NEPD Staff Writer: CJ Sousa
You wait all year, and just like that it’s gone. Another full college football regular season has passed us by, and what a season it was. But no time for reminiscing, we’ll save that for February…or next week. Nonetheless, there’s a huge slate of games on Conference Championship Saturday in college football which will effect who ultimately plays in the four team college football playoff. Let’s quickly highlight where the committee has the top teams ranked in the country.
#1 Alabama – up next #16 Missouri: No brainer here. Alabama has proven all year long that they in fact are the best team in the country with their lone loss coming on the road at then undefeated Ole Miss. The Tide is loaded with NFL prospects, and should hear at least two names come off the board in the top 10 next spring (Amari Cooper & Landon Collins).
#2 Oregon – up next #7 Arizona: Like Alabama, there isn’t much debate about the Ducks. With one of the most explosive offenses in college football (45.9 ppg) the Ducks are capable of beating anyone on any given day. Their Pac 12 title tilt will match them up with Arizona, who’s one of the hottest teams in the country and has already defeated Oregon at the Autzen Zoo 31-24 this season.
#3 TCU – up next Iowa State: Let the arguments begin. TCU jumped undefeated Florida State last week. The committee loves TCU, who has won 6 games in a row (3 vs ranked teams). Their one loss, to Baylor, is of particular interest. Baylor, ranked 6, needs a lot of things to bounce their way to reach the top 4.
#4 Florida State – up next #11 Georgia Tech: They haven’t been pretty, but somehow someway Jimbo Fisher’s bunch is still undefeated. People can moan and groan about an undefeated team being ranked behind TCU and two other 1 loss teams, but it’s pretty simple for FSU: win and you’re in.
On the outside looking in…
#5 Ohio State – up next #13 Wisconsin: Now down to their third string QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State needs to win, prove to the committee that they’re as good of a team as they were with QB J.T. Barrett, AND hope for some help from Arizona or Missouri. Tall task. I don’t see the Buckeye’s playing in the playoffs even if they do beat Wisconsin.
#6 Baylor – up next #9 Kansas State: Lucky for Baylor, they get to play a top 10 team in a last ditch effort to impress the committee. Baylor defeated TCU, which is the spark of the controversy. If Baylor beat TCU, and the records are the same, how can you say TCU is a better team? I personally agree with the committee on this ranking, but even I must admit Baylor has quite the argument.
#7 Arizona – up next #2 Oregon: IF the Wildcats beat Oregon, what happens then? Presumably Arizona would have to be ranked ahead of Oregon after twice defeating the Ducks this year. Ohio State is potentially in a no win situation, which then would place U of A at #5. Could they then jump Baylor even after they get a top 10 win of their own? I say of the teams on the outside looking in, even though they have the most ground to cover, Arizona has the best chance to get to #4.
Pac 12 Championship #2 Oregon vs #7 Arizona Friday Dec. 5 9:00 FOX
You just have to love conference championship games that pit a rematch between two top 10 teams. Since their loss to the Wildcats on October 2, Oregon has rolled through their remaining schedule with ease and are in a prime position for a playoff berth. Win and the Ducks are in. Marcus Mariota had just one single rushing yard in the previous matchup, a key to the Wildcats success on defense. Arizona had an impressive win last week vs arch rival Arizona State, where young stars such as QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson carried the team to a victory. If Arizona can win, as mentioned earlier, they would have a real chance to crack the top 4 and earn a playoff berth. I just think the Wildcats are a year away from being real championship contenders. I expect it to be a ball game, but Oregon will dance their way into the playoffs Friday night.
QB Marcus Mariota: Safe bet that Mariota will win the Heisman, and be the first QB taken off the board come spring. In this game particularly, I’m interested to see the Ducks interest in running Mariota, who was not much of a dual threat when the Ducks lost to Arizona on Oct. 2.
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: Listed at 5’9 195lbs, the talented Oregon corner is considered small for a NFL corner. What if he measures to be even shorter at the combine? I see Ekpre-Olomu as an exclusive slot corner in the NFL, however in this day and age that can prove to be just as valuable. His best game on film in my opinion is the Oregon State game last season, where he did a nice job on first round pick WR Brandin Cooks.
OT Jake Fisher: Was forced into playing LT this season and has delivered for the Ducks. Fisher may be the team’s MVP behind Mariota, as his play patching up the blindside has been crucial to the Ducks’ success this season.
OC Hroniss Grasu: My number 1 in college football. Ideal for a zone blocking scheme. Better at pass blocking then run, but a solid prospect all the way around. Even when the Oregon line has struggled this year, most notably vs Arizona, Grasu was solid up the middle.
Other Prospects: DE/OLB Tony Washington, DE Arik Armstead, RB Byron Marshall, OLB Derrick Malone
WR Austin Hill: Had some monster, big time moments in 2012 as a sophomore. However since he’s torn an ACL and has been inconsistent. You have to love the size at 6’3 215 lbs, however he just hasn’t been consistent this season. Hill caught four passes for 45 yards vs the Sun Devils last week, but still hasn’t had that takeover moment we’ve all been waiting for.
RB Nick Wilson*: Talented freshmen running back who is aggressive with his reads and shows a good burst through the hole. Has ran for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in his freshmen campaign.
LB Scooby Wright*: His 27 TFL’s lead America. He has also racked up 139 tackles with 14 sacks. Easy to see why he was named Pac 12 defensive player of the year. However, Wright has been overlooked for his lack of size/speed. Like him A LOT as a 2016 draft prospect.
SEC Championship: #1 Alabama vs #16 Missouri 4:00 CBS
Hats off to Missouri. Nobody, and I mean not one single soul thought Missouri would be competing for SEC championships only three years removed from the Big 12, let alone making back-to-back appearances in Atlanta. Missouri has been the product of being lucky with the schedule makers, as they astoundingly only have ONE win vs a SEC team with a winning record in the last two years. That should speak volumes. I saw this team live a few weeks back in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Mizzou front 7 led by Shane Ray & Co. is no joke as they might be the best front in the SEC. I’m just not confident in the rest of the team. Alabama survived what was a hard fought Iron Bowl late Saturday night. QB Blake Sims had his struggles with 3 interceptions, and at one point looked as if he was being replaced. However with his back agaisnt the wall Sims led the Tide for five striaght touchdown drives. FIVE. That’s the DNA of a championship football team. Coach Saban will have his team ready, no doubt about it. I see Missouri’s front on defense make it interesting for a half, and then I expect the floodgates to open. Alabama. Big.
SS Landon Collins: Was active vs Auburn with 9 tackles from his secondary position. The top defensive back in the class still without question. That being said his tape isn’t perfect and still has room to grow. I do not anticipate him getting past the top 10.
WR Amari Cooper: 13 catches. 224 yards. 3 touchdowns. Wow, what a way to leave your mark on the Iron Bowl. Cooper has proven week in and week out that when moved around the formation he can be deadly to opposing defenses. Top offensive player on my board.
TJ Yeldon: You bet Nick Saban has seen the Missouri/ Georgia film when a Todd Gurley-less Georgia squad ran ramped over Missouri’s front seven. Sometimes the best way through the storm is directly through the eye of it. Missouri’s front seven is the strength of their team no question, but has proven vulnerable against powerful rushing attacks. I expect Yeldon and 2016 draft prospect RB Derrick Henry to both their fair share of touches.
OG Arie Kouandjio: Big, strong, and nasty. A top 5 interior offensive line prospect. A projected late first round pick at the moment.
Other prospects: RB Derrick Henry*, DT Brandon Ivory, OT Austin Sheppard, WR Christion Jones, RB Kenyan Drake (Hurt, possible solid UDFA), C Ryan Kelly, DT Darren Lake, ILB Trey DePriest, ILB Denzel Devall
DE/OLB Shane Ray: Was disappointed with Ray when he committed an almost disastrous personal foul late against Arkansas last week, as you just expect better out of a top 5 NFL talent. That being said, Ray is extremely athletic with rare quickness and has been consistent all season. Still in the top 10 range.
DE/OLB Markus Golden: Has had some injury issues this season, but when healthy shows above average speed off the edge as well as good technique to get through opposing blocks. Has he been the beneficiary of team’s worrying so much about teammate Shane Ray? Probably. Still though, I see Golden as a day 2 guy at the least.
Other prospects: RB Marcus Murphy, OT Mitch Morse, WR Jimmie Hunt
ACC Championship #4 Florida State vs #11 Georgia Tech 8:00 ABC
Interesting, interesting ball game in Charlotte Saturday night as Florida State looks to clinch their ticket into the college football playoff. Florida State continues their walk on the tight rope after just barely defeating Florida last week 24-19. The Seminoles have won their last three games by a combined 12 points. All of those games came against unranked opponents. Georgia Tech on the other hand has bounced back from two midseason losses vs Duke and North Carolina to winning 5 straight, with the only competitive game coming in the thrilling 30-24 overtime win last week in Athens vs Georgia. I truly believe the Seminoles’ luck will run out this week. Anybody who has ever played football knows how difficult it can be to prepare for the option attack, and nobody runs it better then Georgia Tech. Florida State has two potential first round picks at corner in 2015 and one more in 2016, but none of that matters vs the Ramblin’ Wreck. Florida State has fallen behind this year in almost every game they’ve played. If they do that Saturday, simply by the offense Georgia Tech runs the Noles’ may not have enough time for a heroic comeback. One last key point: Florida State has played Georgia Tech once since 2009. Why does that matter? Simple: most of these guys haven’t played an option team since high school, so they aren’t familiar with that kind of attack. Florida State may be supremely talented on defense, but are they capable of playing sound assignment football for 60 minutes? I think Georgia Tech will win the ACC Championship controlling the clock and getting a clutch timely stop on defense. Give me the Ramblin’ Wreck by a touchdown.
Florida State prospects
QB Jameis Winston: I think it’s fair to say Winston has officially regressed this season. From last season, his completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns thrown have all dropped while he’s thrown seven more interceptions then last year with two games still to play. He just has been careless with the football and has been poor in his reads. In college, he has shown the ability to dig his team out of every hole he’s put them in, I just question Winston at the next level when the playing field with other defenders are more balanced.
CB Ronald Darby: Tough game to study Darby or Williams as Georgia Tech won’t be throwing all that much. On film he limits separation by his speed and quickness, but I believe he needs to improve his overall disruptive ability at the line of scrimmage. First round talent.
WR Rashad Greene: Continues to be the most reliable pass catcher on FSU’s roster. He had a solid 86 catch 1,183 yard regular season, while catching 5 touchdowns. I see Greene as a solid, second line kind of receiver at the next level. Very reliable, however lacks size, speed, and acceleration that can be needed at the NFL level.
DE Mario Edwards Jr.: Needs to become more consistent in all phases of the game. He shows flashes, but there are times he simply disappears within the football game. I believe the talent is there, but the motor is not (at least at this point).
CB P.J. Williams: Continuously flip flopping Williams and Michigan State CB Trae Waynes as my #1 corner. Williams is a solid, all around corner with big play capability. Had a clutch interception last year in the National Championship game, he may need to make a play or two vs the Ramblin’ Wreck if given the opportunity.
Other prospects: OT Cameron Erving, TE Nick O’Leary, RB Karlos Williams, OG Tre Jackson, SS Tyler Hunter, DT Desmond Hollin, OG Josue Matias
Georgia Tech prospects
S Isaiah Johnson: Wont jump off the page, but a solid prospect here with upside nonetheless. A reliable tackler who likes to play in the box, Johnson could make his way into the draft as a 6th or 7th round pick. I see him as a special teams / second line type of defender at the next level.
FB/RB Zach Laskey: The senior ran hard against Georgia for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns after falling out of the rotation. I don’t know about his NFL future as he lacks the ideal speed you would like in a prospect, but I expect Laskey to play a big part against FSU.
Big 10 Championship #13 Wisconsin vs #5 Ohio State 8:17 FOX
The big storyline here is that the Buckeyes will be down to their third QB this season, sophomore Cardale Jones. Coach Urban Meyer has expressed a lot of confidence in the junior, however how much of that is real and how much of that is coach-speak is unknown. Ohio State is in a weird spot. Not only do they have to beat a very good Wisconsin team, they will have to do it convincingly with a third string QB to prove to the committee that they in fact deserve a top 4 spot even without starting QB J.T. Barrett. Wisconsin is averaging 334.3 yards per game on the ground, as well as only giving up 16.8 points per game on defense. That’s a great combination to win some football games, and can make it even tougher on Cardale Jones and Ohio State in limited offensive opportunities. I believe Ohio State’s biggest issue will be stopping Melvin Gordon, rather than producing points with a third string QB. I see a Wisconsin win here, in the 35-20 range.
Ohio State Prospects
WR Devin Smith: After watching tape on Smith throughout his career, I’m either blind or soon will be right on the money. Currently a guy some don’t even think will be drafted, I think Smith can develop into a productive wide receiver at the next level. True 4.4 speed, Smith has been held captive in Ohio State’s style of offense, as well as the Buckeye’s now being down to their third QB. Chances are you haven’t seen a lot of Smith, I’d recommend to take a closer look.
DT Michael Bennett: The versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line, truly a luxury for a defense. Bennett is excellent at shooting gaps and reestablishing the line of scrimmage 3 to 5 yards deep in the backfield at times. A poor man’s Aaron Donald in this class.
CB Doran Grant- He’s been counted on as the go to guy to stop opposing offense’s this year for the Bucks. A tough, physical in your face style of cornerback who just needs to work on better limiting separation on medium to go downs. Mid round pick who can potentially make a team happy in a few years.
Other prospects: DE Adolphus Washington, TE Jeff Heuerman, LB Curtis Grant
RB Melvin Gordon: With Todd Gurley nursing a torn ACL, Melvin Gordon has taken over as the clear number 1 running back in the draft process. Just a stupid good year for Gordon who’s putting up numbers difficult to replicate on an Xbox, as he has ran for 2,260 yards with 26 touchdowns. Fun fact: The ONLY team to hold Gordon under 100 yards this year is….
Not LSU, not Minnesota…but Western Illinois? Go ahead, I give you permission to stump your friends. Gordon had 17 carries that day for 38 yards.
OT Tyler Marz: He has a draftable grade on my board, roughly around the 5-6th round area. Good in run blocking, but his pass blocking (especially footwork) has issues.
DT Warren Herring, TE Sam Arneson, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Dallas Lewallen
In this new segment I have previewed Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong and UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks as good potential fits in New England. This week, in a move that would address a pressing need, I’m going to highlight Florida State OL Cameron Erving. I list him as an OL rather than his college position of LT because Erving truly can do it all on the offensive line. A converted defensive tackle, Erving is tenacious in the run game as well as solid against edge rushers in pass protection. On film he shows phenomenal strength from the waist down, with the capability of just over powering opposing defenders. His hand placement is above average. My biggest knock on him is at times he can be simply too aggressive. Similar to a running back, sometimes you just have to take what is there on a given play. You can’t ALWAYS go for the breakaway run, or in an offensive linemen’s case, a kill shot block. He ducks his head at times and has allowed some pressure in the past when he lacks his technique to just finish people. Not a horrible problem to have, but definitely needs to get coached up a bit. In New England it’s all about versatility. Erving would step in and start next year on the line. What position? Any of the five (maybe shy away from LT) would work, which is why I believe he is an ideal fit in New England.