Category: NCAA Football News


Matt Barkley has decided to return for his senior season at USC. I like this decision and I am excited to see him play for one more year, but there will be a lot of pressure on him to be great.

I may have told some of you that I had a hunch that Barkley would come back for his senior season. It didn’t always seem particularly likely, but I had a feeling he might. He seems like the kind of guy who wants to win and wasn’t just in college to help him make it to the NFL. It seems that is the case after all as Barkley announced at 4 pm ET live on ESPN that he would be returning to USC for his senior season. He stated that he felt the 2012 Trojan squad had “serious unfinished business” and made it clear that his goal was to return to USC to try to lead them to a Rose Bowl or perhaps even a BCS National Championship. That will be a tall order, but Barkley returns to a team loaded with talent especially on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line is the only potential question mark, but he has two future first round picks at wide receiver in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee plus an emerging star at running back in Curtis McNeal. I am very much looking forward to watching him for his senior season, and I’m kind of glad he decided to come back. It is worth noting that he is losing star left tackle Matt Kalil, so the offensive line will need some tweaking. I think he had more to gain from coming back for his senior year than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones do. Luck has made it clear he is leaving, but Griffin and Jones have not made their decisions public yet. Personally, I would be surprised if both didn’t declare considering Griffin has become the clear #2 quarterback due to Barkley’s absence and Landry Jones’ stock has moved up as well due to the lack of 1st round talent at QB this year outside of Luck, Barkley and Griffin.

Now, I like the decision Barkley has made, but it’s not a perfect one. He is opening himself up to a lot of risk. He could get injured, he could have a down season, and even if neither one happens he is opening himself up to a boatload of nit-picking criticism because media pundits and draft evaluators have an extra year to evaluate him to try to figure out every aspect of his game. I think the decision makes a lot of sense, but the attention he will have on him may end up being comparable to what Luck endured this season. He isn’t quite the prospect that Luck is, but he is going to be the consensus #1 pick for the 2013 NFL Draft now. That means a lot of attention for everything he does. I think he is probably ready for that, but it’s still a lot of pressure on a pretty young kid.

I think it will work out for the best though and I think Barkley will help lead USC to the Pac-12 Title Game and a possible Rose Bowl berth. I’m not sure I’d bet on them for the National Championship game, but anything is possible. Regardless of how USC finishes the season it would be foolish to bet against them going to a bowl game for the first time since Barkley’s freshman year considering all the talent they are returning. I for one can’t wait to see them play next year.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

I obviously don’t have a vote for the Heisman trophy, but if I did this is how my ballot would look. I will start with honorable mentions but explain why they were ultimately not one of my three finalists:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson:
Analysis: While Watkins was one of the most electrifying players in the country I think that Clemson’s late season struggles that are almost expected at this point hurt his potential candidacy. It’s hard enough for any player that doesn’t play running back or quarterback to garner significant attention for the Heisman, but being a freshman on a team that struggled just as the Heisman race started to heat up. That doesn’t mean Watkins didn’t have a fantastic season though. He totaled 78 receptions, 1,159 yards (14.86 ypc), 11 touchdowns, 31 rushing attempts, 229 yards, 0 touchdowns and 683 more yards on kick returns with a 26.27 yard average per return plus another touchdown. He had 2,083 total yards on only 137 touches and he was only a freshman (he also had 2 punt returns for 12 yards). So while I would be very surprised to see him involved in significant Heisman considerations this year I think he will get more and more as a sophomore and junior barring unforeseen circumstances.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: Some people were giving Brandon Weeden a lot of love for the Heisman earlier this year but I think Justin Blackmon is the top Heisman candidate on that team. However, they have plenty of talent on that offense with Weeden and Joseph Randle helping to make that Oklahoma State offense the juggernaut it has become which hurts his Heisman considerations. However he still had an incredible season with 113 receptions, 1,336 yards (11.82 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. He would have been hard pressed to match his massively impressive 1,782 yard 20 touchdown season from a year ago, but 100+ receptions, 1,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns is more than a lot of players produce in their career and he has put up two consecutive seasons with those same numbers. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be nearly enough for him to be a Heisman finalist.

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech:
Analysis: David Wilson has been flying under the radar quite a bit this year which is baffling because he was leading the country in rushing for a significant portion of the season and even now he is only 132 yards behind the leader Montee Ball. He was the engine that made Virginia Tech’s offense go and really helped Logan Thomas develop this year in his first as a starting quarterback. He had 1,627 yards (6.12 ypc), 9 touchdowns and 21 receptions, 126 yards and 1 TD. He had a great season, and while I personally expect him to declare for the draft, he definitely warrants a little more Heisman consideration that he has been getting. Virginia Tech’s collapse against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game certainly doesn’t help, but I think he warrants honorable mention.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State:
Analysis: I have been a pretty outspoken critic of Boise State and TCU for the past couple of years. I felt they were overrated and wouldn’t have been in BCS Bowl consideration had they played in tougher conferences. To their credit they have proven me wrong by consistently winning when they do get to BCS Bowls, but to my credit Boise State in particular has struggled to finish their regular season undefeated the past two years despite unimpressive competition outside of a tough out of conference game to start the season. That brings me to Kellen Moore’s potential Heisman contention. Moore has had an incredible career and had another spectacular season this year despite losing his top two playmakers at wide receiver. He threw for 3,507 yards, completed 74.1% of his passes, and totaled 41 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Unfortunately for him for the second year in a row his kicker couldn’t finish a game late despite the opportunity to do so and Boise State lost a game they probably should have won. That definitely hurt his Heisman consideration, and while I don’t think he should be a finalist this year I do think it’s worth considering that he’s put Boise State in the position to go undefeated for last two years but his kicker let him down. And that hurt his chances for Heisman, fairly or unfairly.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Barkley would have been my 6th finalist if I could have listed 6, but he sits just outside my top five for a few reasons. First, to me the Heisman has clearly become an award that goes to the player who does the most with the least and makes his team a contender or a top team despite it. That is why Cam Newton won last year, and that is why Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck are front-runners this year. This hurts Barkley because USC has an abundance of talent on offense, specifically at wide receiver with stand-outs in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Fair or unfair, that hurts his candidacy just like other circumstances that are fair or unfair hurt the other candidates I mentioned. However, for all the Southern Cal fans that are angry about this they should consider this. Would being a Heisman finalist and potentially winning the Heisman make Barkley more or less likely to come back for his senior season? The obvious answer is that it would make him more likely to leave early, so while this probably feels like yet another slight consider the silver lining that it could help lead Barkley back to USC for his fourth season as a starter.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Trent Richardson had a great season this year, but I don’t think he is the Heisman winner. He did have a great season with 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns plus 27 receptions, 327 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving. He was definitely the engine that made Alabama’s offense go, but the unit that made Alabama’s team go was without a doubt their defense. Richardson supported them with plenty of scoring as evidenced by his touchdown production, but Alabama would not be in the National Championship game without their defense. And the fact that Richardson is a Heisman finalist proves that Alabama has recruited some very talented running backs, but Richardson’s performance could have been replicated by other players in the country in my opinion. Not by many, but I think his production could have been mimicked by other players. That hurts his Heisman candidacy ultimately in my mind.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin:
Analysis: I have had the opportunity to see Montee Ball play live in Camp Randall twice this season against Nebraska and Penn State and it has always been a pleasure. He is deserving of Heisman candidacy but I don’t think he deserves to win over the other players I have listed as my top three finalists. That isn’t to say Ball hasn’t had a fantastic season because he has. Contrary to literally every report I have seen Montee actually has 39 touchdowns, not 38. He led the country with 1,759 yards (6.4 ypc) and 32 rushing scores, plus 20 receptions, 255 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, that totals 38 which is what everyone has been reporting from ESPN to my friends that are Badger fans. What they are all forgetting is that Montee Ball has thrown for one touchdown this year. He is 2/2 on the season for 57 yards and 1 touchdown to Russell Wilson. Why isn’t this being mentioned? He has 39 TOTAL touchdowns, not 38. This season is worth serious Heisman consideration, but the help he has had with a NFL offensive line, a great quarterback in Russell Wilson and help at receiver with Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. He is a great player, but with all the help he has had around him I don’t think he will end up winning it. Is that fair? I don’t know, but that is how I perceive the Heisman being voted and that is why I don’t think Montee will win it.

And now the finalists…

3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU:
Analysis: It hurts me to list Mathieu as my #1 finalist, but I don’t think he will end up winning the Heisman no matter how much I like him as a player. He is my favorite player in the entire country and I have not been shy about saying this. He’s a fantastic player, and if anyone makes the argument that Trent Richardson had the greatest impact on a top team in the country I would immediately disagree. Tyrann Mathieu has had the biggest impact of anyone on LSU’s undefeated season out of any of the players on that team. Time and time again whenever LSU’s offense struggled to score points he would force turnovers or return punts and either set them up with great field position or just take the ball into the end zone himself. There is no question in my mind that Mathieu warrants a ton of Heisman consideration, but ultimately I think his suspension and the talent around him on defense will keep him from winning it.

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: When you think about the “what player has done the most with the least” rule that I think is a significant factor in Heisman voting Andrew Luck has to be one of the first people that pops into your head. Yes, he has a pretty good team around him. He has a pretty good defense, a strong offensive line and running game, and three tight ends that have legitimate NFL futures. However, he only has one wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically in Chris Owusu and he missed two games with injuries and struggled to stay healthy all year. He also only had 35 receptions for 376 yards and 2 touchdowns which is hardly the definition of stretching the field. Luck and Stanford struggled to make big plays down the field simply because Luck didn’t have any legitimate downfield targets to throw to, and defenses took advantage of that which helped prevent Stanford from going undefeated. However, despite his lack of playmakers at receiver Luck still had a terrific season throwing for 3,170 yards, completing 70% of his passes, throwing for 35 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions, and adding 153 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground. That’s a terrific season, and I think he warrants a ton of consideration for the Heisman… but I don’t think he will be the winner.

And the winner is…

1. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Robert Griffin has had an amazing season in every sense of the word. He has taken a Baylor team that has been a perennial doormat in the Big 12 and led them to a top 15 finish in the BCS Standings with one more game to play against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. He has been terrific this season and has really opened my eyes to just how far he has come as a NFL prospect. But that’s not all he has done this year. He has passed for 3,998 yards, completed 72.4% of his passes, 36 touchdowns, only 6 interceptions, and has also rushed for 644 yards and 9 more touchdowns. He totaled 4,642 yards passing and rushing as well as 45 total touchdowns with one game still left to play. This is all in spite of his defense struggling to keep the opposing offense from putting a lot of points on the board and not having a ton of talent on offense outside of standout receiver Kendall Wright. He has receivers who can threaten teams deep, but there have been plenty of drops from guys like Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson all year. Griffin took an average team and made them significantly better with key plays, drives and a fantastic stat line. He figures to be the Heisman winner, and I think that makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts. I’d love to hear reactions to this because I’m sure my thoughts aren’t the same as everyone else so please leave comments!

–Tom

As many of you are aware the Arizona Wildcats fired then coach Mike Stoops after a 1-5 start to the season. His teams gave up 72 points in his last two bowl games while scoring only 10 and he lost his last 5 games last year. That means in his last 11 games he was 1-10 with a lost bowl game in a blow-out. Arizona hasn’t really bounced back as they have only won 2 of their last five games with an interim coach as their search for a new coach has progressed.

It appears that search is coming to a conclusion. Many are now reporting that Rich Rodriguez, the former blockbuster coaching hire by Michigan, will be coaching the Wildcats next year.

This could be a match made in heaven for both organizations, at least for the next 3-5 years. Rodriguez was not a popular coaching candidate after he was ousted from Michigan, and while he could not win or play defense at Michigan with the players he recruited there Brady Hoke and his staff have molded this team into a legitimate Big Ten contender in less than a year. Despite this, Rodriguez’ ability as a recruiter can’t be denied and he has had success building potent offenses everywhere he went, but especially in West Virginia and even in Michigan. As far as I am aware Matt Scott, a senior quarterback that is Nick Foles’ primary back-up, hasn’t played yet this season. I can’t comment on this with any kind of certainty, but there is a possibility that Scott could be back next year with Rodriguez. We will have to see.

Arizona operates a pretty wide open offense right now, but it’s about to get even more wide open with Rodriguez in the fold. I think this is a great hire for Arizona because he knows how to draw talent to a program and I don’t think he will have any trouble doing that with solid access to both Texas and California where he is located in Arizona. Additionally, this is a pretty significant hire for a program that really hasn’t proven itself in the Pac-10 or the new Pac-12. Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez to replace a fantastic coach in Lloyd Carr. Arizona hired Rodriguez in the wake of… Mike Stoops?

I consider this a win for Arizona right now, but it’s a win for Rodriguez too. He has a chance to prove that he can rebuild this program and start to win at a school that has not won consistently in this sport for years. It will be interesting to see if he can do it, but one thing for Arizona Wildcat fans to be careful of is this: If Rich Rod turns you around and in three or four years you have a shot at a BCS game and finish with 9 or 10+ wins he is going to be getting calls from other high end/elite programs in college football to come do the same for them only with better resources and superior tradition. So while this looks like a steal for you guys in the short term, don’t forget that many people consider Rodriguez a snake for abandoning West Virginia and chances are his firing from Michigan hasn’t made him more loyal as a head coach. Should he succeed in turning Arizona around from their recent struggles I would not be surprised to see him leave Arizona for a “superior” coaching job.

It will be interesting to see what happens with other coaching vacancies. Houston Nutt will be out of Ole Miss as soon as they can finish the paperwork, Luke Fickell isn’t likely to be the coach of Ohio State next year (though apparently Urban Meyer is?) and Butch Davis needs to be replaced at North Carolina. Other openings will come after the season, but with Rodriguez’ hiring as well as rumors of Meyer going to Ohio State, Gus Malzahn being mentioned for the Ole Miss job, and Skip Holtz potentially going to UNC the carousel has definitely started to spin!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Early Game Notes:

Here are some thoughts as I’m watching the early games. If you want to see some of these real time you can follow me on Twitter @TMeltonScouting

Michigan State-Iowa:

-Marvin McNutt has had a solid game today. He accounted for half of Vandenberg’s passing yards in the first half. I graded him as a 3rd rounder before the season, I don’t think he’s done much to change my mind in that regard. I’d still grade him in that range. He’s got pretty reliable hands, and is easily Iowa’s most reliable passing target. I just don’t buy him as much more than a solid #2 in the NFL right now.
-McNutt keeps making plays. Just set Iowa’s career receiving yardage record on a 48 yard bomb to set up Iowa with a great shot at scoring, still down 20 with a few minutes left in the 3rd. Fundamentally sound, just not sure he has tons of upside. Love seeing him come up with big plays when his team needs them though.
-Jerrel Worthy is quick off the ball, athletic and strong, but he’s not much of a pass rush threat in my opinion. I want to see him dominate 1 on 1 blocks more, and though I have been switching between different games I haven’t seen him draw double teams as a pass rusher. When you are extremely disruptive as a pass rusher you get double teamed, and it is a solid indicator that Worthy hasn’t been (at least from what I’ve seen). He’s disruptive against the run without a doubt, but has growing to do from a pass rushing perspective.
-Kirk Cousins is a solid QB, but I don’t think he’s a NFL starter. He’s smart, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, has lots of starting experience, but I don’t think he has much upside as a starter. You know what you’re getting with him: solid arm strength, accuracy, touch  and plenty of starting experience for a legitimate Big-10 contender.
-I think Riley Reiff can stick at LT in the NFL, but I need to see more of him before I grade him as a top 20 pick. He seems to be flying under the radar for the most part right now even though he’s a legitimate left tackle prospect. We’ll see if he heats up as the season concludes and the draft process kicks off. He does need to get stronger though. He needs more lower body strength which would help him stand up to bull rushes better, not get pushed around as easily by stronger, squatty players.
-Gholston has so much potential at 6’7″ 280 pounds but he hasn’t been very good today. Might have to credit Reiff with his lack of impact, but he has also been nicked up.
-Mike Daniels, an undersized senior defensive tackle on Iowa, has had a good game today. He’s been disruptive, has good quickness and has been involved in a number of stops at the line of scrimmage or behind it. He seems to be a high effort player with active hands. I would love to see him at the East-West Shrine Game, I think he is definitely a draftable prospect.

West Virginia-Cincinnati:

-I’m a Geno Smith fan though he has growing to do. I like his pocket poise, he has pretty good arm strength/zip (though definitely doesn’t have a cannon), he has quality accuracy to all levels except for long deep balls, he just doesn’t have the arm strength for it. He has had a couple nice bucket throws in this game, one for a very nice touchdown to Stedman Bailey in the first half. West Virginia hasn’t given him any help on the ground as they have 14 attempts for 24 yards (excluding Smith’s listed 6 attempts for negative 15 yards from sacks). He is quite literally carrying the offense and has still played well despite not having a running game. He’s been efficient, made good decisions and hasn’t made many bad throws. It’s a close game, so it will be very interesting to see how he finishes the game. He hasn’t been great late in games this year, so I’m hoping today will be different.
-Bruce Irvin has showed that he can speed rush, but I want to see more from him in other forms. He has flashed a bull rush, but I’m not sold on his hand usage. He doesn’t thrive when he is engaged in my opinion, and his effectiveness is highest when he can avoid contact. I’ll need to see more from him to change my mind on that. He has plenty of upside due to his athleticism, but I want to see better hand usage/block shedding from him.

Oklahoma State-Texas Tech:

-Brandon Weeden has absolutely shredded Texas Tech today. They are currently up 66-6 in the 4th quarter, and Weeden has been great. 31/37 currently, 423 yards and 5 TD’s with no interceptions. He proved that he has a NFl arm today in a very windy stadium by slinging the ball around like he was in a dome. His passes were cutting through the wind and it didn’t seem to effect him at all when I was watching him. He’s a legitimate NFL prospect, his age is just going to hinder how far up his stock can move. It limits his upside, especially since he may not be given an opportunity to step into the NFL and be a starter.
-I am very high on Joseph Randle. Would like to see him gain some weight to hold up to the pounding feature backs take, but he is very athletic, runs hard, bounces off tackles, has speed to break off long runs, and has soft hands out of the backfield. He’s got the whole package as far as an offensive weapon, and he really stepped up this year to replace Kendall Hunter. That offense is as dominant as it is because of the running aspect that they continue to bring to the table.
-I am really high on Justin Blackmon and he continues to play well. He has had some issues with drops, but I’m not convinced they are issues with his hands. I think it might be an issue with concentration. Still a concern, but he continues to dominate as Oklahoma State’s main target on offense.

Nebraska-Penn State:

-Devon Still is one of my favorite defensive line prospects in the country. He played a great game today against Nebraska (as he does most every week). Coming INTO the game he had 47 total tackles (24 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He added to these totals today against Nebraska and continues to impress. He’s listed at 6’5″, 310 pounds and has the versatility to play 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT in the NFL in my opinion. His stock continues to rise, and if you haven’t had a chance to watch him play you should make an effort to do so. If you can’t stomach the Penn State situation, mute the game and just enjoy watching Still play. He’s a great player.

Those are some of my notes on the early games. I’ll try to keep up with the afternoon and evening games as best I can!

–Tom

Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State Spartans were the ones celebrating at the end of this thrilling contest between two Big-10 championship contenders.

When I saw the schedule for this 2011 season I pointed this game out to every one of my friends who likes the Badgers and said “This is going to be a critical game not only for the Badgers’ season, but for the entire Big-10 conference.” After Michigan State lost to Notre Dame it didn’t seem like my prediction would come true, but boy did it ever prove to be correct. This game had immense ramifications not only for undefeated Wisconsin and one loss Michigan State, but for the rest of the teams in each division of the conference that are trying to catch both teams for a shot at the Big-10 title game.

I will readily admit that I missed the entire first half of this game. I was on my way back from an away game that my college’s football team lost (63-41, it was quite a shoot-out) and started watching instantly once I got back. I got to see Kirk Cousins and Le’Evon Bell drive down the field for a huge touchdown to put Michigan State up 31-17. I thought Wisconsin was toast at that point, especially because of how much trouble they were having slowing down Michigan State’s running game, plus they were struggling to move the ball effectively on offense. But Wisconsin’s defense made three great stops in a row and kept Wisconsin in the game, and Russell Wilson proved that he is worthy of a lot of the praise that he receives nationally by leading two touchdown drives in the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter to tie the game at 31. On the game tying drive he was 4/4 with a huge 3rd down conversion, a fantastic throw on an extended play to Nick Toon, and then bought more time outside of the pocket, drew a defender in as he rolled to the sideline and dropped the ball off right over him to Montee Ball for an easy score.

Some of my close friends will remember me questioning how good of a coach Bret Bielema really is when we were freshmen and sophomores. Calling a timeout with 30 seconds left instead of playing for overtime didn't really change my mind.

This is where things got crazy.

Michigan State got the ball back and Cousins did not start strong. He checked down for three yards on his first pass, then short-armed a throw to the near sideline on a curl at the marker. 3rd and 7, and he threw a dart underneath to convert. Michigan State continued to try to move the ball, but couldn’t get significant chunks of yardage. With 30 seconds left, they were content to let the clock run out and take the game to overtime. But to my disbelief Bret Bielema called his second timeout of the half and stopped the clock, foolishly hoping to get the ball back to Russell Wilson and his suddenly potent offense. But with the ball around the 40 yard line, even if the Badgers had stopped the Spartans at that point they would have punted it and at best the Badgers could have hoped for the ball on the 30 yard line with 15 seconds or possibly less remaining. Not much time even with a timeout and Russell Wilson’s strong arm.

But Bilema decided to do it anyways, and Michigan State managed to convert and the game seemed to be slipping away from Wisconsin. But with 10 seconds left the Spartans found themselves outside of field goal range with only one timeout left. They snapped the ball and Cousins started scanning the field but the clock never started. In fact, the clock didn’t start running until after the play had nearly concluded and it continued to run after the play was over (all the way down to four seconds). Suffice it to say, in all the years I have been watching football I have never seen anything quite like that, and no one in the stadium seemed to notice nor did they seem to care. You’d think Michigan State would be interested in seeing if more time should have been allotted for that final play, but apparently not.

Ohio State and Michigan were both watching this game intently. Ohio State started slow, but is gaining momentum. Michigan has had a terrific start to the year, but needs to catch Michigan State.

Then the craziest thing of all happened. After the timeout, Michigan State lined up with trips on the right side of the formation, Cousins rolled out to his right side to buy time and lobbed up a hail mary. Jared Abbrederis and a number of other players were down waiting for the ball near the end zone and Abbrederis jumped to try to catch it or knock it down but he didn’t time it right. The ball bounced off of a Michigan State receiver in the end zone and Keith Nichol, a former quarterback who transitioned to wide receiver after losing the starting job to Cousins, managed to catch it on the one yard line. He then fought tooth and nail to BARELY claw the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. Initially it was ruled that he was down on the one yard line, but when looking at the replays of the play it was clear that the ball crossed the plane of the end zone (even if it barely crossed it).

So, with that, the Spartans beat the Badgers for the second year in a row during a critical portion of the season. This doesn’t dramatically hurt the Badgers’ bid to ultimately become Big-10 champions because Michigan State and Wisconsin are in separate divisions, but it does all but dash Wisconsin’s chances at the BCS National Championship. Ohio State is looming after coming off of a quality win over then-ranked Illinois. Wisconsin travels to Columbus next, and it is imperative that they win this game to keep Ohio State from roaring back in the second half of the season. Michigan State maintained their lead in the opposite division ahead of Michigan, and if they win out they will be in the Big-10 Championship Game. Wisconsin is in the same boat, and I for one hope both win out so that we can see a rematch of this game. It probably won’t be as exciting or as unpredictable as this one was, but it would likely be a great game.

Saturday Games to Watch:

Saturday:
-West Virginia-Maryland:
I am excited to watch this game because there are a couple intriguing prospects (notably Bruce Irvin for West Virginia) that I’d like to get a look at, plus I think Danny O’Brien has it in him to potentially pull an upset. I haven’t watched West Virginia at all to get a sense for how they are doing this year, but I was incredibly impressed with O’Brien against Miami. He’s got a lot of upside and I expect him to play well today if his OL can keep him upright. Geno Smith is a quality QB too though, he just doesn’t project to the NFL as well as I think O’Brien does. I’m excited to see how this game plays out, and if my hunch is correct it could go down to the wire.

-Tennessee-Florida:
I am very excited to see this game because I think Tennessee can pull off the upset. It’s easy to look at this game and say “Oh, the 16th best team in the country against an unranked team? I’ll take Florida” but Tennessee is no slouch and if they can protect Tyler Bray he can carve up very talented defenses (see the Tennessee-UNC bowl game from last year. Might not be an “SEC” caliber defense, but still very talent laden). I want to see how John Brantley does as well, plus Florida always has talented players on defense that I’d like to see. Malik Jackson, a DE on Tennessee, was a player on my list of potential break-out players so I would like to see how he plays.

-Michigan State-Notre Dame:
I still can’t stop laughing at people who keeps saying “Notre Dame is a good team and I really like their squad” when they have started 0-2 and proved that their preseason top 25 ranking was completely unjustified, at least in my opinion. While they played a good game against Michigan, the Wolverines are not on the same level as the Spartans are. I have a hard time believing Notre Dame will be able to slow down their running game and Kirk Cousins is one of the best senior quarterbacks in the country. I think Notre Dame has a chance to give them a run for their money, but I don’t think they have it in them to pull off the upset.

-Virginia-North Carolina
Both are 2-0 this season and North Carolina passed their first test beating Rutgers in a close game last weekend. I don’t have very high hopes for them with the loss of Butch Davis and a new, young QB in Bryn Rynner (though I do like him). This is a big game for them though and if they can pull it off it would be huge for them to start out 3-0 in spite of all the turmoil the program has been through the last two years.

-Arizona State-Illinois
Arizona State dazzled everyone who watched the Thursday Night game about a week or so ago when they upset Missouri on national television in an overtime game. Brock Osweiler stole the show as far as I’m concerned as he was incredibly impressive and played an extremely efficient and effective game for ASU. He demonstrated a very strong arm, was placing the ball very well, and made only two throws that I identified as poor decisions or bad throws. Illinois is on the upswing in my opinion with Nathan Scheelhaase returning for his second season as a starter. I think Arizona State has the upper hand in this one, but it should be a pretty good game since Illinois is at home.

-Ohio State-Miami
This is a tough game for me to call. I actually trust Jacory Harris more than I trust any of Ohio State’s QB’s, but that isn’t saying much considering the fact that I think Stephen Morris should start for the ‘Canes. Regardless, Miami has an insane level of talent (especially on defense) even with some of their suspensions that have rocked the program. Ohio State is very talented as well, but I think they have demonstrated that they are not an elite or even a very good team by any means in their first two games. Miami can win this game, it’s just a question of who wins the turnover battle in my opinion. If Harris avoids interceptions and moves Miami down the field methodically with a few big plays, Miami has a great shot at winning. If Ohio State can get a few downfield plays and avoid turnovers, plus create them on the defensive side of the ball, they could win this game. It will be interesting to see which way it goes, but there’s a part of me that wants to pick Miami…

-Oklahoma-Florida State
This game is an extremely tough one for me to call. It’s almost impossible to bet against Oklahoma but Florida State is a very talented team. I like what E.J. Manuel brings to the table a lot, and while I like Landry Jones I don’t think he is a 1st round QB because of his issues dealing with interior pressure and because of his propensity for interceptions last season. This is going to be a critical litmus test for both programs as Oklahoma has been taking flak lately for not being able to win big games and Florida State is trying to prove that the “old” Florida State that used to battle for conference supremacy with Miami is back. It’s hard to bet against Oklahoma, but I am hoping for a great game unlike the match up last year in Norman where Oklahoma blew the doors off FSU.

-Stanford-Arizona
This might not seem like that big of a game, but Arizona has a tendency to pull off upsets and while I don’t think Nick Foles is anything more than a mid-round NFL QB prospect he can definitely sling it, especially in Arizona’s offense. He has been very efficient to start the season and while Stanford is clearly the better team they should try to avoid getting into a shootout with Arizona, because that’s the kind of game they want to play. I expect Stanford to win, but I also expect Arizona to give them a bit of a scare during the course of this game.

Thanks for reading and enjoy all the games today! There should be some exciting ones as usual.

–Tom

- LSU-Mississippi State:

Breakdown:

This game will be a game pitting strength versus strength, as Mississippi State’s run game will be facing a very tough LSU run defense. They are fast enough to take away a speed rushing attack like Oregon, but they are big enough and strong enough to match-up relatively effectively with a more powerful attack like Mississippi State’s. This match-up will be important, but because LSU will be so worried about stopping the run it may be just as critical for Chris Relf to demonstrate the ability to threaten the defense with the pass, especially downfield in the 10-15+ yard range. If they can’t do that, I think that Mississippi State will struggle to run the ball consistently throughout the game.

On the offensive side of the ball for LSU, running the ball will be key as well, but the deciding factor of the game may reside on Jarrett Lee’s ability to stretch the field, move the ball through the air, and keep running lanes open for Spencer Ware and the rest of LSU’s rushing attack. If they can run the ball effectively play action will be a key weapon for Lee and the rest of the offense, but if the burden falls on Lee to loosen up running lanes with downfield passing then LSU could struggle. Lee is an accurate passer but doesn’t have a rocket arm and I would compare him to Matt Flynn, a very successful former LSU Tiger quarterback. If Lee steps up and can carry the offense (this would be significantly easier if his receivers caught passes once they hit them in the hands) then LSU should be fine either way, but if Lee isn’t up to the challenge then LSU could be in trouble in their conference opener.

Key Players- LSU:

Jarrett Lee will be making his third start of the season and he has looked solid thus far, though his statistics have been hurt by some dropped passes in their opening games. This will be my second opportunity to watch him, the first being in the opening week against Oregon. I will be interested to see how he plays and how he has progressed since the opening weekend of the season. I think he has potential, and while he won’t be a first round pick by any means, I do think he warrants mid-late round consideration. He would fit into a West Coast offense very nicely, perhaps similar to Colt McCoy in Cleveland.

I’m a big fan of Tyrann Mathieu, and watching him play is always a treat. I think he has first round potential and I’ve thought that since he was playing at an All-American level early on in his freshman year last year. He is very good in coverage, he blitzes extremely well, he’s a great tackler, and he has a great knack for forcing fumbles and just being around the ball. He is the definition of a ball-hawk. I would be surprised if he didn’t force a turnover in this game.

Spencer Ware will be an important component of this game. He has had a relatively slow start to the season relative to his great cap to his freshman year with a 10 carry, 102 yard performance against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, but I think he will get stronger as the season goes on. He’s definitely a power back as he is relatively compact at 5’11”, 225 pounds and he shows it. I like his running style and I think he will be a key cog in LSU’s offense because if the run game is slowed or ineffective Jarrett Lee won’t be able to utilize play action effectively and the offense may become one dimensional. Considering Lee’s relatively limited amount of starting experience I don’t think that is a path LSU should go down in their conference opener, especially on a national stage. But I think a lot of people underestimate what Lee brings to the table, and I think he is ready to step up should the running game not pace the offense in this game.

Deangelo Peterson, the tight end on LSU, is another key guy to watch. His stat line may not blow you away (5 receptions, 71 yards and 1 TD in 2 games so far) but he has great size at 6’4″, 235 pounds and he is very athletic. I imagine as Lee becomes more comfortable in the starting role that Peterson will become one of his frequent targets, and I don’t think it is out of the ordinary for them to split him out in the slot. He is a very dangerous red zone threat, and because of his size he is an easy target for Lee to throw to. I predict that he will have a touchdown in this game, and I hope that his skills will be on full display tonight.

Morris Claiborne is going to be an interesting guy to watch in this game because if Mississippi State has any success throwing the ball it will probably be going after someone other than him. He is replacing Patrick Peterson as “the” corner on LSU’s defense, and he’s got the size and athletic ability to do it. He had 6 pass break-ups and 5 INT’s last year when defenses targeted him instead of throwing at Peterson consistently, but now this year teams will certainly be avoiding him if they can help it. I don’t know if they will match him up against Mississippi State’s perceived best receiver (I’m a fan of Chris Smith), or if they will just let him attempt to shut down one side of the field, but if Relf decides to test him he had better make sure it’s a good ball because if he makes a mistake Claiborne knows how to make him pay.

Sleeper: Barkevious Mingo, on top of having an absolutely fantastic name, has a boatload of potential as a defensive end. He’s only a sophomore and he is about 6’5”, 240 pounds, but as a freshman last year he had 35 total tackles (18 solo), 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 6 pass break-ups, which is pretty great for a freshman at a position that generally has a long development period. He is very athletic and has chased down some pretty athletic running backs in his day, and seems to have a very good motor as evidenced by his backside pursuit. I’m excited to see how he will do against a Mississippi State offensive line that likes to run the ball, but is missing their best pass protector from a year ago in Derek Sherrod. Mingo could have a big game, though he is pretty raw, but I am excited about his potential so I want to see how he does.

Key Players- Mississippi State:

Chris Relf is a guy who is better known for his running than his passing, but his size definitely helps him in both aspects. He stands at 6’4”, 245 pounds and could probably convert to RB or FB at the next level, but I haven’t watched him enough to specifically project him to any one position yet. I don’t think he will be a QB at the next level, but he has shown some signs of improvement since last season. He threw for 1,776 yards in 13 games (an average of only 136.6 yards per game), completing 59% of his passes (128/217, a low number of passes attempted) for 12 TD’s and 6 INT’s. He was an efficient QB, but he wasn’t throwing the ball very much. This year it seems to be a bit different having already attempted 54 passes in just two games (33/55 for a 61.1% completion) for 397 yards, 3 touchdowns and only one interception. LSU will be a big test for him one week after he had a solid but relatively unspectacular game with 195 yards (60.6% completion with a 5.9 YPA, well below his average from last season) and 1 touchdown and interception against Auburn. LSU has a very tough defense that frequently creates turnovers, so ball security and making smart decisions will be critical for him in this game. I have to say that if Relf ends up throwing 25+ or even 30+ times in this game I think Mississippi State will lose. That will mean their running game is being slowed by LSU’s tough front seven, and the onus will be placed on Relf to move the ball through the air to open up running lanes. Against Memphis (obviously a totally different class of opponent) he threw 21 times, was very efficient and they won easily. Against Auburn in a close game (final score of 41-34) he threw 33 times, was less efficient with one interception and only a 5.9 YPA (which is in stark contrast to his 2010 season average of 8.2 and his 9.6 YPA against Memphis). To drill this point home a bit, when Relf threw 25 times or more last year Mississippi lost both games which accounted for two of their four losses on the season. The other losses were against LSU when he threw the ball only 8 times for 35 yards and 2 interceptions and against Alabama when he threw the ball 16 times for 70 yards and an interception. In the two other losses he threw the ball 25 times or more and lost in a close game (17-14 to Auburn and 38-31 to Arkansas, though he had a good game against them). So that is a trend of three losses in a row when Relf throws the ball 25 times or more, and it will be interesting to see if he is forced to surpass that number of attempts against LSU’s defense.

Vick Ballard is the other key cog to Mississippi State’s offense that focuses intently on the running game. Ballard had a fantastic season last year rushing 187 times for 981 yards (a 5.25 ypc average) and 20 touchdowns. This year, as a senior, he already has 301 yards rushing on just 31 attempts (an astounding 9.71 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. His success tonight against LSU’s tough run defense will set the tone for the game, and if he can find running room and grind out tough yards and first downs then it will make life significantly easier for Relf and the rest of Mississippi State’s passing attack. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with a game with about 20 attempts, 75-80 yards and maybe a score though, because yards are hard to come by against LSU’s defense.

Chris Smith is a receiver on Mississippi State that I came away impressed with after watching him against Michigan last year. He had a relatively mediocre statistical year last year with only 24 receptions, 264 yards and 1 touchdown as a sophomore, but I like his size and his hands impressed me last year as well as his route running. Keep in mind, his 24 receptions were about 11.1% of Relf’s total completions last year, so even though it is a low total and not overly impressive, he still accounted for 11% of Relf’s total completions and almost 15% (14.86%) of Relf’s total passing yards. So while it might not be obvious, he was a target for Mississippi State last year in the passing game. He only has two catches for 11 yards so far this year, so I am really hoping he finds a way to step up and make some plays in this game. I love players that find a way to make plays in critical games like this, especially on big stages, and I am hoping that Smith will find a way to do that tonight even against a talented LSU secondary.

Jonathan Banks is a cornerback that I came away very impressed with last year when I was actually watching the Bulldogs to get a look at Derek Sherrod. He has been very reliable and consistent for the Bulldogs ever since his freshman year. Now a junior, Banks already has an interception and two pass break-ups this year, bringing his career total to 8 interceptions (7 in his previous two seasons) and 12 pass break-ups. He is a very tall, skinny corner as he stands at a listed height and weight of 6’2”, 185 pounds. I mentioned him in a previous post listing potential break-out players for this 2011 season, and mentioned that I am going to be watching him to evaluate his hips, namely his ability to flip his hips in coverage, his ability to click and close on passes in front of him, and his ability to recover if and when he makes a mistake. He has already demonstrated his ability to use his size to his advantage, and he has shown the ability to turn and run with receivers downfield. I just want to see how well he transitions, because it’s pretty obvious when you watch him play that he can locate the ball in the air and make a play on it. He has impressive ball skills, and his size really helps him defend 50/50 balls even against very tall wide receivers. LSU has some big guys like they always do, so look for Banks to mirror them and take away some of Lee’s bigger, more physical targets.

Nickoe Whitley is a safety that I noticed around the same time I noticed Banks last year. He demonstrated impressive ball skills when I watched him last year and seemed to be a pretty good tackler which is evidenced by his 34 solo tackles (52 total). He also had 1.5 sacks, 3 pass break ups, 3 INT’s and 1 forced fumble last year. He already has an INT this year as well as one pass break up (plus a pretty impressive 6 solo tackles out of 7 total). It will be interesting to see if he is tested deep much as Jarrett Lee doesn’t have a very strong arm. I could see him playing up in the box more, so it will be interesting to see if he lets anyone get behind him in this game.

Sleeper: My sleeper for the Bulldogs is Jameon Lewis, a freshman receiver. He already has 5 receptions, 116 yards and 1 TD as well as 2 rushes for 29 yards and 1 TD. In addition, he returns kicks and punts as well though his success has been limited in that aspect so far. He is a smaller guy listed at 5’9”, 185 pounds, though packing 185 pounds onto that small of a frame is actually pretty impressive (has a similar build to Jerrel Jernigan, the WR from Troy who actually was very well built for a small receiver). The Bulldogs have shown that they like to get the ball in his hands any way they can, whether it is throwing it to him, handing it off or letting him return kicks and punts, so look for at least one big play from him in this game.

I apologize for the length of this post. It started out shorter but I got really in depth. Hopefully you enjoyed the read and it got you excited for this SEC matchup tonight. Enjoy!

–Tom

Michigan-Notre Dame:

This game was extremely fun to watch and it was a thriller down to the end, especially in the fourth quarter. Michigan put up a staggering 28 points in the 4th quarter alone, and stunned Notre Dame with a touchdown with only two seconds left in regulation. They won 35-31, and perhaps gave credence to the notion that they aren’t the same old Michigan of the past few years. This was a tough game for them, but unlike in past years they found a way to win instead of screwing it up at the end. There were plenty of missed opportunities on both sides (the game had eight combined turnovers after all, five from Notre Dame and three from Michigan, all on interceptions thrown by Denard Robinson) but the litmus test of a potentially good team is whether they can win ugly or win despite not playing their best, and Michigan showed the ability to do that in this game. Do I expect them to dominate the Big-10 and win the conference championship? Not at all, but this was still an impressive win for them that should do a lot for their confidence.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, should be feeling pretty bad about themselves right now. They changed QB’s after their week one loss and Rees played pretty well overall, but their defense was awful in the fourth quarter and even before that they were allowing plenty of Michigan receivers to run free, Robinson just wasn’t able to throw a good ball (or even a remotely accurate ball) to take advantage of the opportunities being presented to him. Notre Dame lost despite scoring 31 points, throwing for 315 yards, having 198 yards rushing (134 of those yards came from Cierre Wood, a guy who really impressed me in this game), and holding Michigan to just 7 points through three quarters. Then, Denard Robinson and the rest of Michigan’s offense broke loose. They are now 0-2, and not to toot my own horn excessively, but I left them out of my top 25 preseason rankings intentionally. I felt that they were overrated (as they tend to be due to the vast amount of media attention they receive, at least in my opinion) and it’s hard to say that they weren’t overrated as a top 25 ranked team now that they are 0-2, and have a reasonable chance of being 1-3 or even 0-4 if they don’t play well.

As far as prospects go, Tommy Rees showed flashes of impressive ability but also showed some incredible inconsistency. He started out hot going 8/8 with no turnovers, but after that he was 5/14 the rest of the half with two interceptions that were a result of bad throws and poor decisions. He threw the ball a lot on the night and had a solid stat line of 27/39, 315 yards and 3 TD’s with 2 INT’s. He also lost a fumble in the red zone in the 2nd half. He made some very impressive throws at times, but other times he made poor decisions and didn’t place the ball accurately. It will be interesting to see if he hangs on to the starting role, and after playing relatively well in this game I would expect him to. If he does it will be interesting to see how he progresses as far as consistency is concerned, because he went from looking good, to playing quite poorly a couple of times in this game.

I was quite impressed with Cierre Wood though. He is Notre Dame’s starting RB #20. He ran effectively, showed a lot of speed, burst and explosiveness. He also showed some vision, though I need to watch him more to evaluate that better. But it looked solid in what I saw from him. He broke some ankles in the open field though, and Notre Dame has to continue to involve him in the running game as well as the passing game (screens, etc. He could be very effective in that part of the game). I’m excited to see him play the rest of the year, I had never seen him play before.

Michael Floyd was impressive. He was drawing some serious attention from the Michigan secondary and Rees was making sure he involved him which is why he had 13 catches and 159 yards receiving. He high points the ball very well, he’s a physical receiver and he’s dangerous on jump balls and has a lot of value in the red zone. He almost made an incredible catch over the defender on a fade route but the defender slapped the ball away as it got to him. It was a 50/50 ball but he almost came down with it. I still wonder just how well he will create separation in the NFL, but he’s got a lot of physical ability that allows him to get YAC even if he’s not the fastest WR. He can threaten teams deep due to his athleticism and his physicality.

Theo Riddick was impressive as well with 6 catches, 62 yards for two touchdowns. He’s a converted running back playing WR which I like to see because they tend to run really hard after the catch, and Notre Dame has had success with that recently with Golden Tate. I want to see more of Riddick to see how he catches the ball with his hands, how well he runs routes and if he runs after the catch like I think he does.

TJ Jones is a sophomore WR who flashed some potential. He’s a slot receiver for ND and he looked fast when he got the ball in his hands. It’ll be interesting to see how his role evolves this year, but since I imagine ND will be throwing the ball 25+ times a game on a regular basis I could see him getting some touches consistently. He strikes me as a guy who can be a game breaker.

Tyler Eifert is a huge WR on the Fighting Irish who I found very impressive. He is listed at 6’6”, 249 pounds and looked very athletic for his size when I watched him last night. I didn’t get to see him very much from a blocking aspect, but I love his potential as a receiving TE. He looked very fluid, he showed impressive hands and he looked like he adjusted to the ball very well while it was in the air. His combination of size and athleticism reminds me a bit of Jimmy Graham, so I am excited to see how he develops over the course of the season.

Denard Robinson looked solid for most of the game, but he absolutely took over in the 4th quarter. He had a substantial number of his yards in the 4th quarter, plus he threw for three of his four passing touchdowns in the final period in addition to running for his only score. He accounted for 446 total yards (338 passing, 108 rushing) and five total touchdowns (4 passing, one rushing). He also threw three interceptions, but more than made up for that during the fourth quarter. He is incredibly athletic and he has a strong arm, but he misses a lot of open receivers when all he has to do is put it near them or close to in stride to get a lot of yardage. He loves to stretch the field deep and that explains his poor completion percentage but his great YPA, but his accuracy really comes and goes and is the definition of inconsistency. His receivers regularly make plays on 50/50 balls that he throws up to the wrong shoulder and lets them attempt to make a play. I would love to see him in the slot or in the backfield as a running back, plus as a return man. But obviously in college he has the athletic ability to take over a game even if he isn’t passing accurately. But he definitely won’t be a quarterback in the NFL.

Junior Hemingway had a huge game averaging 55 yards per catch in this game. He had only three receptions but had 165 yards and one touchdown. I was impressed by his ability to go up and high point the ball in the air and he seems to have solid hands, though he dropped a pass at one point. He’s a big WR and he looks like a 4.55-4.6 guy as far as speed, almost looks like a TE at times, so I have to watch him more to decide if I think he can project to the NFL as a WR since I wonder how well he will be able to create separation since I didn’t see a lot of quickness/burst from him in this game.

Vincent Smith, #2, is Michigan’s 3rd down running back and he made the most out of his touches in this game. He was the guy who broke the screen late in the game to give Michigan the lead before Notre Dame responded with a score with 30 seconds remaining. He made about three or four guys miss on the play and it was truly an incredible individual effort to get into the end zone. It was a great play and is was a great flash of his potential when he gets the ball in his hands. I’m not sure he will ever be the feature back for Michigan or anyone else, but he’s got talent and players that can make guys miss are always a commodity in college or in the NFL.

This was a great game to watch and it really got exciting in the 4th quarter which you always love to see as a football fan. Notre Dame seemed to be in control most of the game but they absolutely blew it in the 4th quarter once Denard started to sling the ball around and improvise. It was extremely fun to watch, but I can’t help but gloat a bit about Notre Dame starting 0-2 when some questioned why I didn’t have them in my top 25 preseason rankings. I thought they were overrated, though I love some of the weapons they have on offense. They could very realistically be 1-3 or 0-4 after one third of the regular season. Michigan, on the other hand, has started 2-0 and has a relatively favorable schedule upcoming. It will be interesting to see if Denard Robinson can keep up this frantic pace of production he had in the 4th quarter against ND. One thing they should possibly worry about is their lack of any semblance of a running game beyond Robinson. He accounted for almost all of their offensive yardage, so they need someone to step up when he’s not running the ball. Perhaps Vincent Smith will be able to provide a spark.

Thanks for reading! More write-ups are on the way.

–Tom

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown:

Obviously Wisconsin was in control of this game from start to finish, as they scored within the first three minutes of the game with a powerful running game and a dangerous play action fake. The thing that stuck out to me more than anything else was Montee Ball’s overall speed/quickness. He looked much more explosive, much quicker and displayed significantly more burst than he ever did last season. That was fantastic to see from a scouting perspective. The announcers drove the point home that he lost about 28 pounds this offseason, so obviously he is in pretty incredible shape and is moving much better as he is carrying less weight. That means Wisconsin’s backfield is going to be terrifying because James White continued to look excellent as expected (he still reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn) and Melvin Gordon looked effective as a possible #3 back.

Obviously Russell Wilson was a player you have to key on because of his ability to sling the football all over the field as well as his athleticism, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. He was 10/13 for 255 yards (19.6 yard average), 2 TD’s plus 2 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown on a 46 yard scramble just before the end of the second half. He was awfully impressive, though two of his incompletions were passes that I would expect him to make most of the time. But his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, athleticism and poise were on full display tonight even if the opponent wasn’t much of a challenge. He had great pass protection the whole night, and when the pocket did eventually break down a couple of times he gashed UNLV’s defense with improvised plays. He was extremely effective for having been on campus for only two months. It speaks volumes about him that he was able to adjust and adapt that quickly, not to mention that he played great and was voted as a captain by his teammates.

Nick Toon was only targeted a couple times tonight but he made two tough catches in traffic which was good to see. He and Jared Abbrederis have the most to gain from Wilson’s presence this year because they will see a lot more targets and downfield passes because of his ability to buy time in and out of the pocket and because of his significant arm strength. Jacob Pedersen was also targeted a couple times and I really think that he is going to surprise a lot of people. He’s got a ton of athleticism and upside.

The offensive line looked great to me. Obviously Oglesby isn’t the strongest part of that offensive line, but I am extremely high on Ricky Wagner (LT) and Peter Konz (OC). I also like Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler, though this was the first I’d seen of Frederick since he was redshirted last year. Oglesby has his moments in the run game and looked alright in pass protection, but I am going to wait to pass judgement until he deals with players with more edge speed and quickness which he really tends to struggle with when pass blocking. His feet are slow and he doesn’t seem to have much ability to recover quickly and re-establish fundamentally sound mechanics. I love Wagner and Konz though, and both looked great tonight when I paid attention to them even if it was against less than comparable competition.

Louis Nzegwu flashed some potential at DE for Wisconsin as did David Gilbert, though I think Nzegwu is the better player I think Gilbert has more upside because of his size, speed and strength combination. He flashed some serious speed off the edge last year and showed that again in this game, but he just needs to improve his hand usage if he is going to provide anywhere close to the pass rush that J.J. Watt did from that same position last year. Defensive tackle was a concern of mine for the Badgers coming in and that held to form as they got gashed versus the run, whether it was inside or outside in this game. That speaks to the linebackers as well, but they looked pretty weak up the middle to me and Gilbert did not impress me much versus the run, though I would need to re-watch the game to get a more accurate feel for that. I think the Badgers are really going to struggle to stop teams like Nebraska and Michigan State on the ground if they gave up 146 rushing yards to UNLV.

Antonio Fenelus impressed me in the secondary for Wisconsin. He was called for pass interference on a play when he had perfectly fine coverage, located the ball and was making a play for the ball in the air. I thought it was a bad call, there was contact, but it shouldn’t have been a penalty. I think he has some significant upside, and I’m excited to watch him this year. Devin Smith, their new starter at corner, didn’t fare as well. I don’t think he has much upside in the NFL, and at this point he’s probably a late round/free agent guy based on what I’ve seen of him, though he is fundamentally sound for the most part. He just doesn’t have what it takes in coverage in my opinion. I’m also not that impressed with Aaron Henry. I didn’t pay attention to him at all (he might not have even played for all I know) but he strikes me as an average FS in the NFL. Not very fundamentally sound and doesn’t seem to have very good instincts in my opinion.

For UNLV I wasn’t very impressed with their QB Caleb Herring. He looks very skinny and he has a bit of a goofy throwing motion, and isn’t overly accurate. However, he did throw a couple nice balls and I liked some of what I saw from Phillip Payne. He dropped a pass or maybe two, but he made a couple nice catches in traffic and had one of UNLV’s two touchdowns on the night. It’ll be interesting to see how he does this year.

So overall I was impressed with Wisconsin, but their run defense and their kicking game is going to hurt their chances at winning the Big 10 with Nebraska and Michigan State both posing legitimate threats with very potent ground games. They have a good chance with Russell Wilson, but their run defense was a weak spot that needs to be improved upon to hold up week 5 against Nebraska, and if they are in close games and they are relying on a kicker who can’t make all of his extra points they could be in for a couple tough losses.

Thanks for reading!!

–Tom

Here’s a quick breakdown of a view games that I think will be interesting over the next few days. Part two will be coming soon, but I didn’t want it to be too long of a post considering they are just previews for the games. This covers Thursday, Friday and some of Saturday. Saturday through Monday will be covered in Part Two. Obviously there aren’t a lot of competitive match-ups in week one of the season since most teams are essentially buying wins to start off the season instead of scheduling potentially challening out of conference opponents, but that’s out of my control. So enjoy some of the match-ups that might just end up being interesting!

Thursday:

-Wisconsin-UNLV:

There are plenty of prospects to look at in this game. Russell Wilson (QB), Montee Ball and James White (RB), Nick Toon (WR), Ricky Wagner (LT), Kevin Zeitler (OG), Peter Konz (OC), Louis Nzegwu (DE), Antonio Fenelus (CB), Aaron Henry (FS) and their former nickel corner Devin Smith. On the UNLV side they have a young QB in Caleb Herring who will be trying to improve on an average season as a freshman where he saw action in 8 games but didn’t do anything spectacular. He has an ok running game and a solid receiver in Phillip Payne who has 127 career receptions coming into his senior year as well as 1,786 total receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He should be the main target for Herring in this game, and I imagine Fenelus will be up to the challenge of defending him. That could be the most intriguing match-up in the game outside of Wilson playing his first game on the Badgers, which certainly will get lots of media attention throughout the season as he becomes acclimated to the team, the coaching staff and obviously his teammates on offense. I’m excited to see how they all do in this game, but Ricky Wagner is the best prospect in this game in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how he holds up as a starter at Left Tackle. I have high expectations for him.

Friday:

-TCU-Baylor:

This is an intriguing matchup at the QB position with Casey Pachall replacing Andy Dalton at QB and with Robert Griffin III returning as the starter for Baylor. TCU is overrated as the #14 overall team in my opinion, but they are returning a strong defense led by Tank Carder who terrorized Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. I also think Stansly Maponga has some upside as a defensive end for TCU. Griffin is very athletically talented, but needs significant improvement with his mechanics and accuracy to be a serious or even dominant threat at QB. It will be interesting to see what Pachall has to offer, but Ed Wesley and a strong stable of RB’s are returning to help support him while he adjusts to the starting role. Kendall Wright is going to get a lot of looks from Griffin especially because of the loss of Josh Gordon, a receiver who had legitimate 1st round ability. TCU is obviously the favorite in this one, but Baylor has enough firepower to potentially hang around with them.

Saturday:

-Northwestern-Boston College:

This game could go either way, and has a couple intriguing prospects at QB. The superior prospect is obviously Dan Persa, the QB for Northwestern. He should give the Wildcats a serious boost on offense, and they’ve got a lot of talent on that offense for him to utilize. Boston College has a younger QB in Chase Rettig who should be a sophomore this year. He showed some ability as a freshman last year, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the Northwestern defense. Montel Harris should help keep some pressure off of him even if he is an average NFL prospect. I think Northwestern is the favorite, but Boston College has a legitimate shot in this one.

-Notre Dame-South Florida:

Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in this game but I don’t buy the hype of them being a potential top 15 team. South Florida doesn’t have a great shot at winning this game but they have a QB in B.J. Daniels who can be very streaky, and can be dangerous when he’s hot thanks to his strong arm and legitimate athleticism so he can threaten with his legs as well as his arm. I’m not sold on Notre Dame’s defense at this point, but their offense shouldn’t have much trouble scoring on South Florida’s defense. Dayne Crist will be starting a game for the first time in a very long time so expect some significant rust, but they’ll make it easy for him to get into a rhythm, especially with Michael Floyd still intact.

-BYU-Ole Miss:

I actually think this could be an interesting game. I know nothing about either QB that Ole Miss was considering starting (except that the original starter Randall Mackey was arrested for disorderly conduct after a fight at a bar) so now Barry Brunetti is starting. I know a significant bit more about Jake Heaps, BYU’s QB, and I am excited to see how he progresses. He was incredibly impressive for a true freshman QB last year, and was quite impressive in their bowl win to cap off their season last year. This will be a huge test for him going against a SEC caliber defense, but I think he might be up to it. Ole Miss will rely a lot on Brandon Bolden, their quality RB, who put up 976 rushing yards (14 TD’s and 6.0 ypc) plus 344 receiving yards and 3 more TD’s on 32 receptions. It’ll be interesting to see how well they move the ball because I have no expectations for their QB. They have some talent on defense, but it will be interesting to see how they match up with BYU. Cody Hoffman, BYU’s very large WR, might create some match-up problems because of his size.

It’ll be interesting to see how these match-ups play out, but regardless I am excited to see some college football finally. Enjoy it, I know I will!

–Tom

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