Tag Archive: Tommy Rees


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 Kansas Jayhawks. It might seem like there is a dearth of talent on the Jayhawks, and one might assume that given their abysmal 2-10 record last year and statistically awful defense. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the talent level of the Jayhawks roster. There isn’t a lot of depth, but just having talent at all was a bit of a surprise for me honestly. Weis was able to recruit some 5th year seniors eligible for immediate playing time, most notably Dayne Crist, and has a chance to make a run at 6 wins and a bowl game in his inaugural year as Head Coach. I’m not sure they’ll get there, but I think they have a real shot at 4-5 wins. They won’t beat teams like Oklahoma, West Virginia or Texas, but games against San Diego State and Rice are winnable and they won’t be as overmatched against TCU and Illinois as some might assume. I’m not going to guarantee a bowl game for Kansas, but I will guarantee 4 wins. They’re good enough to accomplish that even given the enormous amount of coaching turnover in the last 4 years. So keep an eye on Kansas, they might be good for a shocking upset this season, and if they get a couple breaks against better teams they could find themselves in a bowl game. Here are the prospects to look out for on the Jayhawks:

Crist has been through a lot of adversity during his college career, but the former top high school recruit has one last chance to redeem himself at Kansas. I’m rooting for him to end his career on a high note.

Dayne Crist, QB- Weis’ first priority was trying to find a quarterback to run his offense at Kansas, and who better than someone he was already familiar with. That undoubtably was the deciding factor in Crist choosing to transfer to Kansas over other schools, and as a result he will have one last shot to show NFL teams what he can do. I don’t anticipate him ever being a NFL starter, and he might not even stick in the NFL despite his obvious arm talent and NFL size. But for Kansas, having a 6’4”, 235 pound quarterback with a rocket arm is something very new and different, and if he performs well it could really help Weis with recruiting. “I picked Dayne Crist off of Notre Dame’s scrap heap and made him productive, imagine what I could do with you!” Regardless, Crist has a chance to show off one last time for evaluators this year, and I hope he makes the most of it. I’ve never been impressed with his poise in the pocket, he doesn’t seem to be “the guy” in big games or moments, and he looks nervous when he is pressured. The key for Kansas will be keeping him clean and giving him functional space, and if they can do that while helping him get the ball out of his hands quickly as they did regularly in the Spring Game then he could be successful this season. I really have no idea what to expect from Crist this year, and I don’t think he’s going to get drafted, but it will be fun to see what he and Weis can do together in his last hurrah as a college quarterback. Crist has been through a lot, and I may not love him as a quarterback prospect, but you want to root for him after his injury issues to both knees at Notre Dame before being benched by Brian Kelly in favor of Tommy Rees. Here’s hoping he has a good season and avoids any further injuries.

James Sims, RB*- Sims was Kansas’ leading rusher last year with 727 yards and 9 touchdowns (4.0 ypc) and the 6’0” 202 pound back with surprising speed had a firm grip on the starting position until he was arrested for a DUI in April leading Charlie Weiss to suspend him for the first three games of the 2012 season. That may not seem like a huge blow, particularly for something as serious as a DUI, but as far as I can tell that is Sims’ first run-in and Weiss has shown that he will not tolerate that kind of behavior as he dismissed 10 players from the team shortly after being named Head Coach. The Jayhawks have a surprising amount of talent and depth at running back, so Sims will have to fight and produce when he comes back from his suspension to earn his job back. He’s got some potential, but I want to see how he does in the final 9 games (or 10 if they can somehow get to a bowl game), but I’m glad Weis is taking a firm stance on these kinds of issues. That’s a quick and easy way to show your players that you aren’t joking around when it comes to keeping yourself out of trouble- suspend your leading rusher and a sure-fire starter when he slips up off the field. Good for Weis.

Tony Pierson, RB**- Pierson is a true sophomore but I really like his upside. He’s a speedster listed at 5’11”, 170 pounds so he could really stand to add some weight to help him hold up as a potential feature back, but on only 71 carries he managed 396 yards and 3 touchdowns as a freshman (5.6 ypc). Brandon Bourbon will be his main competition for the starting job for the first three games, and Bourbon is more of a power back like Sims thanks to his 6’2”, 220 pound size and running style. Look for Pierson and Bourbon to both be mixed in a lot for those first three games, with Bourbon handling short yardage and the Jayhawks trying to get Pierson in space as much as possible. He showed impressive shiftiness as a runner last year and ripped off an 88 yard touchdown run in the Jayhawks’ Spring Game, so look for him to make plays even though he is still young.

Patterson is an undersized speedster and should be frequently targeted by Crist this year thanks to his ability to make defenders miss and generate yardage after the catch.

Daymond Patterson, WR- Patterson was injured for most of the season last year and chose to take a redshirt so he could come back healthy for one last go-round as a Jayhawks receiver. I’m glad he did, because he is going to be a part of a very intriguing offense this year. They have three returning seniors at receiver in him, Kale Pick and DJ Beshears who have all shown they can produce, they have an intriguing 6’4” target Andrew Turzilli who is just a sophomore, and they have three productive running backs at their disposal. If the offensive line holds up and Crist gets comfortable this could actually be a productive offense. Patterson would play a big role in that, as he had 60 receptions for 487 yards and 2 touchdowns as a junior, his first as a receiver after being converted from corner. He doesn’t have a NFL future at corner, but his unique experience playing corner and his familiarity with tackling will make it easier to play special teams as he fights for a NFL roster spot next year. He’s got pretty reliable hands and the 5’8”, 178 pound receiver has some speed and shiftiness to him. He should be Kansas’ top receiver this year, but he won’t be alone by any means.

Kale Pick, WR- I like Pick a lot, and like many players on Kansas he started his career playing a different position. Pick used to be a quarterback, but last year was his first as a receiver and all the 6’2”, 205 pounder did was catch 34 passes for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not bad for your first season at a totally new position, especially in only 7 starts. Pick figures to be Kansas’ #2 target this year behind only Patterson, and his emergence should allow Beshears and Patterson to play in the slot more. I didn’t see much of Pick last year, but he showed me reliable hands, solid route running and some shiftiness with the ball in his hands. He’s not polished yet, but I think he has a chance to stick as a NFL receiver. I am looking forward to watching him this year.

DJ Beshears, WR- When I saw Beshears catching a pass in the slot I thought he was a running back split out, I didn’t realize he was a slot receiver. He is listed at 5’9”, 185 but may only be 5’8” and his lower body looks more like Maurice Jones-Drew than any receiver I have ever seen. He’s got some burst and solid hands, and while I don’t think he’s draftable at this point it should be interesting to see what he can do in Weis’ offense. He led the team with 40 receptions for 437 yards and 3 touchdowns last season but with Patterson and Pick emerging I think he will be more of a complementary target this year.

Andrew Turzilli, WR**- Turzilli is a sophomore this year and obviously won’t be declaring for the draft, but he presents some very intriguing size and athleticism for Kansas that they haven’t really had in a while. He is listed at 6’4”, 185 pounds and has the size and speed to threaten defenses vertically unlike any other receiver on Kansas’ football team right now. He is behind three senior receivers this year, but that should give him a chance to sneak up on people and create some big plays down the field without getting much attention from defenses. I would be surprised if Weis elected not to use him since he is an intriguing weapon, and a four WR set with Pick and Turzilli on the outside with Patterson and Beshears in the slot sure would be intriguing, and not many defenses in the Big-12 could take that away easily. He’s unproven right now, but I like Turzilli’s upside.

Mike Ragone, TE- Ragone is yet another transfer from Notre Dame that Weis used his former coaching job to pull. Ragone is a senior and has plenty of size at 6’4”, 250 pounds. Like Crist, he has struggled with injuries and Notre Dame just keeps churning out top NFL talent at tight end, most recently Kyle Rudolph and now Tyler Eifert has a shot at the 1st round. That all contributed to Ragone following Weis to Kansas, and he figures to be the starter for the Jayhawks this year. He only has 11 career receptions for 109 yards, so he is far from a proven commodity, but part of that is due to his struggles with injuries and the two NFL players he has been stuck behind. He’s an undrafted free agent at this point for obvious reasons, from a lack of production to injury issues, but it will be interesting to see if Ragone can stay healthy and get some targets in this offense. There’s a very real possibility that if he earns the starting job that he could double his career production in just one season, and it would be really cool to see him score his first collegiate touchdown with his last chance at Kansas.

Tanner Hawkinson, OT- Tanner Hawkinson is likely Kansas’ top NFL Draft prospect at this point, and he has been a mainstay on the offensive line for the Jayhawks, entering his senior season with a remarkable 36 career starts. He started his first 24 at left tackle before moving to the right side last year, but now he is back at left tackle for his senior season. He’s listed at 6’6”, 295 pounds and he moves well for a man his size, and you can tell that he is a former tight end. I’m not sure he will be able to stick at left tackle, but there is some potential for him to do so. He is athletic and his biggest problem is his lack of lower body strength and ability to anchor in my opinion. If he can get even stronger (to be fair, he has added 70 pounds of weight since arriving at Kansas) in his lower half it would help him anchor better versus bull rushes and generate more push in the run game. Right now he’s a late round prospect, but NFL teams might look at his athleticism and see an unfinished product despite the possibility he will leave Kansas with 48 career starts.

Duane Zlatnik, OG- Zlatnik is probably the second best offensive lineman after Hawkinson, but while I am hoping Hawkinson can get stronger that isn’t a problem with Zlatnik. He is listed at 6’4”, 311 pounds and is considered to be the strongest player on the team. I’m not that familiar with him from a technique standpoint, but now that I have uncovered all of this talent on Kansas’ football team I will likely be watching much more of them this season. He enters the year with 21 career starts, 20 of them coming at right guard, but he will be at left guard next to Hawkinson this season.

Opurum is a former running back (and a pretty good one at that) but his athleticism is on full display at defensive end. I think he has a chance to get 8 sacks this season, he’s got upside as a pass rusher.

Toben Opurum, DE- Opurum is a captain and I listened to an interview he did during the spring and I was impressed with what he had to say. He’s a hard worker, a leader, a team captain and seems like a nice kid. Like so many Jayhawks, he started at another position and for Opurum it was running back. He moved to defensive end, bulked up and after transitioning to DE as a sophomore he produced 45 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, one forced fumble, and a pass break-up as a junior. He’s Kansas’ top returning pass rusher, and was also credited with 7 QB hurries (I don’t like to list those because they are so subjective and usually poorly recorded). Opurum is listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds and likely won’t be a 4-3 DE at that size. It’s tough to make it as a 4-3 DE when you’re 6’2” or under, and few are productive if they get the chance. Opurum’s best bet is probably as a 3-4 OLB where his size wouldn’t be as problematic and his athleticism may be better utilized. Opurum has impressive burst and speed, and while he is new to the position I think he has a shot to double his TFL and sack production from last season. I think he has 10+ TFL and 8 sacks in him, I really do. I like Opurum and I’m really rooting for him to have a great season and get drafted, and I hope to see him at the East-West Shrine Game this year.

Darius Willis, MLB*- Willis is a junior middle linebacker who has NFL size at 6’2”, 243 pounds and is the team’s 2nd leading tackler who is returning this year. He had 81 tackles, 7 TFL and 1 sack last season, his first with the Jayhawks after transferring from Buffalo and sitting out the 2010 season. He has 14 career starts including his two starts as a freshman at Buffalo, and still has two years of eligibility remaining. The Jayhawks are amassing some talent along the defensive line, so it will be interesting to see how Willis builds on his impressive sophomore season. I particularly want to see how he does in coverage.

Tunde Bakare, OLB/SS- Bakare is a hybrid player that I’m not super familiar with, but I do know that in 7 starts last year the 5’10”, 205 pounder amassed 51 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break-up. The most impressive thing about Bakare is that, according to Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, he has 4.35 speed. That’s blistering, and while he’s not much of a NFL prospect at this point that sure would get the attention of NFL teams and it could help him get a roster spot as an undrafted free agent if he shows up on special teams.

Tyler Patmon, CB*- Patmon is Kansas’ top corner in my opinion, and the junior is listed at 5’11”, 180 pounds. As a freshman he started 9 games and had 45 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 10 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He followed that up with 7 starts as a sophomore, producing 43 tackles, 2 TFL, four pass deflections and another interception. I haven’t seen him play much so I am interested to see if he can continue his playmaking ways as a junior.

Greg Brown, CB- Brown is another solid corner standing at 5’11”, 185 pounds. He had 6 passes defended as a sophomore and had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 pass deflections and 2 interceptions as a junior. I haven’t seen him play much either, so I want to see if he’s draftable. At this point I don’t have him graded as much more than an undrafted free agent, but a good season this year could help change that.

Bradley McDougald, FS- McDougald is the Jayhawks’ leading returning tackler, producing 89 tackles (68 solo), 4 TFL, 1 sack, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble as a junior last season. He is another position convert, previously playing wide receiver before transitioning to strong safety during the season as a sophomore and starting 2 games. He started all 12 games last year and even returned 2 punts for an average of 11 per return. The 6’2”, 214 pounder has a unique skill set thanks to his ability to contribute as a receiver early on in his career (he has 52 career receptions for 558 yards and 1 touchdown, so he can catch) and he is a reliable tackler and has shown the ability to make plays in coverage. He’s underrated, and I really think he has a chance to get drafted. If Kansas’ front 7 can improve their back end could make some plays this year, headlined by McDougald.

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Manuel has a quality combination of size, arm strength and athleticism. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as a senior.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State: Manuel was a junior this year and with plenty of starting experience under his belt I expect him to have a good year for FSU next year. Don’t forget that while this was his first full season as a starter he filled in for Christian Ponder the previous year when he was hurt. Manuel has a strong arm and can make all the throws but struggled with accuracy in this game. I attribute to some of his errant throws to playing behind an offensive line starting an unbelievable four freshman up front due to injuries. Zebrie Sanders, a potential 1st round offensive tackle prospect, was the only usual starter on the offensive line and even he had slide from right tackle over to the left side. However, Manuel made a few poor decisions in this game and could have easily had one or perhaps two interceptions in this game. He displayed some quality accuracy when he wasn’t pressured but the repeated pressure and some hits affected him in my opinion. He’s clearly an athletic specimen due to his size and ability to pick up yardage with his legs and he flashed some ability to stand tall in the pocket to deliver passes downfield. It will be integral for him to consistently do this next year versus making one read and scrambling like many quarterbacks with the ability to scramble tend to do. He is losing a few starters on offense, but I believe they are replaceable. If he can clean up some of his decision making, improve his pocket poise a bit and clean up some of his footwork he could really improve his draft stock. Teams will be immediately intrigued by his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism especially after the season Cam Newton has had this year. Manuel’s challenge will be convincing that while he isn’t the rare player Newton is that he has significant upside. More importantly, he needs to show tendencies and attributes that would indicate that he will achieve it. Newton is one of the rare quarterbacks who didn’t display some of the things he has done this year in college but has managed to do them in the NFL, but he is the exception that proves the rule in this instance. I don’t know much about Manuel’s work ethic or film study habits, but I look forward to evaluating him next year. He has upside, but upside is nothing without the work ethic, desire and intangibles to achieve it.

Bert Reid, WR, Florida State: I am personally not a big fan of Bert Reed. He flashed some potential when I was scouting Christian Ponder last year but he didn’t impress me much this year. He has pretty average size, isn’t a burner downfield and I’m not sold on his hands at this point in the draft process. It will be interesting to see if he gets an invite to an All-Star game because I would love an extra look at him in person. He had a nice touchdown catch in this game but it was made possible by a perfect throw by Manuel. Reid hadn’t created much separation and while I haven’t watched him enough to know if that is a regular occurrence it warrants mentioning. If he does struggle to create separation the ability to make catches in traffic will be important, so showing that he could do that on that touchdown catch is at least a small flash of ability in that respect. As I said earlier I am not high on Reid right now and have a 6th/7th round grade on him right now, but we will see what I think of him once I do more film study.

Rashad Green has great upside and I was really impressed with his performance in the 2nd half. He's only a freshman, so keep an eye on him.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: Let me just say that I love this kid and I’ve only seen him play in two games this year. That isn’t to see that I haven’t seen Florida State at all this year, but it is my understanding that he really came on strong late in the year. He didn’t have a significant impact in the 1st half but he made two huge catches in the 2nd half as well as a touchdown reception to help propel FSU to the comeback win. While I would have liked to see him make more plays in the 1st half and I did see him drop a pass on a 1st down throw from Manuel I really loved the fact that he showed up in the 2nd half when his team needed it the most. If you read my stuff regularly you know that I really place a premium on players that make plays when their team needs them the most and I truly believe that is a quality that is cultivated in some people while others just aren’t born with it. I think Greene has that quality and that will be important when I evaluate his NFL draft prospects in a couple years. I’m very excited about his potential and upside because he is only a freshman and played an integral role in this 2nd half comeback win for the Seminoles. Keep an eye on this kid! He’s got a very bright future.

Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State: Rodney Smith has all the height you could ask for in a receiver at 6’6” but he seems to have a skinny frame and looks EXTREMELY skinny on film. He should be able to add weight pretty easily, but I’m not sure he will ever be a 6’6”, 225 pound receiver because his frame just doesn’t seem conducive to trying to bulk up. Regardless, he flashed impressive hands in this game and caught a pretty tough pass on a throw that was behind him after he made his break and seemed to do it pretty effortlessly. He’s another returning player on FSU’s offense and while he wasn’t a starter this year I do think he’s going to make a significant contribution next year. His size and hands will be valuable all over the field but particularly in the red zone.

Kenny Shaw, WR, Florida State: Shaw had a solid game and I think he is a solid player overall. I don’t think he has the upside of a player like Greene or Smith but he can contribute. He made all of his catches in the 1st half while Greene saved his heroics for the 2nd half. It may seem unfair to claim that Greene’s receptions were worth more than Shaw’s, and perhaps it is especially because he was making a play here and there when Florida State was struggling to move the ball. However, Shaw seemed to be body catching and while he was creating separation against Notre Dame’s secondary I didn’t think he looked like a burner. Of the three returning receivers I have mentioned in this post I think Shaw’s ceiling is the lowest, but I don’t think his floor is more appealing than that of Greene’s. Obviously I haven’t seen them play enough to be absolute in this claim, but that is my perception having seen a couple of their games before I delve into more intense film study after the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.

Zebrie Sanders got his shot at left tackle this year and it has really improved his stock.

Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: I am high on Zebrie Sanders. I’ve had a late 1st round/early 2nd round grade on him for a long while and I truly believe he has a chance to go in the 1st round. I’m really hoping he will be at the Senior Bowl because I would love to see him play against that caliber of competition for a week, but I would also love to interview him. I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but last year I identified him as a player that I thought could slide over from the right tackle spot and stick at left tackle in the NFL even though it seemed unlikely that he would ever get the chance to prove me right as a junior or as a senior with Andrew Datko starting there and doing a pretty good job. However, when Datko got hurt this year Sanders got that chance and I think he played quite well especially considering a mid-season change in assignment. He’s an athletic guy with impressive size, long arms, a good-looking kick slide and seems to be a natural knee bender. He demonstrated the ability to do some hand fighting while continuing to sustain a block in pass protection and once he gets his hands on you he does a good job of taking you out of the play consistently. He also showed pretty consistent hand placement and showed the ability to stay in front of his man on a spin move. He could stand to add weight to his frame particularly in his lower body to help him anchor versus bull rushes, but that is something that can be coached and improved upon with training and weight lifting. You can’t coach his size, arm length and athleticism and that is why I think he will ultimately end up in the 1st round.

Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State: Jenkins is a bit of a frustrating prospect for me because I feel the exact same way about him now as I did last year. His athleticism, burst and edge speed is all extremely intriguing and that makes you drool as a talent evaluator, especially when the premium has never been higher on players that can rush the passer. However, he is just not strong enough to be a true terror as a pass rusher yet. He has flashed some hand usage this year which is good because last year he relied almost exclusively on his athleticism to beat offensive tackles. But because of his lack of size, strength and hand usage he can be engulfed and taken out of plays at times which is a little frustrating to watch when so many people expected him to develop into a sure fire 1st rounder that would leave early. He got a bit of a free sack when he was running a twist with DT #93 in this game and as he beat the guard inside (again, with only his athleticism) Rees lost his balance, fell down and Jenkins was credited with a sack that looks a lot better on the stat sheet than it does on film. The story continues to be the same for Jenkins: He’s got all the athleticism you could want in a pass rushing prospect but he has to get stronger and continue to refine his technique if he is going to become a true force as a pass rusher. The potential is there, it’s just a question of how much of it will be realized at this point.

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Werner is a guy that I had to mention not because I think he is going to be a sure-fire first round pick in 2013 but because I think it’s awesome that he is from Germany. I kind of found myself hoping that he would do something recklessly awesome in this game (though I have no idea what that would have entailed) but all he did was demonstrate that while he doesn’t have a lot of edge speed he does have some burst off the line of scrimmage, a little bit of bend and hip flexibility and a pretty awesome name. I don’t think he is much more than a mid-late round guy at this point, but he was pretty productive this year and should only improve next year so I thought he warranted mentioning.

Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State: Carradine isn’t a guy that I saw a whole lot in this game but he showed up with a sack or two in this game (even if one of them was when he came free off the edge) so I thought he warranted some investigation. I don’t know a whole lot about him and he didn’t stick out to me much when I saw Florida State play earlier this season, but I think he has some upside and obviously still has time left to develop. I haven’t seen him nearly enough to put a possible grade range on him yet, but I wanted to make note of him as a guy that I have on my watch list for the future.

Anthony McCloud, DT, Florida State: McCloud is a guy that I expected a bit more from in this game as he seemed to be getting pushed off the ball more than I expected, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He had a couple nice stops at the line of scrimmage in this game but I was expecting to see him anchor better at the point of attack and occupy blockers better when he wasn’t trying to get into the backfield. I’ll keep an eye on him next year though.

Nigel Bradham isn't a top linebacker prospect but he is fundamentally sound. I think he will be a reliable starter in the NFL.

Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State: I like Bradham. I don’t have him as a 1st or 2nd round pick, but I do like him as a 3rd/4th round guy. He seems to be a good tackler, he’s reliable in coverage, has good range sideline to sideline and I think he could be a reliable starter in the NFL. He seems like a guy that it would be a mistake to bet against because he’s while he doesn’t have elite size or freakish athleticism he is fundamentally sound and seems to have a good work ethic. A couple things stuck out to me beyond him being a good tackler in this game. One of them was the fact that while he was still a reliable tackler he flashed some serious pop as a hitter. One prime example of this was when Michael Floyd was making his circus catch in the end zone Bradham found his way over to him and just after Floyd managed to haul the pass in Bradham LEVELED him and left him grimacing in pain after somehow holding on for the touchdown reception. He had another impressive hit or two in this game, one that warranted me writing in my notes that “Bradham made a fantastic hit. You could just hear it.” The second thing was that while I didn’t notice this often I did notice that late in the game Bradham was on kick-off coverage on FSU’s special teams unit. As a senior starting his final game for the program I loved to see that. Not only that, but he made a special teams tackle inside the 20 yard line! So, needless to say I like Bradham and I think he will be a quality 4-3 WLB starter for somebody looking for a reliable starter.

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: I didn’t watch him much in this game but he was getting some rave reviews from some of the people that I follow on Twitter. From what I can gather he is a pretty impressive athlete (some labeled him a freak athlete) and he seems to have a lot of upside from the little that I did see of him in this game. There was one play I noticed where he looked like he was covering a slot receiver for Notre Dame and doing a shockingly good job of it for a linebacker at his size. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on him next year because he seems like a pretty good candidate for my potential break-out players list assuming he hasn’t already done so and I just wasn’t aware of it.

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Rhodes may have caught more people’s attention in this game than any other player short of perhaps Greene because of the job he did on Michael Floyd. Floyd is a pretty physical receiver but Rhodes matched up with him very well in this game and definitely won the match-up in the eyes of most people including myself. I only saw him catch two passes on Rhodes before he went down with a sprained knee and on both Rhodes wrapped him up cleanly where he caught it to avoid Floyd gaining a lot of YAC. He got beat deep on one play and made a very poor attempt at leaping and deflecting the pass but luckily for him Floyd dropped it. He’s a tall corner but unlike a lot of corners his size he has fluid hips, turns and runs well and showed the ability to get physical with Floyd both by playing press man against him and by tackling him after he caught a couple of passes. I haven’t watched him specifically before but I do worry a little bit about his ability to locate and make a play on the ball in the air based on what I saw in this game because he didn’t locate the ball in the air at all on the play he ultimately was injured on and made a less than impressive attempt to deflect the deep pass that Floyd let bounce off his hands. Overall he definitely displayed quality man coverage but it wasn’t flawless, so

Greg Reid, CB, Florida State: Greg Reid is a very undersized corner but I have been pretty impressed with him ever since I saw him for the first time as a freshman against Miami. He’s only about 5’8” but he is a very impressive athlete. He is very fast, quick and has unbelievable leaping ability. This was evidenced very clearly when Tommy Rees threw a fade to Michael Floyd in the end zone and despite being about seven inches shorter than Floyd Reid was able to elevate and get his hands to a nearly identical height as Floyd’s. Floyd ultimately came down with the touchdown after bobbling it for what felt like an eternity, but Reid had already shown what scouts will love and hate in one play. They will love his athleticism, his ball skills and his instincts to time his leaps appropriately to make a play on the ball. However, his natural lack of height will seriously limit his upside in the NFL as he just won’t be able to match up in man to man coverage with big, physical receivers that are even bigger and more physical than Floyd. I like his potential as a nickel corner and think that if he proves he has enough ability in coverage he could take a Brent Grimes path to a starting job. Grimes is very fundamentally sound and has fantastic athleticism and ball skills which help make up for his lack of size. Reid can take a similar path if he has the dedication and work ethic that Grimes does, but I have not yet evaluated how well he supports the run and how good he is in man coverage. He’s got everything you could want in a zone corner thanks to his athleticism, speed and burst but I haven’t watched him in man coverage in a long time. I like his upside and I think he could be a #2 in the NFL if everything falls right for him, but more than likely he will spend some time as a nickel corner before he gets his shot to start. Luckily for him he has a lot of potential as a returner and should be able to contribute in that phase of the game immediately in the NFL. Special teams is a great way for players to stick on a roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if Reid uses that to boost his stock in the draft and to make sure he sticks on a roster when he ultimately leaves Florida State.

Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State: Joyner is another undersized but very athletically gifted defensive back on Florida State’s roster. Joyner had one of the more electrifying plays of the game breaking off a big return to set up Florida State with great field position for that drive. He’s very fast and while I didn’t get to see him much on defense I did see him deliver a huge hit on Floyd on the sideline on a play that ultimately injured both Floyd and his teammate Xavier Rhodes. Joyner laid a pretty big hit on Floyd’s midsection not long after he had taken a shot in a similar area from Nigel Bradham so it was understandable why he was hurt (though he did get up and walk away while Rhodes was still laying on the ground). Joyner is only a sophomore so he has plenty of time left to develop, but he will need to show me more in coverage beyond just being a very fast safety if I’m going to buy into his upside.

Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State: Yes, every once in a while I have to include a kicker on my prospect lists. This is one of those times because Hopkins is an impressive kicker. He has a very strong leg and made two critical field goals in this game. Evaluating kickers is almost as much of a crapshoot as evaluating quarterbacks as far as I’m concerned and I haven’t quite figured out what kickers can do in college to prepare them for successful NFL careers. I think there may be some correlation between exposure to high pressure situations in college and success in the pros, but even that isn’t a fool-proof quality. Regardless, I like Hopkins’ NFL chances as of now. Not only did he make two critical field goals in this game that could have been the difference in the game he also wears gold shoes that he repaints before every game. If that’s not swagger I don’t know what is, so I say do your thing Dustin Hopkins! Do your thing until the NFL fines you for your fancy gold shoes!

Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame: I know Rees hasn’t had an altogether terrible season this year, but the only note I wrote down for him in this game was one word: “Garbage.” It’s harsh, but I think it’s pretty accurate. He doesn’t have a strong arm, he’s not consistently accurate, he panics under pressure, he makes poor decisions especially when pressured, he’s not overly athletic and he is just very average or below average as a quarterback. Notre Dame really needs to get their quarterback situation straightened out and I don’t think Tommy Rees is the answer. Maybe I’m being way too harsh early on in his career, but I wouldn’t want him starting for me if I was coaching Notre Dame or any other Division 1 program. Obviously, considering all I have just said, I don’t think he has a NFL future.

Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame: I think Wood has some potential as a late round 3rd down back, but his lack of versatility is going to hurt him in my opinion. I think Notre Dame really needed a physical back in this game and it was pretty clear that Wood does not fit that bill. I’m not sure he has great balance but he definitely doesn’t run through many arm tackles or gain a lot of yards after contact. He does have some speed and he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but I don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Floyd has a lot of upside but I have some concerns about his toughness. I don't have a top 10 grade on him.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Michael Floyd is probably going to end up being a 1st round pick but I don’t think I could draft him in the first round if I was running a team. There are just too many things that concern me about him. First, I know it’s beating a dead horse but his off-field issues at Notre Dame have to give you some pause. I know he earned his way back onto Notre Dame’s football team, and I commend him for that, but that DUI is definitely concerning. As far as on-field concerns, I worry a bit about his straight line speed as well as his burst to create separation in the NFL. He struggled to create separation against a pretty talented corner in Xavier Rhodes and I think that will end up hurting his stock. The last thing scouts got to see of his Notre Dame career wasn’t him tearing Miami up like it would have been if he had declared last season, it was him having a solid but not spectacular game largely in part because the corner who seemed to have his number went down with an injury. On top of that, he wasn’t on the field in crunch time when his team still had a shot to win the game late, which brings me to my next concern: I question Floyd’s toughness and resolve. Maybe this is unfair since I don’t know him personally and have never talked to him before, and I certainly wasn’t standing next to the Notre Dame athletic trainer when he was examining Floyd on the sideline, so take this for what it’s worth. I think Floyd should have been in the game, no question, no doubt in my mind. I’m not a fantastic athlete, but the competitor inside of me always wanted to be in the game late when my team needed me and I can’t understand how anyone would feel otherwise ESPECIALLY if you are as good and important to your team as Floyd is. Now, I will retract this statement if it turns out that Floyd cracked a rib or had some serious injury which he certainly could have had considering the big hits he took to the mid-section in this game. However, he was standing on the sideline with his helmet on if I remember correctly. That means the trainer didn’t take his helmet and bar him from going in, and in my opinion that means he made the call to not come back in. Do you think those hits would have kept Tim Tebow out of a game? Do you think they would have kept Brett Favre out of a game? They might have kept Randy Moss out, but plenty of people considered Moss a selfish diva. Why isn’t Floyd viewed the same way? I was told two years ago that he was a diva and I took it under consideration but I hadn’t seen a lot to suggest that it was true or false. Two years later, particularly after this display, I believe that it was the truth. I apologize for this rant, but I value intangible qualities heavily into my assessments when I can judge them to the best of my ability and I don’t like Floyd’s intangibles at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he became a potential 1st round pick by accident. He’s got NFL size, some NFL speed, NFL athleticism and pretty close to NFL hands. I say pretty close because he will make some fantastic catches but he also has a tendency to drop a pass or two every once in a while that he really should catch. He reminds me a little bit of Julio Jones in that aspect, and while you might say that Julio Jones is having a great season all things considered I would say that he has had some drops this year that I don’t think a guy like A.J. Green would have dropped. Floyd has similar issues to Jones in that respect, but he isn’t the freak athlete Jones is. So while some will tout Floyd as a top 10 pick I will personally stay away and depending on my film study I may not even grade him as a first rounder. I’ll be in the minority, and I might get proven wrong, but I really think that Floyd’s intangibles have to play in to anyone’s evaluation of him and I just don’t think he has enough ability to outweigh those concerns and still get a 1st round grade right now.

Theo Riddick, WR, Notre Dame: Riddick is another converted wide receiver for Notre Dame. The last time they did that it worked out really well for them as Golden Tate formed a pretty dynamic duo with Michael Floyd when he was here. Riddick isn’t the same athlete that Tate was, but I like running backs that convert to wide receiver because they tend to be more physical after that catch. I haven’t evaluated Riddick much yet, but he is definitely on my radar which is why I wanted to put him on this list.

Tyler Eifert has amazing upside and I think he reminds me of Rob Gronkowski to be honest.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Eifert is considering coming out this season and with good reason. Is he ready to get drafted by a NFL team and start from day one? Perhaps not. However, I do think he has as much upside as any draft eligible tight end and that includes Dwayne Allen and a player I have been touting for at least a year in Orson Charles. Eifert has a combination of size, athleticism and great hands that led me to compare him to Rob Gronkowski after watching him this year and in the bowl game against FSU. In my opinion he was Notre Dame’s true go-to receiver this year as he made a lot of key catches for them late in games that I saw. He’s not a very effective blocker yet but he has shown a willingness to block and with coaching he could definitely be a quality in-line blocker. Like so many tight ends these days he can split out as a receiver either in the slot or on the outside and attack defenses. He’s got terrific range due to his athleticism, his huge frame, long arms and great hands. I think he is a better prospect than Kyle Rudolph who many people were touting as a possible first rounder despite his injury. He’s got Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski upside and people are starting to see that, so if he does declare and ultimately get selected outside of the 1st round then whoever gets him is going to get a STEAL much like the Patriots did with Gronkowski and like the Saints did with Jimmy Graham. You heard it here first.

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: Martin has LT potential thanks to his combination of size (6’4”, 303 pounds) and athleticism. He did a pretty good job against Brandon Jenkins in this game though he did give up some pressure. He seems to move laterally pretty well and I think he has some potential to stick at LT in the NFL, though I could see him moving inside to guard due to his size and ability to pull in the run game. He doesn’t have elite tackle size and may only be 6’3” when officially measured. He’s got upside though and I will definitely be keeping an eye on him next year.

Aaron Lynch has insane upside. I'm really excited to see him develop at Notre Dame.

Aaron Lynch, DE, Notre Dame: Lynch is only a freshman but he has beast written ALL over him. He’s got a terrific combination of size, athleticism, strength and motor. He is going to be all over NFL draft boards in a year or two and with good reason. He’s an absolute animal at defensive end and has top 10 upside in my opinion. Keep an eye out for this kid, this is only the beginning of a great college career for him.

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: Nix III is another defensive lineman I like on Notre Dame. He’s got terrific size for a defensive tackle and has the athleticism to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. One thing I saw him flash was a quality motor to chase plays down from the backside which was very encouraging. Finding defensive tackles with great motors is pretty rare, so if he truly does have a good motor it will only help his draft prospects. I didn’t get to see how he held up to double teams in this game but there will be plenty of time to look at that in the future because he is so young. With Lynch and Nix on their defensive line Notre Dame has the makings of a pretty dominant defensive line in a year or two.

Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame: Te’o has announced that he will return to school for his senior year which I can respect, but now writing a scouting report on him is a much lower priority as a result. Regardless, I think he has 1st round potential for next season but because he has chosen to come back for a year he is opening himself up to what will inevitably become nit-picking criticism of his game. It happens to most players that come back for their senior seasons after they showed enough potential to consider declaring early after their junior seasons and go in the 1st or 2nd round, so it is fairly likely that it will happen to Te’o. Personally I like Te’o. I think he could play middle linebacker in either a 4-3 or a 3-4, but I particularly like his upside as a 3-4 inside linebacker. I’m not sure dropping into coverage is a strength of his, but he is a very good tackler, he packs a lot of punch as a hitter and he does a great job timing his blitzes and putting pressure on the quarterback. For that reason I think that he could have more upside in a 3-4 defense because, at least on the surface, the scheme seems to play to his strengths a bit more than a base 4-3 defense would. I think Te’o would have had a great shot at the 1st round this year, but as a college student myself I can’t fault him on going back for another year of it. He’ll never get a chance at it again, so I can’t fault him for taking advantage of that while he can.

Saturday Games to Watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

Michigan-Notre Dame:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

Here are my predictions for the upcoming bowl games. My final installment will have the last handful of games to make sure that this post isn’t unbearably long to read. Enjoy the bowl games! I know I will.

Meineke Car Care Bowl- South Florida (7-5) vs Clemson (6-6)

Predicted Winner: Clemson

Why: Clemson has the better, more efficient quarterback (though not by a huge margin) in Kyle Parker plus they have a very nice tandem of running backs with Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington. Clemson’s offense is better and I don’t trust B.J. Daniels to not turn the ball over like he has been prone to do.

Key to the game: Clemson’s running game. If they can work the clock, have some methodical drives and maybe rip off a couple of big runs they should win the game.

Score: Clemson: 27 – South Florida: 17

Sun Bowl- Notre Dame (7-5) vs Miami (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Miami

Why: Though I often focus on offenses I think the difference in this game will be Miami’s defense. They have a lot of talent on their defensive unit and they have enough talent on their front four to put pressure on freshman QB Tommy Rees of Notre Dame which could force some turnovers.

Key to the game: Miami’s defense. If Miami can fluster Notre Dame’s freshman QB and create turnovers then Miami will have a significant advantage. But if Miami lets him get into a rhythm and gives up big plays then Notre Dame will have a good chance.

Score: Miami: 31 – Notre Dame: 20

Liberty Bowl- Georgia (6-6) vs UCF (10-3)

Predicted Winner: Georgia

Why: I think Georgia is the better overall team despite their record. They started very slow but once they got A.J. Green back they have been much better. They started 1-4 without him and finished the season 5-2 including an overtime loss to Florida and a loss to #1 overall Auburn. They have been tested against quality teams and I think Mark Richt will have them ready to play.

Key to the game: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia. He’s a redshirt freshman but he has played very well this year, especially since he got A.J. Green back in the fold. Green had nine touchdowns in only seven games this year. If he keeps playing well then Georgia has a great chance to win this game.

Score: Georgia: 38 – UCF: 20

Chick-fil-A Bowl- South Carolina (9-4) vs Florida State (9-4)

Predicted Winner: South Carolina

Why: South Carolina has a good passing game led by Stephen Garcia featuring one of the best receivers in the country in Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley. Both of them are big, physical receivers who create mismatches for even the most physical defenses. In addition they have a stud true freshman running back in Marcus Lattimore who is one of the best running backs in the country even though he is only a year removed from high school. Their offense has a lot of talent, and their defense can rush the passer and create turnovers.

Key to the game: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State. If Christian Ponder plays at all he could give the Seminoles a lift, and if he plays and plays well like he has in the past then he could give the Seminoles a chance at victory. He has a lot of talent on his offense, and they have the ability to be very explosive, but his elbow injury has hindered him. It will be interesting to see if he plays and if he plays well.

Score: South Carolina: 41 – Florida State: 24

TicketCity Bowl- Northwestern (7-5) vs Texas Tech (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Texas Tech

Why: Northwestern would have a good chance at winning their first bowl game since 1949 if they had Dan Persa playing at QB, but unfortunately he won’t be available due to his Achilles injury that he suffered during the regular season. That makes me think that Texas Tech should be able to beat them with a very good passing offense and a somewhat underrated rushing attack.

Key to the game: Northwestern’s defense. If Northwestern can slow down Texas Tech’s offense then they stand a chance to win. They will need to create some turnovers and get some short fields for their offense so they can overcome the loss of Persa.

Score: Texas Tech: 45 – Northwestern: 27

Outback Bowl- Florida (7-5) vs Penn State (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Florida

Why: In a game with two decent offenses I think the defense that plays best will lead their team to victory. Whichever unit can force turnovers and slow down the opposing offense will give their offense a huge boost. Florida’s offense isn’t very explosive with John Brantley under center and they don’t have a very consistent running game either. Penn State looked better with Matt McGloin under center, and have a consistent running game led by Evan Royster, but Florida has a good enough defense to stop their offense in my opinion. In a game of defenses I give Florida the edge. Plus I think they have the speed and playmaking ability to change a game on special teams if they get a chance.

Key to the game: Florida’s defensive line. If the Gators can get pressure on McGloin without blitzing and if they can slow down Royster with good gap responsibility then Penn State will be in trouble.

Score: Florida: 27 – Penn State: 17

Capital One Bowl- Alabama (9-3) vs Michigan State (11-1)

Predicted Winner: Alabama

Why: As much as I might like to pick Michigan State I think Alabama is far too talented to not pick here. Michigan State will be without one of their better receivers in B.J. Cunningham and they have a tough enough task trying to beat Alabama without that. Alabama’s offense should be able to move the ball effectively on Michigan State’s defense and Alabama should be able to rattle Kirk Cousins and probably force a couple of turnovers.

Key to the game: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State. If Cousins plays one of the better games of his career Michigan State could win this game. But if Alabama pressures him and he makes mistakes and mental errors then they could be in for a long day. Michigan State has a balanced offense, so it’s not all on Cousins’ shoulders, but if the run game isn’t there then Cousins has to step up big.

Score: Alabama: 31 – Michigan State: 20

Gator Bowl- Mississippi State (8-4) vs Michigan (7-5)

Predicted Winner: Mississippi State

Why: I think Mississippi State has the team speed to slow down Denard Robinson and if they can bottle him up then Michigan’s offense will sputter. Mississippi State has a very good running game as well so being able to control the clock and keep Robinson off the field will be important.

Key to the game: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. He is the best player in this game and if he plays well both as a runner and especially as a passer to keep Mississippi State from stacking the box then Michigan could very well win this game. But if he plays poorly, doesn’t make big plays and turns the ball over then Michigan has very little chance.

Score: Mississippi State: 28 – Michigan: 17

Rose Bowl- Wisconsin (11-1) vs TCU (12-0)

Predicted Winner: Wisconsin

Why: First and foremost I think TCU is overrated. I’ve been pretty outspoken about my opinion of teams like Boise State, Utah and TCU, and the way they have played recently hasn’t changed my mind. I don’t think TCU will be able to stop Wisconsin’s dominant running game. They have three quality running backs in John Clay, Montee Ball and James White, the exciting freshman who actually led their team in rushing yards. Wisconsin has a dominant offensive line, and their quarterback Scott Tolzien rarely makes mental errors that lead to interceptions. Wisconsin has been tested by many good teams this year, but TCU has barely played anybody as usual. Andy Dalton is a good QB, and they have a good offense, but I think that Wisconsin has the potential to get some pressure on him and slow down their run game.

Key to the game: TCU’s run defense. If they step up and slow down Wisconsin’s rushing attack and force them into 3rd and longs then it will test Tolzien’s ability to convert on downfield throws. He has shown that he can do that this year, but if you go into a game against Wisconsin you would rather slow down their running game and make Tolzien beat you than get beat up on the ground.

Score: Wisconsin: 45 – TCU: 34

Fiesta Bowl- Connecticut (8-4) vs Oklahoma (11-2)

Predicted Winner: Oklahoma

Why: This game doesn’t seem like a very even match-up, and that makes me wary of it. Oklahoma is the better team in my opinion, but Oklahoma has struggled mightily in BCS bowls as of late and a hungry team like Connecticut could very well pose them a threat. However, Oklahoma has a very dynamic offense led by Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles plus a very impressive defense that has made a lot of talented offenses look average. So as much as I don’t trust Oklahoma in big games I am trusting that Stoops has finally righted the ship this year. Eventually they will break this streak right?

Key to the game: Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut. If Toddman can get going somehow and break some big runs to take pressure off of UCONN’s passing game then the Huskies will have a chance. But if Oklahoma stacks the box to take Todman away I am afraid UCONN could really struggle.

Score: Oklahoma: 38 – Connecticut: 20

Orange Bowl- Stanford (11-1) vs Virginia Tech (11-2)

Predicted Winner: Virginia Tech

Why: First off I have to say I am very excited to see how this game plays out. I honestly think this could go either way. It’s natural to give the advantage to the better quarterback, which in my opinion would be Andrew Luck, but Tyrod Taylor has been fantastic this year as a passer and as a runner. More than that, he has been extremely efficient. And Taylor is no stranger to late game heroics, watch the Nebraska-Virginia Tech game from last season if you need evidence of that. So it’s hard to say that Luck would have an advantage if it came down to a key fourth quarter drive. Both teams are balanced, they run the ball effectively, they have good defenses… they are just very evenly matched in my opinion. But Virginia Tech has the more athletic defense, the better secondary and I think they will be better on special teams which is why I have to give them the edge.

Key to the game: The quarterback battle. Whoever outplays the other should give their team a significant advantage. If Luck can find a way to carve up Virginia Tech’s defense, which few teams have done this year without turning the ball over, then he could win the game for Stanford. But if Stanford can’t stop Taylor from making big plays outside of the pocket, especially on broken passing plays, then Virginia Tech could easily win. I just have no idea which way it’s going to go.

Score: Virginia Tech: 34 – Stanford: 31
Hopefully that wasn’t too long to read. I can’t wait to watch this next batch of bowl games. What better way to ring in the new year than watching football for the majority of the day? I can’t think of one. Thanks for reading!

–Tom