- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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It's no secret that NFL teams look to SEC schools for pro prospects more than schools in any other conference.
The SEC had 49 players selected in last month's NFL draft, the 11th time in the past 13 years that it tied or led for the most draft picks among college football conferences.
But how many of those draft picks from SEC schools will develop into NFL All-Pros and Pro Bowlers?
Quite a few Pro Bowlers cut their teeth at SEC schools, but NFL teams might look to a handful of schools outside the SEC for can't-miss pro prospects.
An ESPN.com survey of NFL drafts from 1979 to 2009 revealed USC, Miami, Pittsburgh and Florida State produced the most fertile NFL draft pipelines over the past three decades.
The survey awarded one point for each player who was named NFL most valuable player, defensive player of the year, offensive player of the year or All-Pro (first- or second-team) and one point for each Pro Bowl appearance.
USC, which had at least five players selected in each of the past six NFL drafts, led the way with 177 points. Of course, the Trojans were buoyed by including four of the NFL's most decorated players -- Bruce Matthews (14 Pro Bowls), Anthony Munoz (11 Pro Bowls), Junior Seau (12 Pro Bowls) and Ronnie Lott (10 Pro Bowls) -- among their alumni.
The Hurricanes, who produced an NFL first-round pick every year from 1994 to 2008 and had a whopping 19 first-rounders from 2001 to 2004, finished second in the survey with 164 points. Among Miami's most prominent NFL alumni: Ray Lewis (a 10-time Pro Bowler), Warren Sapp (seven Pro Bowls) and Cortez Kennedy (eight Pro Bowls).
Pittsburgh was a major NFL pipeline during the early 1980s, when it produced future Pro Football Hall of Famers such as Dan Marino, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson. The Panthers, who include more recent NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis among their alumni, finished third in the survey with 120 points.
Florida State finished fourth with 107 points and Tennessee was fifth with 83.
The Volunteers were one of six SEC schools to finish in the top 25 of the survey results. Georgia was No. 8, Florida was No. 12, Alabama was No. 18, Auburn was No. 21 and LSU was No. 22.
The Big Ten, which has been ridiculed for its recent finishes in Bowl Championship Series games, had five schools in the top 25, second-highest among the BCS leagues. Penn State was No. 9, Michigan was No. 10 and Ohio State was No. 11.
Among the biggest surprises in the survey's results:
• UCLA, which hasn't won a Pac-10 championship in 11 years, finished sixth in the survey with 80 points. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, an 11-time Pro Bowler, and quarterback Troy Aikman carried the Bruins' flag in the NFL.
• Notre Dame, which lost nine of its past 10 bowl games and hasn't won a New Year's Day bowl game since 1994, was seventh with 79 points. Then again, maybe Notre Dame's high finish should not come as a surprise when you remember Joe Montana, Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis once played for the Fighting Irish.
• Oklahoma and Texas, which played for or won a BCS national championship six times in the past 10 seasons, didn't finish in the top 25 of the survey results. The Longhorns finished No. 28, followed by the Sooners at No. 29. Big 12 rivals Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M finished higher.
So which college football team produced the best NFL pipeline during the past three decades? Over the next four days, ESPN.com will determine the best in a 16-team, four-round playoff.
Round 1 features a pair of SEC-Big Ten matchups (Georgia versus Penn State and Tennessee versus Ohio State) and a Sunshine State showdown (Florida versus FSU).
The winner will be revealed in Thursday's championship game.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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