NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
After getting your taste of meaningful Patriots’ football, it’s time to turn the page to this weekend as college football has some big games lined up (and distract you temporarily from the Dominique Easley injury). Let’s dive into three non-conference match ups and a big time SEC tilt that should be on your television Saturday night.
#9 Notre Dame vs Virginia 3:30 ABC
Interesting mid-day game here. Notre Dame comes off a big win vs Texas last weekend as Virginia was on the other end of the spectrum: completely outclassed by UCLA. Virginia did some good things on the defensive side of the ball however, and combined with a friendly home field I expect this to be closer than expected. Love Malik Zaire, but I could see the aggressive UVA defense cause some issues and make him uncomfortable early. I’d take the points (12.5), but Notre Dame still should win this game. I’ll say 31-21.
Notre Dame prospects
OT Ronnie Stanley: Arguably the top prospect in the class at the moment. Big and strong with phenomenal feet, Stanley will more than likely be one of the top names called next spring.
OLB Jaylen Smith: Great range for his ideal size (6’2 235lbs). He’s a great run finisher, and quite honestly excels in most aspects of the game. Another Top 5 potential here for the Irish.
DT Sheldon Day: He’s been a little bit inconsistent throughout his Irish career, but I’m expecting some big things in 2015. If he can figure it all out during his senior season, he could be a great 2016 prospect.
CB KeiVarae Russell: Sat out last year, but Russell has picked up where he left off. Against Texas Russell played both inside and out, displaying his versatility. Strong enough to match up with bigger, physical guys while quick enough to hold his own in the slot.
C Nick Martin (RB Tarean Folston out for season)
CB Maurice Canady: Tall, rangy with very long arms. He’s a little lean which causes some struggles in tackling. If he can prove to be a little more physical, it could dramatically improve his draft stock.
CB Demetrious Nicholson: He’s had some injury concerns throughout his career, but has been productive when on the field. Projects as a nickel at the next level, showing good bursts in short spaces and solid man cover abilities.
DT David Dean : An absolute space eater, gap plugger. Not going to give you much as far as up the field penetration, but a vital part to UVA’s defense.
Other prospects: WR T.J. Thorpe, DE Mike Moore, DT Kwontie Moore, K Ian Frye, TE Rob Burns
#19 Oklahoma vs #23 Tennessee 6:00 ESPN
The Sooners will play their first game ever in front of 100,000+ people as they tread to Neyland Stadium Saturday. Tennessee was overmatched last season and Norman and simply didn’t have the horses to compete for 60 minutes. That may be a different story Saturday. Prospect wise I’ll be watching how Tennessee CB Cam Sutton handles WR Sterling Sheppard when given the chance, and likewise Oklahoma CB Zack Sanchez vs the bigger, physically imposing Vols’ receivers. I’m not ready to confidently say this surging Volunteers’ squad has what it takes to win the SEC and book a playoff berth, but I will say this is the most talented Tennessee has been since ’07. If the Vols can hold up in the trenches for 60 minutes, they will win this game point blank. That’s a major question mark however, but I’ll take the home team anyway, 21-20.
CB Cam Sutton: I’ve been saying it for two years now, Sutton has been one of the most overlooked players in college football. Press-man ability with terrific ball skills, the 6’1 190 lbs corner is growing into an elite NFL Draft prospect. Watch out for him in the punt return game as well, after averaging 11.3 YPR last season Sutton averaged 34.3 YPR in 3 solid efforts last week vs Bowling Green.
LB Curt Maggitt: He’s been through more injuries then I’d care to list, but each time Maggitt has fought through and returned to be productive on the field. I view him as a ‘tweener’ prospect if you will, but his explosion gives him a chance to find a niche at the next level. He’s currently a mid to late round prospect in my eyes.
WR Pig Howard: Marquez North receives more hype, but Howard is easily the most dependable receiver on the Vols roster (except last week, suspended for violation of team rules). A good slot receiver who can fill a multitude of roles, Pig is true to his name by being slippery when being tracked down by defenders, and earns his money by getting open and finding space after the catch.
Other prospects: QB Josh Dobbs, WR Marquez North, WR Von Pearson, RB Alvin Kamara
DE/OLB Eric Striker: Extremely versatile and can hurt you in a number of ways. OU has asked him to drop back more than I would like, but in a sense it has helped Striker for the next level. A little small for the NFL, perhaps. Nonetheless his ability to bend and beat offensive tackles with his explosive quickness makes him a prospect to watch.
CB Zack Sanchez: This game will really test Sanchez. It will be interesting to see where he lines up, as Tennessee can attack in a multitude of ways (6’3 230lbs Marquez North, 6’3 200lbs Jauan Jennings, 5’8 180lbs Pig Howard and freak athlete 6’1 180lbs Von Pearson). I believe his tougher matchups will be against the more physically imposing receivers, but Sanchez should be up to the task. His ballskills and body position in the air are truly amazing for his size.
WR Sterling Shepard: It’s been reported that Cam Sutton won’t exclusively shadow Shepard, but from a NFL Draft standpoint that is your matchup to watch. When not followed by #7, look for Shepard to torch the Tennessee secondary that’s already down a few starters.
Other prospects DE Charles Tapper, WR Durron Neal, ILB Dominique Alexander, OG Nila Kasitati
#7 Oregon vs #5 Michigan State 8:00 ABC
Big time top 10 matchup here. Oregon struggled last week defensively (to put it graciously) against Eastern Washington giving up 438 passing yards and 5 touchdowns. This week? They square off against one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Michigan State won’t spread out the Ducks as EWU did all game, but I would expect Cook & Co. to find some vast success Saturday night. Michigan State was outclassed in last years’ showdown, but I expect a much closer game Saturday. Oregon QB Vernon Adams is reportedly playing, so I’ll give the slightest of edges to the Ducks. 41-38
DE DeForest Buckner: Unreal athleticism for his size (6’7, 290lbs), Buckner’s best move is his bull rush for sure. He is easily Oregon’s most impactful defender and is the key to disrupting Connor Cook.
WR Bralon Addison: Explosive, quick-twitch athlete (5’10, 190lbs). His stop and go ability can be devastating to opposing defenders. Addison has soft hands and great open field vision. In an offense full of playmakers, Addison is the gem of the bunch.
WR Byron Marshall: Former running back, Marshall is another dynamic threat in the open field. Had 168 all-purpose yards last week and I’d expect more of the same Saturday night. He’s an interesting player to watch as he continues his transition to receiver.
LT Tyler Johnstone: He missed all of 2014 due to an ACL injury, however Johnstone is still very much on the draft radar. He’s athletic – and in Oregon’s offense he better be. He should be a great fit in any NFL zone blocking scheme at the next level.
QB Vernon Adams Jr: After taking a cheap shot to the head last week from his former team, Adams has told reporters he will be playing Saturday night. I personally can’t wait to watch him. He’s ideal for the Oregon offense, probably the second to third most talented QB Oregon has had in the last decade or so. From a draft perspective, his accuracy from a variety of throws/arm slots is very appealing. I believe he has a chance to be an NFL quarterback, time will tell.
Other prospects: OG Matt Hegarty, OLB Christian French, ILB Joe Walker, OLB Tyson Coleman, DT Alex Balducci
Michigan State Prospects
QB Connor Cook: Cook will get his crack at the national stage after Ohio State QB Cardale Jones shined Monday night. Cook in a clean pocket is a top tier passer. Great arm strength and has the mechanics to go with it. When things get hectic however (to be fair, as with most QBs) Cook is clearly off his game. It will be interesting to see if Oregon can get some solid hits on him early to see how Cook responds.
DE Shilique Calhoun: After much talk about coming out, I think Calhoun made the wise decision to return to school. Good against the run, and covers space quickly when rushing up the field. He has a tendency to get stuck and doesn’t always get off the line as fast as he should. Overall though, a potential first round talent to watch.
OT Jack Conklin: One of the top OT in the class. A solid all-around player and is an absolute beast in the run game.
Other prospects: C Jack Allen, SS RJ Williamson, DT Joel Heath, WR DeAnthony Arnett
#14 LSU vs #25 Mississippi State 9:15 ESPN
A late night start that isn’t Fresno State at Hawaii – EXCITING. Mississippi State is playing a crucial early season SEC match up in the hostile, cowbell filled Davis-Wade Stadium. If the Bulldogs have any aspirations to get to Atlanta, this is essentially a must win. LSU has fared well in Starkville winning their last seven match ups, but this could be a different animal. Dak Prescott is one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, and if LSU falls behind early it could be a death trap. I’m expecting LSU All-World sophomore running back Leonard Fournette to touch the ball around 85 times Saturday night, but even that I don’t believe will be enough. Until LSU can prove they have successfully installed the forward pass, I won’t have faith when facing a competent offense. Give me the cowbells, 27-17.
OG/OT Vadal Alexander: He’s moved around during his Tigers’ career, which should only serve him well at the next level. He excels at getting to the next level in the run game, and should handle MSU’s stunts well. He’s definitely a first round caliber talent.
CB TreDavious White: Shocking, I know. LSU has NFL talent at the CB position yet again. He doesn’t have the ideal size or length exactly, but makes up for it with supreme quickness and ball skills. Tends to be a Riverboat Gambler at times, which I’m personally fine with in most circumstances.
FS Jalen Mills: Smart, instinctive and is a quick decision maker. Struggles in the run game, yet has the potential to be a top safety this upcoming spring.
ILB Kendell Beckwith: When describing Beckwith, Les Miles said “He is a big, strong, and fast man”. Pretty accurate on all fronts if you ask me. He will be the focal point to try and shut down Dak Prescott and the MSU ground game.
Other prospects: WR Travin Dural, TE Dillon Gordon, P Jamie Keehn, OLB Lamar Louis
Mississippi State Prospects
DT Chris Jones: Raw athlete who has some unique athleticism for his size (6’4 295lbs). Worth a watch.
CB Will Redmond: Good fluidity in pass coverage with good ball skills, he just must get more consistent overall.
QB Dak Prescott: His arm isn’t the question, the accuracy is. A gifted runner, Prescott can be a load in the open field and he’s arguably the best quarterback in the conference at the moment, but if he wants to be a legitimate NFL player he needs to fine tune his overall accuracy and consistency.
Other prospects: CB Taveze Calhoun, WR De’Runnya Wilson, DE Ryan Brown, TE Darrion Hutcherson, OG Justin Malone
Tags: Cam Sutton, Connor Cook, Curt Maggitt, Dak Prescott, David Dean, Demetrious Nicholson, Eric Striker, Jalen Mills, Jaylen Smith, KeiVarae Russell, LSU, Maurice Canady, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon, Pig Howard, Ronnie Stanley, Sheldon Day, Tennessee Volunteers, Virginia, Zack Sanchez