Which College Football Conferences Are Represented Most in Super Bowl XLVIII?
For fans of college football and only college football, the Super Bowl (if not the entire existence of the NFL) is not unlike an island of outgrown toys—a magical, nostalgic place where former schoolboy favorites live out the twilight of their careers.
Accordingly, unless you hail from Denver or Seattle or were born to someone who did, it might be hard to find interest in watching Sunday's game. What reason is there to tune in if you don't care about the final score?
For the sake of all you college diehards, let's take a quick look at where the Super Bowl rosters came from—only counting the 53-man active rosters, since those are the players you might actually see on the field.
Which conference's fans will hear the most familiar names?
Note: Conferences tabulated by 2014 membership (i.e., Louisville was counted as a member of the ACC).
Super Bowl Players: 10
Most Important Player: LB Bobby Wagner (Utah State)
The AAC was technically a BCS conference, and it was supposed to play the role of "sixth banana" behind the true power five. With a meager four players in the Super Bowl, however, it doesn't have even half as many as the upstart MWC.
And the MWC's two traditional powerhouses, Fresno State and Boise State, aren't even represented!
The strongest push from the conference is San Diego State, which has three players in the Super Bowl, albeit in minor roles. Long-snappers, such as Aaron Brewer, are people too, though, and running back Ronnie Hillman has seen the field in some important moments.
Also checking in with multiple players are Nevada and Utah State—the latter of which is the most recent addition to MWC membership. Picking up the Aggies has already paid dividends for the conference.
4b. Big Ten
Super Bowl Players: 11
Most Important Player: QB Russell Wilson (Wisconsin)
Deadlocked with another power conference in the fourth spot on this list, the Big Ten comes in at No. 4b because its most important player, Russell Wilson, only graced the league for one season.
But that season was a memorable one. Wilson led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl with one of the most efficient campaigns in college football history, laying the bedrock for his early and remarkable success at the next level.
Across the line, former Minnesota receiver Eric Decker has a big part to play in Denver's offense. A gruesome injury cut short his senior season with the Gophers and dropped his stock to the third round, but before that, Decker had two consecutive years with 900-plus receiving yards and one with more than 1,000.
Former Wisconsin Badger Montee Ball started his rookie season slowly, but he's quietly started to come on late for Denver and might be important in the red zone. He is, of course, the leading non-kicker point-scorer in FBS history with 500.
4a. Big 12
Super Bowl Players: 11
Most Important Player: FS Earl Thomas (Texas)
Come Super Bowl Sunday, there may be no matchup more important than Peyton Manning vs. Earl Thomas—the two best players at their respective positions in the league. The (literal) quarterback of Denver's offense and the (figurative) quarterback of Seattle's defense will be tasked with outsmarting and outplaying one another.
Thomas is one of three former Longhorns in Sunday's game, and one of his forerunners in the Texas secondary could also have a huge impact. Veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer is not the shutdown corner he once was, but if he's forced into substantial playing time, he can't afford to be picked apart as he was against San Diego.
Texas Tech also has three players in the Super Bowl, and all three are starters on Denver's offense. Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez will all be out there making Lubbock proud come Sunday, giving Red Raiders fans little drama over whom to root for.
Super Bowl Players: 12
Most Important Player: WR Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech)
The ACC would have been locked in that fourth-place tie if not for Russell Wilson, who attended North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin for his final (and most high-profile) college season.
We'll count Wilson for his time on the Atlantic Coast, but since he's already been highlighted, let's give the spotlight to another big-time ACC player: Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech.
Billed as mini-Calvin Johnson since his time with the Yellow Jackets, Thomas has continued on that career path and will ostensibly match up with Richard Sherman on the outside. If he can beat press coverage, as he has most of this season, Denver's offense might be impossible to stop.
Also worth keeping an eye on is Virginia Tech safety Kam Chancellor, the enforcer of Seattle's "Legion of Boom." He's the pregame favorite for "most likely to get flagged/ejected for an illegal hit."
Super Bowl Players: 17
Most Important Player: CB Richard Sherman (Seattle)
Perhaps you've heard a thing or two about Richard Sherman in the week-plus since Seattle beat San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. If not, don't worry: It's just getting started.
The hoopla surrounding Sherman is a bit overblown, but his importance in Sunday's game cannot be overstated. Peyton Manning relies on timing and his best receivers getting free off the line; Sherman is the best in the league at preventing that.
Predictably, of the 17 Pac-12 players suiting up on Saturday, 11 play for the Seahawks—almost twice as many as the Broncos. That's because another famous Pac-12 alum, former USC coach Pete Carroll, will be roaming Seattle's sideline in the same role.
A number of his current players were former opponents in college. If you can't beat 'em—or in Carroll's case, if beating them was less elementary than usual—why not join 'em?
Super Bowl Players: 23
Most Important Player: QB Peyton Manning (Tennessee)
The SEC has dominated the last decade of college football, and that dominance is a big reason that it leads the pack with more than a fifth of the Super Bowl's active players. But it's a fossil of a quarterback from before that time who will make the biggest difference come Sunday.
Peyton Manning and the rest of his SEC brethren will be far from the warmth of the Southeast, however, playing in the frigid pall of New York City. Sunday is not expected to be quite as cold as the week preceding it, but it's still not what most of the conference grew up accustomed to.
As far as SEC sleepers go, is there any variable bigger than Florida alum Percy Harvin? The one-time 5-star recruit and first-round NFL draft pick has looked good in (very) limited action this year, and he's expected to suit up against Denver.
Who knows how good Seattle might be with Harvin playing 60 minutes? In that regard, an SEC player might be the keystone of each Super Bowl offense.
Did anyone expect something different?