At last count, the Pac-12 has lost 24 early entries to the NFL Draft, and at the going rate it will be 25 or even 26 by day's end.

Yes, it's a big number, a huge number. (Might be the highest total in league history; I haven't checked.)

It's both cause and result of the high-quality of play in '13, and it will adversely affect the league's success next season. Of that, there is no doubt.

Also of no doubt: It could have been worse, much worse.

My conclusion: The situation has a bit more nuance than the on-paper equation suggests (i.e., 24 early entries = carnage).

In fact, one could argue ... and I will ... that the mass exodus isn't the body blow it seems.

Let's take a look:

  • The case for mitigated damage starts with three names: Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Sean Mannion.

    Elite quarterbacks are worth more than one elite player at all other positions.

    You can't quantify their value, but surely Mariota is worth far more to Oregon's success than the combination of De'Anthony Thomas and Terrance Mitchell, for example.

    I'd argue that Mannion returning more than offsets the loss of Brandin Cooks and Scott Crichton because Mannion as a senior in '14 is exponentially better than any other option for the Beavers.

  • If success is framed by the number of elite teams a conference produces in a given season -- and that was certainly the definition applied to the Pac-12 in '13 -- then we must examine not the total number but the breakdown:

    Which teams lost which players.

    Consider: One-fourth of the Pac-12½²s early entries (six of 24) are from teams that had no chance to challenge for the division titles next season: Colorado, Utah and Cal.

    The Bears, who haven't won an FBS game since Oct. '12, are alone responsible for 17% of the league's departures.

  • Another five early-entries are from fringe contenders: Arizona, Oregon State and Washington.

    Would the Huskies be an elite team with Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (but senior attrition and a new quarterback)?

    Would Arizona with Ka'Deem Carey (but senior attrition and a new quarterback)?

    Or OSU with Crichton and Cooks?

    You could make the case for any of the three, but you could just as easily make the case against any of the three considering they weren't elite teams with those players in '13 -- and again, the Huskies and Wildcats are losing their QBs.

    That brings the number of early-entries from the lower- or middle-tier teams to 11 ... or nearly half the league's total.

  • What about the top tier?

    Of the projected contenders (for the division titles and spots in the major bowls/playoff), only USC got hammered by early-entry departures.

    The Trojans lost Dion Bailey, George Uko, Marcus Martin, Xavier Grimble and Marquise Lee -- five good or elite players.

    At the same time, Hayes Pullard, Buck Allen and Josh Shaw are staying. Add the other returnees, and there's more than enough returning talent for USC to make a run at a 10-win season.

    Stanford appears to have taken a beating, but that's largely due to the combination of draft departures and senior losses:

    Four starters on offense and five on defense (including the nickel back) were leaving no matter what.

    Only three Cardinal players actually declared for the draft, and one of them, All-American guard David Yankey, was an academic and athletic senior who had a medical redshirt option.

    (Officially, he counts as a draft departure. Practically, he should not.)

    Stanford's early-entry damage was minimal on defense -- only safety Ed Reynolds is leaving -- and limited to two linemen on offense: Yankey and tackle Cam Fleming.

    Oregon is losing DAT and Mitchell but nobody else.

    (Colt Lyerla counts toward the league's official total but should not be included in a practical assessment since he was booted off the team in mid-season.)

    * UCLA is losing Xavier Su'a-filo but nobody else.

    * Arizona State is losing Carl Bradford but nobody else ...

    Which brings us to the final total:

    Only 54% of the early-entry departures are from the league's top teams ... the national contenders ... and almost half of that subset comes from one team (USC) ...

    Which brings us to the following summary of the early-entry damage on the top tier (again: senior attrition excluded):

    USC: Heavy damage.

    Stanford: Moderate damage.

    UCLA: Limited damage.

    ASU: Limited damage.

    Oregon: Limited damage.

    When you frame it in that fashion, the exodus doesn't seem quite so bad.