Oh how things can change in a week. This time last week, people were trying to figure out how the BCS world would cope with having three undefeated teams and figuring out which of those teams deserved spots in the BCS National Championship. Now, Notre Dame is the lone undefeated remaining after losses by Kansas State and Oregon, and we are now faced with the strong possibility of an SEC team- most likely Alabama- being in the BCS title game for the seventh straight year.
This will be the last week where almost all the teams in the nation are playing, and it’s ”Rivalry week”, as teams all over the country face off against their biggest rivals. Michigan/Ohio State, Notre Dame/USC, Florida/Florida State are the big ones, but there will be tons of other rivalries worth watching and top NFL prospects will be on display. It’s almost Bowl Season, and this will be the week some teams get to cement their place in big time Bowl games.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of this week’s “Prospects To Watch”, with an eye towards the NFL Draft.
Georgia Tech @ Georgia
Georgia LB Alec Ogletree
Georgia is in a good spot at this time of year. All they need to do is win this game against Georgia Tech and they win the SEC East. If they beat Alabama in the SEC Championship or ‘Bama loses to Auburn, Georgia will find itself in the National Championship. In this weekends matchup, the focus will be on the front seven for the Bulldogs, particularly ILB Alec Ogletree, as rival Georgia Tech runs the ball 57 times per game.
Ogletree (6’3, 232 lbs.) has had a very solid season thus far despite missing the first four games due to suspension. He has shown a nose for the ball and is second on the team in tackles, averaging over 10 tackles per game, while displaying some nice coverage skills. While his draft stock is all over the board, from as high as a top 15 pick to a late second rounder, I’d project him somewhere in the middle to early part of the second round at this time. Against Georgia Tech, Ogletree should have tons of opportunities to rack up tackles and make plays in the backfield. In seven games played this season, Ogletree has 72 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, one interception, and five passes broken up.
Rutgers @ Pittsburgh
Rutgers CB Logan Ryan
With only one loss on the season thus far, Rutgers is one of the many surprises of the year. The defense is the main reason for the Scarlet Knights’ success, as they are only allowing 12.4 points per game and allowed more than 26 points once all year. Rutgers has held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 54.6 and allowed only eight touchdowns through the air while forcing 15 interceptions, and CB Logan Ryan has been one of the better corners in the nation so far this year.
Ryan (6’0, 190 lbs.) has solid size and is a physical corner willing to mix it up with taller receivers. Ryan is one of the national leaders in passes broken up and he has shown a knack for the big play as he has four picks so far this season. He is also a very good and willing tackler, and happens to be the second leading tackler on the team. His draft stock at this point of the season is steady as a second day pick, but his stock is rising as he continues to play well. So far on the season, Ryan has 68 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up, and one fumble recovery.
Illinois @ Northwestern
Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne
Illinois has been absolutely terrible this season, mustering only two wins and currently are on a eight game losing streak. The offense hasn’t been able to score points and the defense, despite having some solid NFL caliber talent on that side of the ball, has been unable to stop anyone. Despite overall failure by the defense, some players, like CB Terry Hawthorne have stood out this year.
Hawthorne (6’0, 190 lbs.) has a good size/speed combo for the position, though he isn’t considered a burner. He is normally on an island and has held up well despite the pass rush being almost non-existent. He is a willing tackler and has shown to be a nice blitzer, but as the team’s best corner, he isn’t often challenged and he has yet to get a pick this year. He can also be depended on as a return man in a pinch. His draft stock as of now stands as a late second day pick. For the season, Hawthorne has 39 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, and six passes broken up.
Notre Dame @ USC
USC WR Robert Woods
This game has the biggest implications of any game being played this weekend- Notre Dame wins, and they’re in the National Championship, but if they lose, they’re just another team with broken dreams. They get a bit of a break, however, as USC will be playing without star QB Matt Barkley and starting in his place will be redshirt freshman Max Wittek. WR Robert Woods has been playing through nagging injuries all season that have affected his production. For USC to come away with the huge upset win over Notre Dame without their star quarterback, Woods will need to step up and have a good game.
Woods (6’1, 190 lbs.) came into the year as the top receiver in the nation, but numerous injuries have prevented him from putting up the numbers that he has shown he is capable of. He only has one 100 yard receiving game this season, and that was against lowly Colorado at home, which also happens to be his only game with multiple touchdowns since week two. When healthy, he has shown the speed to gain separation, runs precise routes, and has tremendous hands and body control. As of now, he is still projected to be a first round pick with the potential to drop to the early part of the second round if teams are concerned with his ability to stay healthy on the next level.
Through 11 games this season, Woods has 66 receptions for 721 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Michigan @ Ohio State
Michigan OT Tyler Lewan
Michigan came into the season with hopes of capturing the Big Ten title, but have underachieved this season midst injuries and inconsistent play from QB Denard Robinson. The rest of the team hasn’t been overly consistent either, beating all non-ranked opponents but losing to each ranked opponent they’ve faced this year, and undefeated Ohio State is next. Michigan’s has only allowed 11 sacks so far this year, and the best player is left tackle Tyler Lewan.
Lewan (6’8, 310 lbs.) has played well this year and has been getting better each week. Lewan hasn’t had the same opportunities as Texas A&M offensive tackles Luke Jockel and Jake Matthews to display his pass blocking prowess, but that changes this weekend. Ohio State DE John Simon is coming into town with his 9.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, and if they go head-to-head, it’ll be a great matchup to watch. Lewan is projected as a first round pick as of now, and could very well end up as a top 15-20 pick if he declares for the NFL Draft.
Oregon @ Oregon State
Oregon DE Dion Jordan
What a disappointment for Oregon and their fans. All they had to do was win two more games and they were in the National title game. Sounded easier than it turned out to be. Now, Oregon needs to beat rival Oregon State on the road and Stanford to lose to UCLA to even have a place in the PAC-12 title game. While Oregon is best known for its quick strike offense (and rightfully so), the player to watch in this game will be defensive end Dion Jordan.
Jordan (6’7, 245 lbs.) might be the Ducks’ best defensive player and might be the highest player taken in the next NFL Draft from this year’s Oregon squad, but he hasn’t really impressed this season and I’m a little confused as to why he has some calling him “the best pass rusher in this year’s draft class.” Pass rushers are always in high demand in today’s NFL (look how high Bruce Irvin went) and Jordan is definitely talented and has some solid traits – great length, good size/frame, athletic, – but he isn’t a physical specimen and I haven’t seen enough to consider him a top 20 draft pick.
While he has accounted for a tackle for loss or a partial tackle for loss in every game he’s played in except for two, the sack production and quarterback hurries just aren’t there for him to be considered a top pass rusher. He is one prospect that I’m very interested in seeing what he does in the Ducks’ Bowl game and what he does on the draft circuit before I can consider him a first rounder. So far on the year, Jordan has 42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Game of the Week: Florida @ Florida State
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Along with Michigan/Ohio State and Oklahoma/Texas, Florida State/Florida is one of the best and most storied rivalries in college football. This year’s tilt will be one of the more important games in the series in recent memory, as both teams have one loss, both teams are ranked in the top 10, and both teams have legitimate BCS hopes. Both teams come into the game with swarming defenses and physical running attacks on offense. While the Gators and Seminoles are very closely matched at many positions, the biggest difference might be at the most important position: quarterback. That’s where Florida State QB E.J. Manuel comes in as the player to watch in this game.
Manuel (6’5, 240 lbs.) has had an up and down season- one game he completes less than 60% of his passes and have slightly over 200 yards passing in a loss, then the next he explodes for over 400 yards passing and throws four touchdown passes while completing almost 80% of his passes. While he has been inconsistent throughout his career, he has improved each year as a starter, and his stock at this point is most likely a third round pick, with the potential to go higher just because of the great skill set he possesses. He has prototype size and arm strength for the position, has shown he can make the big play in a big game, and though he isn’t a scrambler, he has good mobility.
Florida’s defense is the best defense he has faced so far this season, and with one of the best defensive lines in college football, how Manuel fares against them will be telling. For the season so far, Manuel has completed 68.8% of his passes for 2,785 yards, 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 11 games. He also has rushed for 181 yards and one touchdown.