Tag Archive: Logan Thomas


Top Seniors:

1-      Tajh Boyd, Clemson- Boyd really impressed me with his growth as a junior and had one of his best games in the bowl game against LSU. DeAndre Hopkins helped take over that game, but Boyd’s progression makes me think he will continue to improve as a senior. I’ve made this mistake before on Jake Locker, but I have high hopes for Boyd.

2-      David Fales, San Jose State- Thanks to Ben Allbright, Fales became a very popular name amongst NFL Draft analysts, particularly on Twitter. The hashtag #EpicFales may be one of the greatest hashtags of all time. Regardless, Fales has a NFL arm and really impressed me in the limited time I was able to watch him. He is not without flaws, but he’s definitely one of my top 5 QB’s even considering juniors.

3-      Jeff Matthews, Cornell- My good friend Emory Hunt turned me on to Matthews months ago and I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw. He’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and he’s definitely going to become more and more popular as the process goes on. Emory pointed out that he reminds him of Matt Ryan and I definitely see the similarities.

4-      Derek Carr, Fresno State- Carr has a very talented arm, not unlike his older brother David, but he worried me with how he handled pressure and he obviously struggled a lot while Margus Hunt terrorized him in Fresno State’s bowl game. He’s got another full year to show he can improve, and his natural talent means he’s in my top 5 QB’s, but I want to see him handle pressure better.

5-      Bryn Renner, North Carolina- This might be me showing my UNC fandom, but I really think Renner is a quality quarterback prospect. He certainly isn’t perfect, and he had a great season in a wide open offense last year, but he has experience in different styles of offense, a strong arm, and I think he’s an effective leader. I think he will open some eyes as a senior.

6-      Aaron Murray, Georgia- If I expect McCarron to be the most scrutinized quarterback in this class, I think Murray is going to be a close second. He has been deemed as a player who can’t win the big game, and he’s going to have a tough time changing everyone’s minds as a senior. I’m glad he came back because I still think he has room to improve, but there’s a stigma about him that is going to be hard to shake. I do think he is a NFL caliber starter though, but he’s definitely not a franchise caliber guy in my opinion.

7-      A.J. McCarron, Alabama- I can already tell McCarron is going to be a divisive prospect. Some are going to see a “winner” that has been a key cog to Alabama’s title runs and others are going to cite his terrific supporting cast (skill position players, offensive line, and defense) and claim he is not much more than a game manager. I certainly don’t think he’s an elite prospect and his arm strength leaves something to be desired, but I don’t think he’s been coasting on the talent of Alabama’s roster either. I think he has some starter upside, but I am excited to see how his 2013 tape looks. He will certainly be one of the most highly scrutinized quarterbacks in this class.

8-      Tyler Russell, Mississippi State- I thought Russell flashed upside when he was still splitting time as a sophomore and in his last full season as a starter he flashed a lot of upside but showed that he still had a lot of room left to grow. He had a pretty horrendous bowl game and clearly needs to work on some things, but he has all the size and arm strength you could want in a quarterback. He may never live up to the expectations I have for him, but I’m willing to be patient and see if he can progress like I believe he is capable of.

9-      Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech- Thomas is another guy I really thought would progress last year but unfortunately he regressed and was essentially a massive disappointment considering some of the hype he was getting in the pre-season. He has all the size and arm strength you could ever dream of, but he was maddeningly inconsistent with his accuracy and decision making and clearly has a ton of growing left to do. I continue to hear great things about his work ethic so I believe he can still improve, I just don’t know if he will ever put it all together.

10-   Zach Mettenberger, LSU- Mettenberger was getting a lot of hype coming into the season but he was underwhelming during his first season as a starter. He’s got an intriguing combination of size and arm strength but he has to put it all together this year. He has starter upside, but he isn’t there yet.

11-   Drew Allen, Syracuse- I might be one of the few people that prefers Drew Allen to the Belldozer, but I do. I think Allen is going to win the Syracuse starting job and show that he has NFL talent at the quarterback position. This is probably higher than anyone else will have him ranked, but I am convinced Allen has starter upside at the next level.

12-   Stephen Morris, Miami- I was one of the people advocating for Morris to start over Jacory Harris during Harris’ senior year and I still think he’s the better quarterback. He’s a quality athlete with a strong arm, but his accuracy wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to see as a junior. Miami has been through a lot the last couple of years, so I’m excited to see if Morris can end his career on a high note this season.

13-   James Franklin, Missouri- Franklin is an intriguing guy thanks to his size, arm strength and athleticism, but like many of these quarterbacks he has to put it all together and show a mastery of the position as a senior. I personally don’t foresee him being a NFL starter, but he definitely has that upside if he can show more progression as a senior.

14-   Keith Price, Washington- At this time last year Price was coming off of a masterful performance in Washington’s bowl game against Baylor’s hapless defense. This year? He is coming off of a disappointing junior year that left a lot of people underwhelmed. He doesn’t have the arm strength I thought he had, his decision making was inconsistent, and he left a lot to be desired as a junior. I’m hoping he can reverse field as a senior, but I’m not holding my breath.

15-   Corey Robinson, Troy- I don’t think Robinson is going to be in very many top 15 quarterback rankings coming into the season, but I saw a talented quarterback when I watched him as a freshman and I still believe he can play at the next level. He may be undersized, but he has a NFL arm and I am excited to see if he can prove that as a senior.

Top Juniors:

1-      Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville- Bridgewater put on a show as a sophomore last year and made a believer out of me. I think he has all the arm talent, athleticism, toughness and intangibles to be a stud quarterback in the NFL. It remains to be seen how he will do this upcoming season, but I definitely have high expectations for him.

2-      Brett Smith, Wyoming- Smith is another player Allbright pointed out to me last year. I haven’t seen as much of him as I’d like, but what I have seen was very intriguing.

3-      Blake Bortles, Central Florida- I haven’t watched much of Bortles, but what I have seen was intriguing. It was his first full season as a starter so I look forward to reviewing some of those games but also to seeing how he does as a junior and as a starter with more experience.

4-      Braxton Miller, Ohio State- I am not sold on Miller as a NFL QB yet, but he made some strides as a sophomore and he’s too intriguing of a playmaker to leave him off this list entirely. He’s got a lot of upside, it’s just a question of whether he can ever become as good of a pure passer as he is as a runner.

5-      Garrett Grayson, Colorado State- Grayson is a player I think has a lot of upside. He’s definitely flying under the radar, but I expect that he will be the starter for Colorado State and prior to his collarbone injury last year he really showed me something. He looks like he has a NFL arm, it’s just a question of whether he can keep the starting job, stay healthy, and put together some good film.

Top Sophomores:

1-      Kevin Hogan, Stanford- Hogan has future 1st round pick written all over him. He’s got the size, the arm strength (though his deep ball could use some work), athleticism and high football IQ I look for in a QB. He really impressed me when he took over for Josh Nunes, and he is embracing his role as a leader on Stanford and from what I’ve read seems to have a strong hold on Stanford’s complex offense. I think he’s going to be great this year and while he is eligible I expect him to come out after his junior season, not after his redshirt sophomore year.

2-      Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M- I know a lot of people will be surprised that I have anyone ranked over Manziel, but as far as the NFL is concerned I think Hogan is the superior prospect at this point. There’s no denying Manziel’s uncanny feel for the game, shocking athleticism and knack for game-changing plays, but he still has a long way to go before he is a “surgeon” rather than a butcher as a quarterback as Trent Dilfer would say. The upside is there, but he’s still learning.

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**These are not ranked in any particular order**

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia-

Smith started the season out at an RGIII like pace, but as the season continued his play became more inconsistent and more frustrating. I still think he is the odds on favorite to be the top QB selected, but his issues staring down his primary receiver, throwing with inconsistent footwork and not stepping into all of his throws have been fairly well documented. He has good NFL size, arm strength, impressive accuracy and pocket poise, but he wasn’t as consistent as you would like over the course of the season and even as a fan of his he left something to be desired fairly regularly as the season went on. It’s hard for me to label him as a franchise QB given some of the question marks that surround him this year, but I think he has that upside. I have heard a couple different things about his intangibles so I would love to be a fly on the wall for his interviews with NFL teams. Alas, that isn’t likely to happen, so I’ll just have to keep my ear to the ground to try to get more details about his work ethic (which I have heard is very good) and his leadership capability. He’s still my #1 QB, but like every QB in this class he is not without flaws.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas-

Tyler Wilson and the entire Arkansas team had a very, very underwhelming season and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Arkansas’ season is over. Wilson is still a first round pick if you ask me, because outside of Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson he did not have much in the way of help this season. I’m sure some will argue that he was boosted by his supporting cast last season, but if his play was elevated by it last year it was dragged down by his cast this season. Outside of Cobi Hamilton no wide receiver was a consistent threat, and Knile Davis was not his regular self for almost the entire year. Dennis Johnson stepped up to fill the void when they gave him the opportunity, but even with his “emergence” (some of us already knew he could play) Wilson was under near constant pressure because of his terrible offensive line. He has a bit of a gunslinger mentality that some will like and some won’t, and he isn’t a perfect prospect by any means either. But I love his intangibles and leadership capability and I think he has more than enough arm talent to be a quality NFL starter. I think he still ends up in the top 15 after the draft process runs its course and teams get to interview him. Someone will fall in love with him (if not multiple QB needy teams) and they’ll make an effort to go get him.

Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State-

Glennon is a guy I just recently caught up on and I have to say I was impressed. We all knew he had the size and arm strength to play in the NFL, but his accuracy is better than it was last season during his first season as a starter and he throws a great deep ball. He flashes the ability to feel the pressure and step up in the pocket, though he does consistently hold onto the ball too long and doesn’t always read blitzes well pre-snap. My big problem with Glennon is that he needs functional space around him, a clean pocket, or room around him when he is throwing on the run to be good and sometimes even great. His issues become evident in muddied pockets or with pressure closing in after which his mechanics break down, he fades away from throws and his accuracy suffers as a result. He has the natural arm strength to get away with some of these throws, and consistently throws accurately on short throws even with pressure in his face (particularly on drag routes) but his drop off in accuracy and decision making is definitely concerning to me. I’ve seen him stand in and make one great throw with a defender in his face in the three 2012 games I’ve watched of him so far, but my impression is that seeing him do that is a rarity. If you draft him and you protect him I think you will be able to win games with him and go to the playoffs, but when the protection breaks down and he has to make big time throws in muddied pockets I think he will struggle. He’s only in his second season as a starter so perhaps he can continue to make strides in this area (Matt Ryan has had issues with this as well) but right now I would have reservations about taking him in the top 40 picks, though I do think he will end up in the 2nd round. I have a 3rd round grade on him at this point in the draft process after watching more of his 2012 games. Previously I had a 4th round grade on him. I look forward to seeing him in person at the Senior Bowl.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal-

Barkley came back for his senior season expecting to make a serious run at the National Championship, the Heisman trophy and at the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Having just finished watching his team lose to Notre Dame without him (while his understudy Max Wittek made some freshman mistakes along with some very impressive throws in his first career start) it’s safe to say Barkley isn’t anywhere close to the BCS title game, the Heisman or to going #1 overall. I personally don’t think he will be the 1st or 2nd QB selected, but he does have a good chance to be the #3 QB selected in a class that has really underwhelmed all year long. My friend and colleague Eric Stoner (@ECStoner) pointed out something that had been previously overlooked with Barkley- aside from his fantastic finish to the season last year, he was largely what he was this season his entire career. I had never thought of it that way, but that sums it up pretty perfectly- He kind of had a Mark Sanchez rise at the end of last season and he never really sustained that level of play even with the herculean effort of Marqise Lee over the course of the year. My thoughts on him haven’t changed since the beginning of the season- he seems to be elevated by the talent around him, he doesn’t have the arm strength to put appropriate NFL velocity on some intermediate throws, his deep balls hang in the air, and he threw a mind-blowing number of short/behind the line of scrimmage passes this season as a result of all of this. He might still go in the 1st round, but there will be plenty of people making arguments for him to fall out of the top 32 selections and it’s hard to make a great argument that they’re wrong at this point. I have been on the Barkley bandwagon since he was a freshman and I hate to sound like I’m throwing him under the bus since I have been advocating him to be a starter since before his freshman year and you could tell he had a NFL future early on in his career. But he doesn’t have a lot of upside left and his lack of good/great arm strength is going to hurt him at the next level. I think he will get a shot to be a NFL starter, but I’m not convinced that he will be a quality NFL starter at this point and I wouldn’t be very comfortable drafting him as my definite QB of the future as much as it hurts me to say it.

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee-

Bray is pretty much the polar opposite of Barkley in my opinion. He is 6’5”, skinny with lots of room to grow, has Jay Cutler-esque arm talent and unfortunately Jay Cutler-esque mechanics/decision making. He is a very talented kid with the ability to make any NFL throw even off of his back foot and that talent allows him to get away with poor footwork and weight transfer very frequently which is really too bad. He needs to be drafted by a team with a QB or QB coach that will mentor him and push him to improve his mechanics because they are a huge part of what is holding him back from reaching his immense potential. He is a frustrating kid to evaluate for this reason, and without being able to talk to his coaches, teammates and Bray himself it’s hard to evaluate how hard he is willing to work to improve his deficiencies, and I haven’t heard great things about his work ethic or intangibles thus far. NFL teams won’t like that, but there is going to be some NFL team that falls in love with his God-given talent that drafts him in the 2nd round if not higher. I liked Bray a lot coming into the season, but he didn’t progress like I hoped he might and his shortcomings were pretty obvious when you paid attention to him. I’m not sure if he will declare or not, it depends quite a bit on who Tennessee hires to replace Dooley if you ask me, but I think he is more likely to leave than he is to stay. He’s not ready to walk in and be a NFL starter in my opinion, but his raw upside gives him a chance at sneaking into the 1st round. Personally I would not want to tie my franchise to him right now, and I think the ideal situation for him would be to go to a team with an established veteran QB that can show him the ropes for a couple years, not unlike Ryan Mallett with the Patriots. I don’t know if Bray will be as lucky as Mallett was though.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma-

I have been underwhelmed by Jones for quite some time and despite a couple late wins this season that has not changed. I don’t think he’s a NFL starter and that stems from his lack of poise under pressure, less than ideal velocity on his passes, and the fact that I think he is elevated by the talent around him versus making everyone around him better. Because draftniks and likely scouts have been down on him so long I think it’s possible that some will start to proclaim he is underrated but I don’t buy that logic. He looked like a fourth round pick and a NFL back-up last year and his play this season hasn’t changed my mind about that. I haven’t studied him specifically this year, but nothing I’ve seen of him live has made me say “wow, I was wrong about him!” If anything it has reaffirmed that he’s good enough to get drafted, but that he is not a franchise QB or even a future quality NFL starter in my estimation.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech-

Thomas may have underwhelmed more than any other draft-eligible 2013 NFL Draft this year and I say that as someone who was very intrigued by his first season as a starter last year. He’s got all the size, arm strength and athleticism you could want in a quarterback, but his accuracy was erratic at best this year and his decision making regressed along with his mechanics over the course of the season. He came into the season being hyped up by some as a potential top 5 pick if he continued to progress and I can’t deny that I was one of the people who thought he had a chance to do that. However, it became clear early on that he was not ready to declare and not even ready to lead Virginia Tech to an above .500 record (the Hokies finished 6-6 this year). He has a LONG way to go before he will be a quality NFL starting QB, but there are split opinions on whether or not he should stay or declare. I think he should absolutely stay, but some think that he should go to the next level and begin getting NFL level coaching. Personally, I think he needs to work hard this offseason to improve his mechanics, gain chemistry with his returning receivers and come back and prove that he can be a leader and a catalyst on a team that competes for the ACC title. I thought he had a chance to do that this year, but the lack of a consistent running game and Thomas’ own issues compounded the problems that the Hokies had from top to bottom. I’m not going to buy him as a leader and as a player with quality intangibles until his decision making improves and until he shows he can command a game pre-snap. He has a lot of room to improve, and if his accuracy never improves he will remain a developmental project that may or may never live up to his immense raw potential. I like him, and I still think he can make strides this offseason and next year in his third season as a starter, but he has plenty of work to do.

From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing the Virginia Tech Hokies. I’m not going to lie, I expect the Hokies to win the ACC and finish in the top 5 this season, they are loaded with talent even if some of it (particularly at running back, along the offensive line and safety) is relatively unproven. Logan Thomas is poised for a huge second season as a starter and he is on my Heisman short list right now, partially thanks to the fact that, while unproven, I trust the group he has blocking for him and he has three senior receivers with significant playing experience returning this year. He will have weapons to throw to, and if Michael Holmes or J.C. Coleman step up at running back it will be business as usual for the Hokie offense. The offense might not be elite, but I think it will be good and potentially even explosive.

The real strength of the Hokies is their defense, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Their defensive line is one of the best in the country, and is headlined by James Gayle and J.R. Collins, two dynamic and explosive pass rushers. Bruce Taylor anchors the defense at middle linebacker, and as usual the Hokies have plenty of playmakers in the secondary. They are a little short on experience at safety, but cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum should be very good. The defensive line and the intense pressure they will apply on quarterbacks with just a four man rush will make for plenty of potential turnovers, and Bud Foster’s brilliant, aggressive scheme calls for lots of pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs which will only turn up the heat even more. This is going to be one of the best defenses in the country, and it all starts up front. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Logan Thomas is on my short list for the Heisman this year, and I think he is ready to take a huge step forward as a quarterback. Photo Credit: MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times

Logan Thomas, QB*- Thomas enters his junior season and his second season as a starter with very high expectations. He had a great first season as a starter passing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 59.8% of his 391 attempts. Despite his 6’6”, 262 pound frame Thomas is very athletic and was actually recruited as a tight end out of high school due to his size, bulk and athletic ability. That means he’s a threat to run, particularly on the zone read, and while he regularly handed off to David Wilson on those plays he kept it for a few timely and memorable touchdown runs right up the middle of the defense, particularly against Miami. On the season he ran for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he will be depended on for even more production in 2012. The offense lost David Wilson, the reigning ACC player of the year, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to the NFL but luckily for Thomas they have three senior receivers ready to fill the void and they all have significant playing experience. Thomas was brought along fairly slowly last year, but his growth was noticeable week to week and with all that experience as well as a full offseason on top of it I expect a special season out of him this year. I will have a full scouting report up on Thomas before the season starts, but his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism is rare enough to make him a potential top 5 pick if he progressed as I expect him to this year and decided to leave a year early. Many will make comparisons to Cam Newton, but as of right now the more accurate comparison is Josh Freeman in my opinion. But if he shows the uncanny ability to will his team to not only a high caliber bowl game but a national championship he will naturally draw even more comparisons to Newton than he does already.

Marcus Davis, WR- Davis is a WR I like quite a bit, he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the country, and I think he’s going to be the top target for Thomas this season. When I first saw Davis in the slot two years ago I thought he was a tight end he is so big, but he is a WR and a big one at that; he’s listed at 6’4”, 228 pounds and he looks like a guy who could run a 4.5 40 yard dash or faster. Last year he had 30 receptions, 510 yards and 5 touchdowns but I expect him to exceed that easily in 2012. He has speed, but at his height he is lethal on 50/50 balls and shows a lot of ability to adjust to the ball in the air, high point it and come down with it even in traffic. He adjusts to the ball well and seems to have pretty good body control, not to mention long arms and reliable hands. He catches the ball well outside of his frame and even if he isn’t asked to threaten defenses vertically at the next level his combination of size, athleticism and hands will make him a reliable contributor, not to mention the fact that he gives good effort as a blocker and due to his size and strength is quite effective at it. I’m not sure what his upside is just yet, but I am a big fan of Davis without a doubt. Keep an eye on him.

DJ Coles, WR- Coles is another wide receiver I like, and he’s another big receiver for Thomas to throw to. He’s listed at 6’3”, 216 pounds and much like Davis he has impressed me with his hands, his ability to track the ball in the air and make tough catches look easy. He has reliable hands as well, and actually returns with the most receptions of any Hokie receiver with 36. He had 480 yards and 3 touchdowns on those receptions, and I think he is poised to surpass those numbers easily this year assuming he stays healthy. He had surgery to repair his PCL in January and is still recovering, but he claims he will be ready for week one. I hope he is, because he should be a key cog in Virginia Tech’s passing offense this year.

Dyrell Roberts, WR- A couple years ago Roberts was considered the most dynamic receiver the Hokies had to offer. I preferred Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, and eventually they became the top two receivers as Roberts’ bouts with concentration lapses moved him down the depth chart. Last season he only had three receptions for 45 yards before suffering a season ending injury. He’s back for another shot at it again this year, and the 6’2” 188 pounder may actually play a lot in the slot thanks to the two large receivers above him on the depth chart. Roberts has plenty of speed, I think he’s a sub-4.5 guy, but his hands are inconsistent and that always bothered me. If he has improved his concentration and his hands then he could be in for a big year, but I don’t think he will outproduce Davis or Coles.

Nick Becton, OT- Becton is a senior who played over 450 snaps last season and played in all 14 games, but he wasn’t an every down starter and will likely be starting his first full season this year. He is charged with protecting Logan Thomas’ blind side and if the 6’6”, 326 pound left tackle can keep Thomas upright he is going to garner plenty of attention from scouts. He’s a relative unknown right now, and I’m not that familiar with his game outside of the fact that he is very strong, has long arms and plenty of potential. He almost became a starter in 2010 but because his turf toe injury took longer to heal than expected Andrew Lanier took hold of the starting role and left Becton in a reserve role. But Becton reportedly outplayed Lanier down the stretch last season and while he doesn’t return with 14 games as a starter he played in all 14 and played a considerable amount. Early in his career he was apparently considered to be playing “too nice” without enough aggressiveness, but the other book-end tackle for the Hokies, Vince Painter, said that last year Becton “started playing like somebody was stealing his car.” I love aggressiveness and nastiness in offensive linemen, and if Becton has discovered that in himself he could be quite the sleeper at the left tackle position. I am very intrigued by his upside, and I am looking forward to seeing his lateral agility and kick slide, because right now he sounds like he could be a top 100 pick at left tackle if he has a consistent season this year.

Vince Painter, OT- Painter, much like Becton, has been waiting for his shot to start for a long time and now the fifth year senior is finally getting his shot. The 6’5”, 304 pound tackle is considered a physical freak, having been timed at 4.74 in the 40 yard dash earlier in his career. However, he never earned much playing time and his flashy tools were never utilized. Now he has his chance to show what he can do this year, and while I’m not as excited about his potential as Becton he could surprise people with his play this season. I know I’m rooting for him, he’s waited a long time for his shot at the starting lineup.

Brent Benedict, OG**- Benedict is a redshirt sophomore I believe, but he’s got a lot of potential. He originally went to Georgia out of high school but according to this article a knee injury he sustained during his senior year of high school carried into his freshman season at Georgia, and apparently he wasn’t happy with how the training staff helped him rehab his injury. He sat out last year, and is now poised to start at right guard this season. Benedict has impressive size at 6’5”, 311 pounds and I think he has plenty of potential as a drive blocker, but I don’t know much about him in pass protection. He’s a relative unknown to everyone outside of the Hokie program, so I am very interested to see how he looks in his first season as a starter. I think he has a lot of potential if he can stay healthy.

Andrew Miller, C*- Miller is a 6’4, 300 pound center and he will anchor the offensive line as the only returning starter with any, technically, starting experience. Miller has been named to the Rimington Watch List and I am excited to see him play more this season. He’s a tough player, he’s poised to become the leader of the offensive line, and he plays with nastiness which as I have mentioned a million times I really like in offensive linemen. I am very anxious to see how he develops in his second season as a starter because I think he has plenty of draftable upside as a center.

James Gayle has 1st round pick written all over him and he is just scratching the surface of his potential. He spent the offseason working to improve his hand usage and master the little things you need to learn to be a complete defensive end, and it should result in a 10+ sack season for him in 2012.

James Gayle, DE*- James Gayle is probably my favorite player on the Hokies’ roster, but that might have something to do with him growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and agreeing to do this interview with me earlier this summer. He’s a great kid, and if you haven’t read that interview you should. Gayle is a physical freak that has been hand timed in the 4.4’s despite weighing about 258 pounds at the time according to James. He claims he got his speed from his All-Big Ten running back father, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that. James is an explosive athlete that is still learning how to play the position despite leading the team in sacks with 7 last season (and he missed 3 games last year!). Gayle is just scratching the surface of his massive potential, and I think he is ready for a 10+ sack season this year for the Hokies. He is going to have such a strong start to the season in my opinion that I think he’s going to start demanding double teams or at least extra help, which is going to make the rest of his defensive line and defense that much more dangerous.

J.R. Collins, DE*- Collins is another one of my favorite Hokies and I think he and Gayle are one of the best, if not the best, defensive end tandems in the entire country. Gayle spoke very highly of Collins when I spoke with him and Collins is a kid who might be a little undersized at 6’2”, 252 pounds but he is lightning quick, fast and has a relentless motor as James will attest to. Collins had 6 sacks last season, and I think he and Gayle may combine for over 20 this year, I’m dead serious. Collins doesn’t have the height and frame that James does, but I still love his upside as a pass rusher.

Antoine Hopkins, DT- Antoine and his brother are flying WAY under the radar thanks to Gayle, Collins, Bruce Taylor, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum but the Hopkins brothers are not going to be overlooked much longer. Antoine is listed at 6’1”, 318, but he is squatty, powerful and pretty quick for his size. He had 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks as a sophomore but missed over half of the season last year because of injury. Hopefully he is back to 100% by now. If he is, Virginia Tech could have a defensive line on par with the best in the country, even LSU.

Derrick Hopkins, DT*- Derrick is Antoine’s little brother but he is pretty big in his own right. Like his brother he doesn’t have ideal height, being listed at 6’0” even, but weighs 305 pounds and is a squatty defensive tackle. He wins leverage battles naturally because of his height and when he gets into your pads he can use his strength to walk you into the backfield, which helped him produce 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks and a pass break-up as a sophomore. Now a junior with an entire 14 games of starting experience under his belt he is the fourth cog on a defensive line that should be able to generate pressure even without any of Bud Foster’s brilliant scheming.

Bruce Taylor, MLB- Taylor is one of the elder statesmen of the defense, returning for his senior season with 23 career starts. He would have more had he not missed time last season with a foot injury, but regardless he is still a quality middle linebacker prospect thanks to his size and productivity. He is listed at 6’2”, 253 pounds and despite missing 6 games last season he had 53 tackles, 2 TFL and 5 sacks. The year before as a sophomore he was even more productive, totaling 91 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 6 sacks as well as four pass break-ups. I’ve never been blown away by him in pass coverage, but I need to see more of him before I come to any conclusions. Right now I have a 3rd or 4th round grade on him, and I’m excited to see what he can do with a full season of healthy football.

Tariq Edwards, OLB*- I honestly haven’t seen much of Edwards but I want to see more of him. He’s only a junior this season, but last year as a sophomore he had a great season totaling 71 tackles, 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks as well as 2 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. The 6’2”, 232 pound linebacker is an impressive player, but he is coming off a surgery to remove a screw from the rod that he had surgically implanted in his leg. The hope is that it will alleviate some pain he has been having, but obviously that is a situation to keep an eye on. Hopefully he comes back healthy and has another big season.

Antone Exum, CB*- Exum is a player that James specifically told me to look out for, but he’s hard to ignore thanks to his 6’0”, 219 pound listed size especially now that he is at corner. James told me he runs about a 4.35 despite being 220 pounds which is extremely impressive even if it is hand-timed, and he is obviously quite the athlete. He played free safety last year and led the team in tackles with 89, had 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 10 pass break-ups and an interception. He’s a playmaker and I can’t wait to see how he does as a corner, but even if he isn’t a great fit there I think he projects very well to the safety position at the next level.

Kyle Fuller, CB*- Fuller is yet another playmaker on this defense and while he isn’t quite as filled out as Exum he’s still pretty big for a corner. He’s listed at 6’0”, 188 pounds and I believe he has legit sub 4.5 speed. Plus, like James said, he plays even bigger than he is and loves to hit. That helped him gather 65 tackles, 10 TFL (10 tackles for loss for a corner is out of this world), 4.5 sacks, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a sophomore. I’m expecting him to take an even bigger step forward as a junior, and with all the talent VT has in the front 7 there are going to be plenty of poor throws, decisions and opportunities for turnovers for this secondary and I expect Fuller to take advantage of them.

James Gayle is one of the best defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the country, but somehow he seems to be flying under the radar. That won’t last long, as he is primed and ready for a double digit sack season as a junior.

Tom: First of all James, thank you for your time, I really appreciate the chance to talk with you more in depth and I know you’re busy.

Tom: What was your favorite thing about playing for Virginia Tech last season?

James: Probably the fans, just the Virginia Tech atmosphere and playing at Lane Stadium. I’d rather play in our stadium than anywhere else in the country.

Tom: You’ve been productive both seasons you’ve been at Virginia Tech even though last year was your first full season as a starter, do you expect an even more significant break-out year this season?

James: Definitely. I think the thing that hurt me last year was my injury, I missed 3 games and I still led the team in sacks. I’m healthy now though.

Tom: What is your accurate height, weight, and 40 yard dash time?

James: 6’4”, right now I weigh about 266 or 267 and the last time I ran I ran a 4.45 40 yard dash time, but I think I only weighed 257 or 258 at that point.

Tom: You “only” weighed 257 or 258 pounds and you ran in the 4.4’s, Josh Gordon just ran a 4.53 in the 40 yard dash at his pro-day and got drafted in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft and he weighs 40 pounds less than you!

James: Well I’ve always been fast though, even when I was in high school I was running in the 4.4’s but I guess I never got slower since all I’ve gained since coming to Virginia Tech is muscle.

Tom: Do you have any statistical goals for yourself or the team?

James: For the team I just want to be the #1 defense in the nation, or at least top 5. For myself I just want to have a better season than I did last year and continue to improve. I think if I stay healthy I’ll be better than I was last year and put myself in a good position.

Tom: What was it like watching Logan Thomas progress and grow as the season went on last year?

James: It was great. It was great watching him get acclimated to defenses but I think it was the Miami game where he really showed everyone what he could do.

Tom: Did he look even better in the spring?

James: You can tell he’s more comfortable and I think he’s getting better every day.

Tom: Everyone just kind of assumed he was going to play tight end when he was coming out of high school and now he’s one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, it’s crazy.

James: I knew he was going to play quarterback because I played in an all-star game with him in high school, haha.

Tom: Well then you knew something I didn’t! Now did your defensive coaches mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

James: Yeah they said I’m starting to get the little things down like my technique and my angles. I feel like I did an overall better job of that in the spring than I did in the past.

Tom: What kind of technique stuff did they specifically say you were improving on?

James: Just when I’m pass rushing taking the right angles. I usually just get by with my speed but that’s not going to work with every tackle so I’m just trying to get better with my hands and trying to take better angles to get to the quarterback.

Tom: That’s great to hear, that’s what you need to be a complete defensive end. You’re going to be scary when you get that technique down James.

James: Haha, well I’ve been working on it all summer.

Tom: What do you think your greatest strength is as a football player? Maybe your speed?

James: Yeah my speed, I’m just a natural pass rusher.

Tom: What about some of the things you think you need to work on? Obviously you’ve already mentioned technique.

James: Yeah, I mean I really haven’t been playing football that long to be honest my first season was my junior year in high school so basically I didn’t really have anybody to actually coach me up or teach me the position. Then I redshirted when I got to Virginia Tech and they don’t really teach you anything when you redshirt so I was just learning how to play the position my redshirt freshman year.

Tom: Do you have any mentors for the defensive end position? People you’ve patterned your game after?

James: Oh yeah definitely. Coach [Charley] Wiles the defensive line coach, Cornell Brown has been really instrumental and then I watch a lot of film of Bruce Smith since he played here.

Tom: What is one thing that every defensive end has to have in order to be successful?

James: I think he has to be aggressive. That’s something you can’t really teach a guy to be honest. There are a bunch of guys that have ability but they’re not aggressive, but then there are guys that have less ability but are more aggressive and I think that’s important. I feel like that’s something you can’t teach, but I think that also goes for every position.

Tom: Are there any players on defense that stuck out to you during the spring? Anyone I might not have heard about?

James: Antone Exum. I think he’s going to be one of the best corners in the nation this year, him and Kyle Fuller. Antone runs a 4.3 and he’s like 225 pounds. He’s a good corner. Kyle is really good too he plays a lot bigger than he is. I’ve seen him lay some guys out that he was much smaller than.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

James: The running backs J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes, then Logan Thomas. The receivers too, I know Marcus Davis is going to have a big year. For the most part our offense is going to do pretty well.

Tom: I’m sure Hokie fans will be encouraged to hear that the running backs look good since you just lost David Wilson and Josh Oglesby.

James: Yeah it’s pretty different because when I came here I played against three All-American running backs. I played against Darren Evans first, then Ryan [Williams] and then David [Wilson]. So I’m pretty sure one of those guys is ready to step up next.

Tom: You’re getting some hype coming into the season, do you feel any added pressure because of some loftier expectations?

James: No not at all. I feel like I’m just going to play my game. I feel like the expectations that people have for me coming into the season aren’t any higher than the expectations I already have for myself, so it’s not any different. I feel like I should be one of the best defensive ends in the country and I feel like I should be an All-American.

Tom: I know you saw me mention that you and J.R. Collins are one of the best defensive end tandems in college football, what do you think makes him so dangerous?

James: J.R. Collins is relentless. I totally agree that we’re a great tandem too because I think that J.R. Collins’ name should be up there with any of the best defensive ends in the ACC this year. He’s relentless, he’s hard-nosed and if I could pick anybody to play on the opposite side of me it would be him.

Tom: That’s a glowing recommendation. And I was just looking at your defensive line depth chart last night and it occurred to me that you guys could have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. Do you think that’s possible?

James: I definitely think it’s possible. I feel like if it weren’t for my injury last year we would have been one of the best in the country from a pass rush standpoint.

Tom: And then you have the Hopkins brothers. You guys have a lot of returning experience on that defensive line.

James: Yeah the Hopkins brothers! I feel like our defensive line is going to be one of the best of the country. Both of them are really good players, and then we’ve got Luther Maddy who started last year as a true freshman at defensive tackle, so we essentially have a couple starters at second string.

Tom: Ok, who are the rotational guys behind you and J.R.?

James: Tyrel Wilson is the guy behind me, he did well last year. And behind J.R. is Zack McCray, plus we have another defensive end named Dadi Nicholas who redshirted last year.

Tom: Did you say his first name is Dadi? That’s AWESOME!

James: Yeah his first name is Dadi, haha.

Tom: What is it like playing for Bud Foster in his aggressive defense? I imagine it’s pretty fun.

James: Oh definitely, because I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive player so coming to school with an aggressive defensive coordinator it just matches. So I really enjoy playing for him.

Tom: Are you comfortable buzzing into coverage? Foster likes to bring zone blitzes so I know he asks you to drop sometimes.

James: Yeah definitely I feel really comfortable dropping into coverage. At first when you don’t do it for a while it’s weird but I’ve been doing it all summer since I’ve been working out with the DB’s so I’m comfortable doing it.

Tom: Uh-oh… I hope they don’t move you to safety James. You’ve got the speed for it after all.

James: Hahaha. I don’t think I’m ready for some of these little receivers though!

Tom: Is there one game this year you are particularly looking forward to? Maybe Clemson?

James: Oh yeah definitely Clemson. They had our number last year but this year they gotta be ready to go to war.

Tom: You and Tajh [Boyd] go back to high school I’m sure you want to get a W against him.

James: Oh Tajh? Yeah definitely. I’ve been playing him since high school but I’ve never been able to beat him.

Tom: I think this year might be the year then James.

James: Yeah, hopefully.

Tom: You’ve got a pretty good football pedigree with your dad Jimmy playing running back at Ohio State from 1979-82 and your Uncle Shaun playing DB for the Buckeyes and in the NFL from 1984-95 as well. Do you think that has helped you pick up the game so quickly?

James: Absolutely. I feel like I have strong football bloodlines since both my father and uncle played at Ohio State. I think my dad was an All-Big Ten running back so that might be where I get my speed from. Actually in high school my father was one of the fastest backs in the nation. I think that’s where the speed came from.

Tom: I definitely think that could be where you got your speed from.

James: Yeah I’d say that’s it, haha.

Tom: I read in an article that before you started playing football you were “more of a video game guy” and that after you got done with video games you said “I think I’ll just play football.” How did that come about?

James: I really wasn’t that interested in playing football when school first started so I just played video games. Then I got tired of that and just decided to play football, but I had never lifted weights or anything so I was like 160 pounds at the end of my 10th grade year. So I just started lifting weights and eating right and by the beginning of my senior year I was like 210. Now that I’m over 260 I’ve put on over 100 pounds of muscle since high school.

Tom: And you haven’t lost any speed, that’s the scary thing. Now, do you still play video games? If so, what’s your favorite game to play?

James: Nah, I guess I kinda played myself out of that. I guess I play some NCAA. They’ve got me rated as one of the best defensive ends on the game so that’s good.

Tom: What is one thing you would like the world to know about you that it may not already know?

James: Man, that’s tough. I guess that I can actually run a 4.4 because every time I get on the internet I see people saying I run a 4.7 or something like that. I want people to know that I have that kind of speed because that’s what I take pride in.

Tom: I had definitely read that you had 4.4 speed, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to believe that a 260 pound defensive end had 4.4 speed, that shit scares me.

James: Well I’ve seen guys at 270 be timed in the 4.5’s! It’s possible, there are guys that can do it. I guess we’ll see if I get my shot at the combine.

Tom: Well I predict that you will, that’s my prediction. It’s not bold, but it’s a prediction.

James: Haha, we’ll see.

Tom: I just want you to realize how unfair it is that you can run a 4.4 at that size, even a 4.5 would be just disgusting.

James: Well I’m very confident I can run a 4.5. I’ve never ran a laser 40 time, but I know I can do it.

Tom: Well that’s about all I have, do you have any questions for me?

James: No I don’t think so.

Tom: Well thank you for your time James, I appreciate the chance to talk with you a little more in depth. When does camp start up for you?

James: August 7th, I’m getting ready.

Only a couple weeks away! I’m ready for some football. Well good luck with the rest of your training and good luck this season!

James: Thanks! It was great talking to you.

Tom: You’re welcome, it was great talking with you as well. Take care.

Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

7-      E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

7-      Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M*

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

10-   Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Tight End Rankings:

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

10-   Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska
Offensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

10-   James Hurst, OT, North Carolina*
Offensive Guard Rankings:

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

10-   Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State
Center Rankings:

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

10-   Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Defensive End Rankings:

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

10-   William Gholston, DE, Michigan State*
Defensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

10-   Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Middle Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

10-   Christian Robinson, ILB, Georgia
Outside Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

10-   Tharold Simon, CB, LSU*
Safety Rankings:

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

2-      T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Get ready guys, this is a long post. It’s over 4,000 words long. You might have to break this one up since it will take a while to read. Enjoy the info!

Logan Thomas: Thomas started a bit slow, but overall I was very impressed. He made some legitimate NFL throws last night and continued to flash his great arm strength that made Virginia Tech want to groom him as Tyrod Taylor’s replacement instead of playing him at tight end like he wanted to. He believed that was his best shot at the NFL, but clearly Virginia Tech was right to play him and develop him as a quarterback. He has size and athleticism that is reminiscent of Cam Newton and is equally difficult to tackle in the backfield and when he scrambles for yardage with his legs. His accuracy is the thing he needs to improve on the most, but it looks much better and more consistent than it did when I saw him earlier in the year. He’s still raw and developing but he’s got tons of upside. As he continues to work on his mechanics and develop pocket poise he could develop into a potential first round quarterback prospect. He’s definitely intriguing, but while he has plenty of upside due to his great combination of size, arm strength and athleticism he still has to continue to work on his fundamentals. As he continues to do that he will become more consistent and really start to legitimize himself as a NFL prospect. It will be fun to potentially watch him in the ACC Championship game as well as a potential BCS Bowl Game. I have been waiting for this Logan Thomas to show up all year as I listed him as a potential break-out player for this season in his first year as a starter, so it is encouraging to see him continually developing week to week.

Bryn Rynner: I was very impressed with Rynner in this game. He didn’t have an elite stat line as he was only 14/26 for 224 yards (8.6 yards per attempt) and 1 touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception against a pretty talented Virginia Tech defense even if they were missing a few players because of injury. He made some impressive throws, displayed a live arm, and extended plays effectively thanks to his athleticism. He’s not a very big quarterback, but I was impressed by his quality arm strength and accuracy. I think he and North Carolina have a bright future as he continues to develop.

David Wilson: Wilson has world class speed first of all. That is obvious the second he touches the ball. He can run between the tackles, he has surprisingly good leg drive given his size, he has reliable hands out of the backfield and he seems to have pretty good vision to find cutback lanes and other seams to run through. The problem with him is that because of his speed he will try to make big plays happen a bit too often when he needs to just gain yardage. This usually happens when he tries to bounce plays outside when he can’t find room to run inside. That doesn’t work against faster defenses though, which resulted in a TFL or two against North Carolina. Wilson is a very versatile weapon though, and given the shelf life of running backs I think he should declare after this year. I think that given the correct situation he could have a Demarco Murray type impact on a roster. He’s a dynamic player who has proven he can be the feature back in college. I’m not positive he can do this at the next level, but he has the potential to be a game changer.

Giovanni Bernard: Bernard scared me when he left the game with an injury but it was reported as only a mild concussion which is great news. Hopefully he will be back for the game against Duke, but as long as he is healthy long term I’d be just fine with him missing it. He is UNC’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997 which is almost unbelievable to me, but he has “star” written all over him in my opinion. He has very impressive burst, he runs hard and with good pad level, he has the speed to break off long chunks of yardage, he has good hands out of the backfield (35 receptions in his first year) and has helped legitimize UNC’s offense by establishing a running game that has been borderline non-existent for years. He and Rynner are going to be very fun to watch for the next two or three years assuming Rynner comes back for his senior year and Bernard stays through his junior year since he will be draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore after next season.

Ryan Houston: Houston is a huge power back for North Carolina, however this year he has slimmed down a bit. He is still listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds but he has definitely shaved off extra weight and you can see it. He’s in much better shape. I think he has draftable ability as a late round pick but is more likely to be a UDFA. He runs so hard and has such fantastic leg drive thanks to his great size and strength, but he’s not going to run a good 40 yard dash time in my opinion but he has ability. He’s great in short yardage and on the goal line, and because those are the only carries he ever seems to get that explains his less than impressive ypc average. I’m rooting for him, but we’ll see what happens after the season.

Josh Oglesby: I think Oglesby has ability. It would be in the 7th round or as an undrafted free agent but I think he has some talent. He’s not going to be a feature back in the NFL, but I think he can make a team as UDFA and stick as a special teamer. He is a physical back that could be used in short yardage situations and could help soften up defenses with a few touches, plus I don’t think he has bad hands out of the backfield. He has been productive when he gets touches and provides a more powerful back as a complement to Wilson’s game-breaking speed. He’s not likely to get drafted at all, much less high, but he’s worth at least paying attention to in my opinion.

Jarrett Boykin: Boykin is a guy I have been high on for a long time and he was actually involved in my first set of posts when I started my blog over a year ago in June of 2010. Boykin is a senior wide receiver for Virginia Tech that has potential as a solid #2 in the NFL thanks to his combination of size, quality athletic ability and very big and reliable hands. He’s not a burner and he’s not an athletic freak, but he’s been the cream of the Virginia Tech wide receiver crop for years and is the top receiver in VT history both in receptions and yards (though Danny Coale is a close second in both categories). He’s got NFL potential but is probably a fourth round pick at this point. He had a big day against North Carolina with 10 catches for 106 yards. He seems to have one or two drops on catchable passes a game despite his very reliable hands, so it makes me wonder if his hands aren’t quite great or if he just lacks concentration on a few plays per game. Either way he is more than draftable and I think he has a great shot at a long NFL career because of his team-first attitude, quality work ethic and reliable hands.

Danny Coale: Danny Coale is an undersized Virginia Tech receiver who, despite less than ideal speed, always manages to catch deep passes to the surprise of opposing defenses. He’s got great hands, he’s very tough, he makes catches in traffic, and he has great quickness. He’s more quick than fast which helps him create separation, but he’s smart, will go over the middle and make catches when you need them just like Boykin will. He won’t go as high as Boykin because of his lack of size, but he has made some fantastic catches at Virginia Tech and much like Dane Sanzenbacher of Ohio State (now with the Chicago Bears and getting some playing time…) he might get drafted late or not at all, but he will stick on a NFL roster. I guarantee it.

Dwight Jones: Dwight Jones has NFL size and pretty good speed but he leaves something to be desired as a receiver. He has pretty good hands but he body catches more than I would like to see and he doesn’t run very good routes consistently. He has NFL ability, but I have a 3rd round grade on him right now. He definitely has upside and he has been very productive for North Carolina especially this season with 68 receptions, 1,018 yards and 8 touchdowns. He will definitely get drafted, but I don’t think he is anything beyond a solid/quality #2 in the NFL. He’s definitely not a #1, and I don’t think he will be the gamebreaker he is at times for UNC even with a #1 caliber receiver opposite him.

Erik Highsmith: Highsmith is a 6’3”, 190 pound junior wide receiver on North Carolina. He has some upside due to his size and reliable hands, but he is more of a possession type of receiver. He doesn’t threaten much vertically but he’s reliable when he can create separation and get the ball thrown his way. He has had a career high 41 receptions, 608 yards and 4 touchdowns so far this year. He will likely be the #1 or #2 receiver next year with Jones graduating and while I don’t have anything beyond a 5th round grade on him at this point I do think he has draftable talent. I could see him being a nice #4 receiver in the NFL, one of those guys you can bring out on the field on 3rd down or in the red zone that you know will catch it if you throw it his way and that can find a hole in a zone for a first down conversion. He won’t make the streaking touchdown necessarily (though he did have a huge gain to set up a late UNC touchdown as they attempted a late comeback) but he will be in the NFL.

Marcus Davis: Davis is a developing receiver on Virginia Tech. Not a lot of people realize this but Logan Thomas is losing two senior wide receivers to graduation after this season.  Davis has emerged as a legitimate #3 target at wide receiver for Virginia Tech (though he has almost identical numbers to D.J. Coles, another quality junior receiver) and has almost matched his career totals from his previous two seasons in just this one year as a junior. This year he has 20 receptions (had 24 in first two years), 330 receiving yards (had 364 yards in first two years) and four touchdowns (had three in first two years). He’s 6’4”, 228 pounds and the first time I saw him play I thought he was a tight end because while he was very big he was also moving incredibly fast. If he is a legitimate 6’3”, 225+ pounds then I think he could have a future at that position, but he probably wants to stick at receiver. While he has played a key role for Virginia Tech this year and I like his hands and his size I think he is going to match his career production again in one season as a senior next year. Logan Thomas will be in his second full season as a starter as a junior and if he continues to develop he could be a Heisman candidate next season much like Cam Newton was as a junior at Auburn last year. Davis will be one of his top two receivers along with D.J. Coles and they should help keep the passing game from dropping off. If VT can replace David Wilson at RB, should he actually declare, then their offense could be very dangerous next year. Davis has a lot to do with that, so look out for him.

Dyrell Roberts, WR, Virginia Tech: Dyrell Roberts only caught three passes on the season but it was brought to my attention by a reader’s comment that Roberts broke his arm early in the season and has the option of choosing a redshirt (since he never redshirted) or a medical redshirt. It’s unfortunate for him because it was the second season in a row he sustained a season ending injury, but it sounds like he will be back next season. He was widely considered VT’s best and most explosive receiver until last season, though I always maintained that Boykin was the best. He is listed at 6’1″, 196 pounds and a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.53. I’d be surprised if he didn’t test faster than that as I believe he has the speed to test defenses vertically, but his hands have always been a huge question mark for him. It will be interesting to see what he does next year, and I for one am hoping he can stay healthy. Thanks to Jim for bringing this to my attention!

D.J. Coles: Coles is another big, athletic receiver for VT. He’s a junior this year and at 6’3”, 224 pounds he has totaled 26 receptions, 331 yards and two touchdowns. That accounts for almost all of his career statistics, but that doesn’t mean he lacks ability. In fact, I think Coles is ready for a break-out receiver next year. I can’t decide whether he or Davis will emerge as Thomas’ #1 target next year, but I think they are both going to have break-out years. Coles’ will be more noticeable because he had such a miniscule impact last year with only three receptions. But he is ready for big things and I think he will be targeted early and often by Thomas next year because of his quality size, very reliable hands and his knack for making the great catch. He adjusts very well to the ball in the air as well and tracks it well off of the quarterback’s hand. He’s going to blow up next year, so watch out for him.

Travis Bond: Bond is the junior right guard on North Carolina and he impressed me a lot in this game. He’s 6’7”, 340 pounds so he absolutely has NFL size and he helped get a consistent push against VT’s interior defensive line. He’s much bigger than all of their defensive linemen and he helped generate a consistent push in the running game, especially when Bernard was still in the game. Even after that they generated enough push to get Blue some yardage even though he’s the #3 back. I didn’t get to evaluate him much in pass protection, but I believe Bond has a NFL future. Just have to figure out what kind of one it is.

Jonathan Cooper: Cooper is another NFL offensive guard prospect on North Carolina. He plays left guard at 6’3”, 305 pounds and he also had an impressive push against VT’s defensive line. I didn’t see him in pass protection either, but he’s a quality junior draft prospect as well and warrants some attention. One noteworthy thing about UNC’s offensive line is that they will return every starter but their center next year and they will be a very experienced group with three seniors (LG, RG and RT) and a junior at LT. A sophomore will likely step in at center, but that’s an experienced group up front that should help clear a lot of running lanes for Bernard next year. I can’t wait to see that.

Quentin Coples: Coples is a very impressive prospect. I think he has a lot of versatility to play inside or outside at the next level, but I’m not sure which scheme he would fit best in yet. I think he would be effective as a 4-3 LE, but I don’t think he would generate a ton of sacks. Regardless, I think he has good edge speed considering his 6’6”, 290 pound frame, very strong and powerful hands, he displays consistently good hand usage to disengage from blocks, and overall has plenty of upside. I’m not sure he will be a top 5 pick like some are suggesting, but he definitely has top 15 pick written all over him at this point. Just haven’t quite seen the dominance that many were expecting.

Donte Paige-Moss: Paige-Moss has been tabbed by many as an overrated prospect on the Tar Heels and I tend to agree. He has fantastic athleticism and was considered a potential break-out player by some, but has not been starting for the Heels and has had a limited impact this year with only 21 tackles (11 solo), 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two pass deflections. He has a great frame for a pass rusher at 6’4”, 260 and has ideal athleticism for the RE position but he just hasn’t developed at all. He still has plenty of upside if the light comes on for him, but I’m not sure exactly what that requires. I think if he worked harder to get stronger and improve his hand usage he might progress next year as a senior, but he will have to earn his starting spot back or make a serious impact as a rotational guy as a senior. His stock is a mid-round guy that is a high risk/high reward player because he has a lot of upside but there’s very little from his junior year that suggests he will live up to his potential.

Kareem Martin: Martin is the guy who has replaced Paige-Moss at DE for the Tar Heels. He’s got plenty of upside due to his athletic ability as well as his impressive 6’6”, 260 pound size. He is only a sophomore but he has been very impressive with 34 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 4 sacks and 5 pass deflections. UNC does a pretty good job of getting their hands up into passing lanes and Martin is not an exception to that rule. I like Martin and think he has plenty of upside at DE for the Heels and should help replace Coples next year as I expect him to fill out that 6’6” frame and show up at 270+ pounds next season. Martin screams LE due to his size, and if Paige-Moss can get his act together UNC could have the feared pass rush from their DE’s that everyone expected them to have this season. Keep an eye on Martin, he has a lot of potential.

Sylvester Williams: Williams is a guy that stuck out to me from the second VT snapped the ball on their first drive. Williams has great size at 6’3”, 320 pounds and definitely has a lot of ability for such a large man. He’s only a junior but he has 47 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF and two pass deflections. I think he is going to be a legitimate 2nd or 3rd round prospect next year, and I am excited to watch him as a senior on a defensive line that has plenty of talent.

Tydreke Powell: Powell is a 6’3”, 310 pound senior defensive tackle. He’s a very strong, powerful defensive tackle that is hard to move in the trenches. He’s got 43 total tackles (18 solo), 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups. He’s not a dynamic pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, but I think he has a legit NFL future as a 3rd or 4th round pick because he won’t threaten much in the pass game but he is an effective run defender. He can help his stock in a post-season game and I look forward to potentially interviewing him at the East-West Shrine Game or perhaps more likely in the Senior Bowl.

Zach Brown: Brown is a freak athlete that is extremely fast. He is a senior that has decent size for a linebacker at 6’2”, 230 pounds but he definitely needs to get bigger and stronger to hold up in the NFL in my opinion. He looks skinny at times but he has plenty of athletic ability and raw speed. He’s extremely fast and that has helped him accumulate 81 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT’s, 3 FF’s and four pass deflections. He is a very effective blitzer because of his speed, but without more strength and better hand usage to shed he won’t be as effective once he is engaged as a pass rusher or as a run defender. He has ideal athleticism for pass coverage though, and could make himself a lot of money with a great post-season game performance in a bowl game and in the Senior Bowl. One problem I have with Brown is his problems wrapping up. He has missed a number of tackles simply because he didn’t wrap up the ball carrier and he likes to go for the big hit, but he isn’t a fundamentally sound tackler. That will hurt him in the evaluation process, but he’s so athletic that a lot of teams will probably overlook it.

Kevin Reddick: Reddick is another one of North Carolina’s talented linebackers. He is only a junior but he is 6’3”, 240 pounds and has had a productive season at middle linebacker. He has 62 total tackles (35 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks and 3 pass break-ups. He isn’t the freak athlete that Brown is, but he has legitimate NFL ability and is probably the best tackler on the team. He is a very reliable tackler and that is one of my favorite things about him. The dichotomy between Reddick and Brown in that aspect is very noticeable. I look forward to watching Reddick next year as a senior.

Charles Brown: Brown is an undersized corner at only 5’10”, 205 pounds but I would be surprised if he didn’t officially measure in at 5’9”. He’s solid in zone coverage, but he gets burned deep and struggles to locate the ball on deep throws while it is in the air. He can be handsy in coverage, and while he is a solid tackler I’m just not sold on him being a legitimate NFL corner. He’s a 5th round pick right now in my mind, and I just don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Jayron Hosley: Hosley has a lot of upside but like a number of corners to come out of VT he has tons of ability but isn’t always consistent. He can make some amazing plays, but can also give up big ones at times. He’s got great athleticism and breaks on passes very well, recovers well due to his great speed when beat and has fantastic ball skills, but he doesn’t tackle very well. He has 8 pass deflections and three interceptions this year as well as one forced fumble despite only being 5’10”, 171 pounds (though I would be surprised if he was not also 5’9”). He doesn’t have NFL size necessarily, but he definitely makes up for it with his athletic ability and ball skills.

J.R. Collins: Collins is only a sophomore but he has tons of upside. He is 6’2”, 240 pounds and like a lot of VT defensive ends he is undersized but very, very athletic. Hopefully he will show up at 250+ pounds for his junior season next year which would help him a lot versus the run (though he was getting snaps inside at defensive tackle this year due to injuries which was baffling considering his size) but it would also make it easier for him to shed blocks and rush the passer. Right now he relies on his athleticism, but as he develops he should be able to use his strength to get to the passer more often. He has 8.0 TFL’s and 6 sacks this year, so expect an even better year next season from Collins. He is definitely one to watch.

Derrick Hopkins: Hopkins is a guy that I really like. Like Collins he is also a sophomore, but he has legitimate NFL size at 6’0”, 301 pounds and surprising athleticism. He impressed me in this game and has had a pretty good year with 43 total tackles (19 solo), 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble. I think he has legitimate NFL upside and I’m excited to watch him develop year to year along with Collins.

Antone Exum: Exum is yet another talented sophomore on Virginia Tech. He has TONS of upside at safety in my opinion at 6’0”, 220 pounds but he has great athletic ability and he has been the definition of a playmaker so far this season. He has 65 tackles (30 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 interception, two forced fumbles and a staggering 10 pass break-ups. He played very well against North Carolina and I think he has tons of upside. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops, but I am very high on him right now.

As you can see both of these teams have a lot of young, developing talent on their rosters. I think both teams will be good next year, though it will be interesting to see how good. Virginia Tech will be losing a lot of talent at wide receiver but they are returning two more seniors at the position. They may very well lose David Wilson to the NFL which would mean a new running back and two new starters at receiver for Logan Thomas to work with. It’s certainly possible that after his junior year Thomas will declare, but it will be particularly interesting to see he adjusts to a significant personnel change in his supporting cast. On defense VT will be very talented as they aren’t losing much talent at all unless Jayron Hosley leaves. They have a ton of young talent on the roster so next year their defense should be very scary, especially in the front seven and along the defensive line.

For UNC they have a very nice core of young talent on offense. They will be returning 8 or 9 starters on offense including potential studs at QB and RB in Bryn Rynner and Giovani Bernard. Watching those two for the next two years will be very special, so I am excited to see that. As has become customary UNC’s defense is extremely fast and athletic, and they will return 7 starters I believe. They have a lot of young talent in the front 7 and some up and coming talent in the secondary. Their strength is usually in the front 7 though, so it should be a strength again next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play next year, but I think that with the right coaching hire UNC could take a big step in the right direction next year.

Thanks for reading, I know it was a very long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

–Tom

NCAA Week 5 Top 25 Picks

South Florida over Pittsburgh

BJ Daniels should have a good game and Pittsburgh struggles with close games. The trouble is, this one might not end up being that close.

South Florida by 13

Texas A&M over Arkansas

Ryan Tannehill had a pretty good game last week in a loss to Oklahoma State, and the Aggies will be looking to rebound against Arkansas just a week after they were thoroughly dominated by Alabama. Both teams really need a win here, but I think Arkansas’ defense will prove problematic against the Aggies.

Texas A&M by 6

Michigan over Minnesota (Potential blow-out)

Denard Robinson should have a big game running and possibly a big game passing against the Gophers who are trying to turn the program around under Jerry Kill. The trouble is the head coach has had trouble with seizures, and there is no way it hasn’t had an impact on his players. Minnesota is simply overmatched in this game, and I see Michigan blowing them out.

Michigan by 24

Illinois over Northwestern

Illinois is a solid team but so is Northwestern. I expect Illinois to win, but don’t sleep on Northwestern. They are well coached and have some talent, plus they never go away. If the Illini let them hang around they could make a late push.

Illinois by 7

LSU over Kentucky (Potential blow-out)

LSU is hitting on all cylinders right now and Kentucky is going to be borderline powerless to stop them. Their defense is the best in the country and their running attack is extremely tough to slow down, much less stop. I see LSU winning in blow-out.

LSU by 24

Boise State over Nevada

Boise State lost this game to Nevada last year in dramatic fashion, but I don’t see Nevada pulling off two in a row. They should be overmatched, and Kellen Moore and company won’t be merciful after what Nevada did to their title hopes last season.

Boise State by 21

Georgia Tech over NC State

Georgia Tech’s running game is absolutely gashing anyone who gets in their way, even my beloved Tar Heels last week, and NC State’s defense isn’t on the same level as North Carolina’s. I expect them to run the ball early and often and control the clock in this game, and I think Georgia Tech should win pretty comfortably.

Georgia Tech by 17

West Virginia over Bowling Green

West Virginia is coming off of a rough loss against LSU, but Geno Smith looked poised and impressive staring into the teeth of the best defense in the nation and actually carved them up to an extent by throwing for 463 yards on 38 of 65 passing (58.5% completion) and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Was it a great game? No, but it was quite good for a developing quarterback against a fantastic defense. WVU should rebound easily against Bowling Green now that they know what their offense is truly capable of.

West Virginia by 28

Baylor over Kansas State

Robert Griffin III has been absolutely amazing this year. Through three games he has completed 70 of 82 pass attempts while throwing for 962 yards (11.73 yards per attempt, an insane number), 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. Last season he threw 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games, an impressive statistical season. He is on pace to throw for well over 40 touchdowns at this current pace. It’s hard to imagine him continuing to play this way especially since he is averaging only four incompletions per GAME, but if he keeps playing comparably well to how he has started the season the Baylor Bears will be tough for anyone to beat. I don’t anticipate Kansas State being the team to cool Griffin off, so the Bears should win easily.

Baylor by 21

Auburn over South Carolina (upset)

I think South Carolina is pretty overrated and I think Auburn has a chance to pull off the upset here. Gene Chizik and his Auburn Tigers have a flair for the dramatic and they are tough to beat when you let them hang around. They always seem to make the big play late in the game to keep themselves alive, and they are well coached when it comes to playing from behind late in the game. I love Marcus Lattimore, but I don’t think Steve Spurrier has much faith in Stephen Garcia and I’m not sold on South Carolina’s defense. The game is in South Carolina, but I think Auburn has a great chance to pull off this upset. It will be interesting to see if they manage to do so.

Auburn by 3

TCU over SMU

I think SMU has a small chance of pulling off an upset here, but TCU is the better team overall. It will be interesting to see which way this game goes, but if SMU gets their offense going they could be tough to keep up with. Their running back Zach Line has 463 yards and 11 touchdowns in only four games, and their top receiver Darius Johnson has 27 catches, 398 yards and two scores already. I think TCU will win, but I don’t think it will be as easy as some people might think.

TCU by 7

Clemson over Virginia Tech

This was a really tough game for me to pick. I picked Clemson to upset Florida State last week, but Virginia Tech is extremely tough at home and the Tigers have to cool off EVENTUALLY right? Perhaps, but I don’t think it will be this week. I am high on Virginia Tech’s defense though and I think they have a chance to slow down Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the rest of Clemson’s high flying offense in this game. However, what might define the game is how well Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech’s offense is able to play. Thomas has been solid thus far with 761 yards on 60 of 105 passing (57.1% completion) but he has thrown as many touchdowns (4) as interceptions. Clemson is on fire right now, so it will be interesting to see how this game plays out.

Clemson by 7

Texas over Iowa State

The Longhorns lost this game last year and I think they will make sure they show up to this one. Iowa State isn’t a push-over this year, but I think the Longhorns will be too much for them.

Texas by 14

Oklahoma over Ball State

Oklahoma still has a legitimate argument to be the #1 team in the country, so I don’t think they will have too much trouble with Ball State.

Oklahoma by 28

Alabama over Florida

This is going to be a fantastic game. I think Alabama and Florida have the 2nd and 3rd best defenses in the country only to LSU, so this is going to be a defensive slug fest if I had to guess. I picked Alabama because I trust their offense more thanks to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy on the ground. This should be a great, close game though.

Alabama by 10

Wisconsin over Nebraska

This game is going to be fantastic. I have been waiting for this game ever since I heard that Russell Wilson might sign with the Badgers. Wisconsin’s run defense might be problematic against Nebraska, but I think Wisconsin’s offense is more than potent enough to put up points on the Cornhuskers. It should be a great game that is close right until the end, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. I do expect Russell Wilson to give the Badgers the push they need to win this game. A year ago I couldn’t have picked Wisconsin, but with Wilson at the helm I expect them to win.

Wisconsin by 7

Stanford over UCLA

Stanford is just too talented and well coached to be slowed down by UCLA.

Stanford by 21

Arizona State over Oregon State

Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler is a player that I am really warming up to, and I expect that he and the Sun Devils won’t have a lot of trouble with the win-less Oregon State Beavers.

Arizona State by 17

I was 16-3 last week, so let’s see how I do this week! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the games!

–Tom

NCAA Top 25 Picks Post

Here is a post where I make some picks for the games the top 25 teams are playing for the week. I’ll try to do this every week, but I might not always have time. I’ll track them to see how well (or poorly) I do over the course of the season. Enjoy!

Week Four NCAA Picks Post:

Oklahoma over Missouri

Analysis: Oklahoma’s offense and defense are both very good, and Missouri didn’t prove they could win against Arizona State, losing 37-30 in OT. James Franklin will probably struggle to carve up the Oklahoma defense like he did the ASU secondary, and I wonder just how much pressure their defense will be able to apply to Landry Jones. Jones will make poor throws when he has pressure in his face, so that will be the key to hanging in on this game. The problem is, I don’t think Missouri’s secondary can hold up consistently if the Tigers are forced to blitz to create pressure.

Oklahoma by 17

LSU over West Virginia

Analysis: LSU’s defense is the best in the country as far as I’m concerned. They were tested right off the bat against Oregon and stood very tall. I’ve never seen a defensive tackle rotation like theirs in all my years of watching football. I believe that they have four starting caliber defensive tackles, and they arguably have three starting caliber cornerbacks in Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon. Claiborne is a junior and Mathieu and Simon are both sophomores, but they might be the best trio of cornerbacks in the country. LSU’s run defense and pass defense are both very good and their defense is very fast, and I think they are going to cause a lot of problems for Geno Smith and his offensive counterparts. On defense, West Virginia will have to pressure Jarrett Lee, but also stop LSU from establishing the running game because they love to run play action after establishing the run (and they’re quite good at it). Without the play action fake LSU struggles to threaten downfield due to Lee’s lack of arm strength. However, I think WVU will struggle to take away the run game, end up loading the box, and therefore allowing Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham and Deagnelo Peterson to get behind the secondary.

LSU by 16

Alabama over Arkansas

This one was tough for me to call. Alabama probably has the #2 defense in the country behind LSU (at least as far as I’m concerned, but it’s definitely close) and they have a quarterback with limited experience as well in AJ McCarron. Luckily, they have two talented running backs to take the pressure off of him in Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Marquis Maze has stepped up as I thought he would and has 15 receptions, 186 yards and 1 TD in the first three contests. I think Alabama will be able to move the ball on offense against Arkansas’ defense, but I think that Alabama will be able to slow down the Razorbacks offensive attack. I love their WR’s, led by Cobi Hamilton as of now (13 receptions, a team leading 252 yards, 19.4 average per catch and 1 TD) and Tyler Wilson has stepped in to fill the void left by Ryan Mallett like I thought he would. However, Alabama’s defense is vastly better than Missouri State, New Mexico, Troy (the three teams he has faced this year) and much better than Auburn’s defense that struggled mightily to stop big, physically gifted receivers every time they matched up against them. Arkansas won’t get shut out by any means, but Alabama is going to be Tyler Wilson’s first real taste of what it’s like to play against a SEC caliber defense, and I don’t think he’s going to enjoy it.

Alabama by 13

Boise State over Tulsa

This really isn’t a hard pick in my opinion. Boise State’s defensive line is fierce and I expect Billy Winn and company to be in GJ Kinne’s face for the majority of this game. Boise State’s offense is still clicking thanks to Kellen Moore, so I expect this to be a relatively easy win. Kinne has a chance to show talent evaluators what he can do though, as his team is clearly overmatched.

Boise State by 21

Wisconsin over South Dakota

This shouldn’t be much of a contest either, as Wisconsin’s offense has the potential to be one of the best in the Big 10 if it isn’t already the best. Their running game and play action game will be way too much for South Dakota to handle, and hopefully they have continued to work on their run defense. If they don’t have it tuned up soon they will have a lot of trouble stopping Nebraska.

Wisconsin by 21

Texas A&M over Oklahoma State

This one was very tough for me to call as well. This could very easily go either way considering it is a rare battle between the #7 and #8 teams in the country. Oklahoma State’s offense is a juggernaut still led by Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, but Weeden has thrown 6 interceptions already this season, so that is a concerning stat for OSU fans. However, Joseph Randle has stepped up to replace Kendall Hunter very nicely, running for 378 yards and 7 TD’s on only 62 carries (6.1 average). Ryan Tannehill is a dangerous quarterback though, and he’s got a number of weapons to work with. I’m not sure which defense is better than the other, but I do think that Texas A&M will miss Von Miller rushing the passer in this game. However, Oklahoma State’s defense is traditionally their weakness, so that is why I had to go with Texas A&M. I will be at an away game during this contest and I am very angry that I will miss it. It should be a great game. But I had to give A&M the slight edge.

Texas A&M by 6

Nebraska over Wyoming

Not a very tough call on this one. Nebraska should win this game easily even if Taylor Martinez doesn’t dazzle as a passer.

Nebraska by 28

Oregon over Arizona

This one wasn’t as easy for me to pick as I thought it might be. Oregon has a pretty good defense, but Arizona can move the football pretty well. I’m still confident in Oregon, but Nick Foles has a habit of surprising people when they sleep on him. I don’t think Oregon will take him for granted though especially after losing a tough one to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, and that’s why I think they will end up with a big Pac-12 win here.

Oregon by 14

Clemson over Florida State (Upset)

Clemson is absolutely on fire right now, and this is the worst time for Florida State to be playing them. This isn’t a guarantee by any means, but Clemson’s offense is firing on all cylinders and Florida State didn’t get consistent pressure on Landry Jones last week. Clemson’s offensive line isn’t nearly the equivalent of Oklahoma’s, but they have enough weapons on offense to at least make this a plausible upset. I don’t think Clemson has the defense to keep them in the game if they can’t score, so unless their defense steps up and slows FSU down they are going to make me look foolish for this pick.

Clemson by 7

South Carolina over Vanderbilt

This isn’t as easy of a pick as I thought it would be, especially since South Carolina is in a state of flux and Vanderbilt is undefeated for the first time in recent memory after three weeks. I don’t think Vanderbilt will be able to hold off South Carolina, but stranger things have happened. If it was ever going to happen, I think it would happen now. Steve Spurrier doesn’t seem to have much faith in Stephen Garcia and even though they have one of the best backs in the country in Marcus Lattimore you just never know what will happen in the SEC. I don’t expect Vanderbilt to pull it off, but this is one I would watch as a POSSIBLE upset.

South Carolina by 10

Virginia Tech over Marshall

Analysis: This shouldn’t be much of a challenge for Virginia Tech, but it should be a good tune-up game for Logan Thomas. I think he has tons of upside, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops throughout the season.

Virginia Tech by 17

Florida over Kentucky

Analysis: Kentucky isn’t a terrible team, but Florida’s defense is vastly better than I expected it to be even without Janoris Jenkins. Chris Rainey really impressed me last week and if he can stay healthy I think he could really improve his draft stock. I’m pretty high on Jonathan Bostic, Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley on their defense, so I’m excited to see them play against Kentucky again. I don’t anticipate the Gators having a lot of trouble in this game.

Florida by 14

Baylor over Rice

Analysis: Robert Griffin has been absolutely LETHAL this year. He’s 41/49 for 624 yards (83.7% completion), 12.74 yards per attempts and he has 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. On top of that, he has 116 yards rushing. Kendall Wright has been huge for Baylor with 20 receptions (14 more than the next receiver), 312 yards (184 yards more than the next receiver) and 3 TD’s. I don’t think Rice has much of a chance to slow Griffin down. The first time he might slow down in my estimation would be October 15th against A&M once they get into the real meat of their schedule. I haven’t been able to watch much of him, but it will be interesting to go back and watch him play to see if he has corrected any of the things I said he needed to work on in my preseason scouting report.

Baylor by 21

South Florida over UTEP

Analysis: South Florida is having one of their best seasons in recent memory, at least to start the season, and BJ Daniels seems to be maturing rather nicely. As long as he continues to develop the sky is the limit for USF, and I don’t think UTEP will have much of a chance to slow them down this week.

South Florida by 17

TCU over Portland State

Analysis: TCU lost a tough one against Baylor in week one, but they seemed to have bounced back in recent weeks. Portland State shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even with an inexperienced quarterback still getting a feel for the starting role.

TCU by 17

Michigan over San Diego State

Analysis: Brady Hoke welcomes his former team into the Big House as the Head Coach of the Wolverines this week as pretty heavy favorites. Denard Robinson isn’t my favorite quarterback but he is incredibly fast and I’m not sure SDSU has the speed to keep up with him in this game. Junior Hemingway has really stepped up this year (even though he looks like a TE rumbling downfield sometimes on go routes). It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan does in this game, but I would be pretty surprised if they botched this game after clawing their way into the top 25.

Michigan by 17

USC over Arizona State

Analysis: Before the game against Illinois last week I might have picked Arizona State in this one, but Brock Osweiler is still developing and even though the Sun Devils had a huge win against Missouri a couple weeks ago I don’t think they are ready to knock off USC. USC has a big chip on its shoulder because of the bowl ban that was placed on them, and I think they will approach this game with something to prove even though they are favored.

USC by 10

Illinois over Western Michigan

Analysis: This shouldn’t be a challenging game for Illinois. Western Michigan isn’t a bad program, but I don’t think they have the firepower to stick with Illinois on either side of the ball. They just fought their way into the top 25, so I don’t think they’ll get upset after just earning their #24 ranking.

North Carolina over Georgia Tech (Upset)

Analysis: I have to admit that I am a UNC fan, so that may have had something to do with this pick (which really isn’t much of an upset, though technically it is). I think UNC’s offense can score on Georgia Tech’s defense, and I think UNC’s defense is fast enough and disciplined enough to slow down Georgia Tech’s option offense that absolutely dominated Kansas last week. Georgia Tech is flying high, but UNC usually plays them pretty well and they are talented enough to pull this off. I really wish I could see this game, but I will be traveling and working while it goes on.

Those are my picks for this week. Hopefully you enjoy them and I look forward to seeing some good football this week. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Logan Thomas will be filling Tyrod Taylor's shoes at quarterback, and I have high expectations for him. He has a ton of upside.

11. Virginia Tech- A lot of people might be surprised to see VT this high, but even though they don’t often come away victorious against the best teams they are incredibly consistent and they are definitely a program that finds a way to reload versus rebuild, and that is exactly what they will be doing in lieu of losing Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and Rashad Carmichael to the NFL draft. David Wilson is ready to be the man at RB now that Williams and Evans have departed, and the word explosive might be an understatement for him. He compiled 619 rushing yards (5 TD’s), 234 receiving yards (4 TD’s) and 584 kickoff return yards (2 TD’s) on only 150 touches! That’s over 1,300 total yards on exactly 150 touches, which is pretty impressive especially in a rotational role. He will be the man now though, and Logan Thomas looked very impressive in spring ball from what I heard, and I am excited to watch him play. He looked good to me when I saw him sling the ball a couple times last year, but this will be his first season as a starter. At a listed height and weight of 6’6”, 242 pounds plus mobility he is going to be one to watch I’m sure. VT always has a fast defense and they have a few guys ready to emerge as quality pass rushers this year. J.R. Collins (a sophomore in 2011) had 5 sacks last year and apparently looked very good this spring, and I expect him to emerge as the best pass rusher on the team. Additionally, Chris Drager has shown some ability but I’m not sure whether or not he will start as a senior. And finally, James Gayle (a sophomore in 2011) had 4 sacks in limited playing time last year and should get more snaps as a part of VT’s rotation. VT also has a talented secondary, led by Jayron Hosley, a cornerback with 1st round NFL draft potential. VT is a team to watch this year, as they should contend with Florida State, Miami and hopefully North Carolina to be the top dog in the ACC.

12. Miami- I have been saying for months that I think Miami is going to be very tough this year and now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is. They just have so much talent! It all comes down to quarterback though. I realize this might feel high, especially considering my very low opinion of Jacory Harris, but I can’t imagine that Al Golden will leave him in there too long unless he plays well. So either he plays bad for a few games, gets yanked, and Morris steps in or Harris recovers his sophomore year form and Miami immediately becomes a contender for the ACC title. But outside of QB they have a load of talent. Headlining that group are guys like Lamar Miller, Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd, Blake Ayles (a transfer from USC), Olivier Vernon, Marcus Forston, Adewale Ojomo, Sam Spence, Vaughn Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong, among others. Their defensive line is going to be incredibly scary if they can all mesh together, because I had three or four of their defensive linemen on my list of potential breakout players this year. Vernon, Forston and Ojomo alone should guarantee a good run defense and a FIERCE pass rush, so I am very excited to see how this team does this year. They have a ton of potential, I just hope they live up to it.

I have been a Kirk Cousins fan since he was splitting time with Keith Nichol as a sophomore. Now it seems everyone is realizing what kind of a QB he is. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

13. Michigan State- Michigan State is coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Crimson Tide in their bowl game and I think they will be hungry after barely missing out on the Big-10 Championship (even though they beat the eventual winner, Wisconsin, handing them their only loss before they lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl). They return a ton of talent such as Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and three quality running backs led by Edwin Baker with Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper providing quality touches when Baker is rotated out. They also have a game breaker in Keshawn Martin, a dangerous slot receiver and kick return man, plus B.J. Cunningham is returning. That means they will have two experienced receivers for Cousins to throw to. If their offensive line holds up they should have another very balanced attack that runs the ball effectively which opens up the play action pass, which makes them very tough to stop. On defense they will have a lot of talent up front as they started three sophomores and a freshman last year (headlined by Jerel Worthy and Tyler Hoover), and they have a huge sophomore William Gholston who is ready to step up for some playing time as well. They all have a lot of experience up front and they are young, and I think they will have no problem stuffing the run like they did last year and they should get after the passer as well. Their DL is the strength of their defensive unit, and it should make things easier for their LB’s (I believe they lost all three of their starting LB’s) and their defensive backs. Michigan State is definitely one of my favorites to win the Big-10, right up there with Wisconsin and Nebraska.

14. Nebraska- Nebraska has officially joined the Big-10 (which now has 12 teams) after leaving the Big-12 (which now has 11 teams… I think. Sometimes I can’t keep up). However, their playing style meshes perfectly with the Big-10 as they play great defense, they are physical and they love to run the ball. They are immediately contenders for the Big-10 title, but they aren’t as familiar with the conference as other teams are, so it’s hard for me to anoint them the front-runners for the conference title over teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State, who are both returning a lot of significant talent. Nebraska will be dangerous though, even without Roy Helu and Niles Paul on offense. They also have a good deal of talent on defense, headlined by Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonso Dennard. They will be a fun team to watch this year, especially if Taylor Martinez can figure out how to throw the ball accurately.

Kellen Moore has one last chance to lead Boise State to a National Title or elite bowl game, but it won't be as easy as in past years.

15. Boise State- I have Boise State lower then some people do, but I have my reasons. First, they start out their season with a tough game against Georgia. Georgia may not be a powerhouse, but they are consistently competitive and even without a lot of RB help they still have a good quarterback in Aaron Murray, the best TE in the country in Orson Charles, and like all good SEC teams do they recruit well and have some nice incoming talent. With Boise State losing some of their best weapons on offense (Titus Young and Austin Pettis in particular) along with their offensive coordinator (who went to Texas) it isn’t unrealistic to expect them to be in a dog fight (pun intended) with Georgia in week one. But major props to Boise State for scheduling a legitimate out of conference opponent, because most teams don’t have the cojones to do that, especially teams from non-AQ conferences that are out of the title and elite bowl game race with just one loss. If they can get past Georgia, though, they have a shot to make it to the title game if they win out. But every year there is a scare or two, even for teams with as much experience as Boise, but Boise has the talent and they have done this enough times with Kellen Moore at the helm that I think they have a good shot at ending the season with one or no losses. I can’t wait to see the game against Georgia, I really have no idea what way that will go.

Thanks for reading my third installment of the top 25! The top 10 will be unveiled over the next two days, so check in soon!

–Tom