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Cody Latimer, Indiana
That makes them all bargains in my book.
Undeterred, I have another half-dozen Big Ten players in my Way Too Early Big Board for the 2015 NFL Draft. Two are ranked among my top four prospects, another is ranked ninth. That's three in the top 10 from the Big Ten, as many as produced by the Pac-12 and ACC. Three times as many as the SEC.
Unlike the name of the leage they are representing, such lofty expectations I am confident in my ability to explain.