The domino effect took place in Week 11 with No. 2, 3, 4 and 9 all dropping games and then No. 5 Louisville gets dominated on the road by Houston to start the headline for Week 12. The week before Rivalry Saturday and the slew of entertaining Thanksgiving week games is full of snoozers but there are some that intrigue with individual match-ups that should be featured on Sundays next year.
By: Christian Page
The Florida-LSU match-up is loaded with potential stars in the secondary and, to continue the theme, Colorado boasts a couple that many may be sleeping on. A big measuring stick will come when facing Washington State that averages 51 pass attempts a game. Here are some players to watch and match-ups to highlight this weekend with a focus on draft-eligible players.
No. 23 Florida at No. 16 LSU // Noon EST // SEC Network
Outside of Alabama, Florida and LSU provide the best defense in the SEC. Loaded with NFL defenders on both sides of the ball, points may be luxuries in this rescheduled match-up from October. LSU picked up last week where it left off before facing Alabama and Florida got back into the win column over South Carolina after getting dominated by Arkansas in Fayetteville 31-10.
This game features more NFL secondary prospects in any game ever played (maybe outside of Alabama-LSU in 2011). Quincy Wilson (#6) is regarded as the top cover corner in the draft, Jalen Tabor (#31) is known for his versatility and is projected as a top 20 pick, Jamal Adams (#33) is undoubtedly the top safety prospect, Tre’Davious White (#18) has been a hot name since completing his freshman season in Baton Rouge and Marcus Maye (#20) is a big-hitting safety that should be a starter his first season in the league (broke his arm last week and will miss rest of season). The question that should be asked is which prospect is the highest rated coming into this game? If I had to answer, Adams would the most accurate answer to that question. Being able to cover every angle on the field even as a corner, jumping down into the slot or showing off his great range in the secondary, is why Adams should be a top 15 pick and the first safety off the board next year. Wilson would be a close second if ranking the group.
After getting pushed around in the trenches by Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson for Alabama, Ethan Pocic (#77) has a redeemable task versus potential high draft choice Caleb Brantley (#57). Pocic’s large frame with plus length covers plenty of ground in the interior but he was constantly put on skates versus Alabama and needs to solidify his powerful billing as he once was described with. A solid outing versus the run stuffing beast in the interior named Brantley should push him up a rung or two on the ladder. Brantley is quick to shoot his hands out to engage and control with plus upper body strength, which are also strengths of Pocic. Stopping the run in the interior versus Leonard Fournette (#7) and rising star Derrius Guice (#5) could fall into the hands of Brantley especially with Jarrad Davis (#40) being held out for the second game in a row.
No. 22 Washington State at No. 10 Colorado // 3:30 p.m. EST // FOX
The Pac-12 is not led by its usual powerhouses it has boasted over the past 10 years or so. USC stumbled out of the gate but is now gaining some steam, Washington is the top dog, Oregon can’t prevent a team from scoring and Washington State (8-2, 7-0) and Colorado (8-2, 6-1) are two of the hottest teams in football. Both Washington State and Colorado average over 35 points per game and 465 yards per game.
With Wazzu’s high-octane passing game, expect the talented group of defensive backs of Colorado to be tested one on one more than it has been all season. Colorado has a string of solid cornerbacks with Chidobe Awuzie (#4) and Ahkello Witherspoon (#23). Washington State will test the ability for the defensive backs to tackle in space which is what Awuzie is known for. Cornerbacks that do not mind tackling in space are highly coveted in the draft and with the physical build and impressive length Awuzie provides, he should be a highly sought after prospect with a good showing here. Witherspoon is the longer of the two with above-average physicality skills to test bigger receivers. He is not as quick or as fleet footed as Awuzie but can still battle with receivers downfield on vertical routes. Take note of Witherspoon’s ability to breakdown and tackle in space.
As the Colorado secondary looks to be tested, that will most likely come from quarterback prospect Luke Falk (#4) and his counterpart Gabe Marks (#9) at receiver. The two have hooked up for 12 scores with seven of those coming in the redzone. Marks (6-foot, 176 pounds) is a quicker than fast athlete who, though in a simplistic route offense, is a crisp route runner and a reliable target. He has enough speed to threaten defenses vertically and should make for an excellent match-up versus the two Colorado corners. A quick comparison for Marks based on style of play is Sterling Shepard of the New York Giants (Oklahoma). As for Falk, he is not the ordinary stereotypical pass-happy quarterback that people normally push aside because of scheme-related issues projecting him forward. Falk shows great poise and patience in the pocket and rarely makes a big mistake thanks to good mechanics with proper footwork. He doesn’t rush things when pressure is added and Colorado will bring the pressure having 29 sacks accounted for so far this season. Falk looks to prove the pass-first system stereotype wrong at the next level and if comparing apples to apples, he is a more polished quarterback than Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) at this point in their careers.
No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 14 West Virginia // 8 p.m. EST // ABC
This game can ultimately decide the winner of the Big 12. Oklahoma has been somewhat quiet as of late though running through the Big 12 unblemished and West Virginia was surging until dropping a game versus a hot Oklahoma State team. West Virginia snuck out of Austin with a victory last week but didn’t show much promise on offense but was plagued by a list of injuries in the backfield. Whether operating with a more balanced attack, the Mountaineer offense is anchored by senior center Tyler Orlosky (#65). Orlosky is dominant in the trenches controlling his match-up throughout by latching on early with strong and powerful hands. His nasty streak shows to the whistle with overwhelming aggressiveness at the point of attack. Charles Walker decided to move on from Oklahoma and focus on the 2017 draft (bad decision) so that match-up will not be available Saturday night. Jordan Wade (#93) will provide pressure from the interior at the nose guard position. Orlosky’s aggressiveness and power will be tested right off the snap each time he lifts his head.
A player I got my first look at last week is senior wide receiver Daikiel Shorts (#6) of West Virginia. Shorts’ football intelligence pops off the screen when finding vacancies in zone coverage and then shows patience after the catch letting blocks set up downfield. Shorts doesn’t show eye-popping speed on tape (estimating 4.6) but when the ball is in his hands, he shows quickness and slipperiness to get out of would-be tackles. Shorts leads the team with 51 receptions and 753 yards.
In a weak offensive tackle class, there may only be one selected in the first round (projecting Cam Robinson). With that in mind, Oklahoma redshirt sophomore Orlando Brown Jr. (#78) has the potential to take a stab at the top five in the position rankings. Brown isn’t sound in pass protection display sloppy footwork but he is a grinder in the run game and levels his opponent to the ground. With a massive build at 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds, Brown struggles to stay balanced and drop his hips as he gets in a bad habit of reaching versus speed and loses the battle. His foot quickness isn’t ideal for a starting left tackle in the league but a player with the caliber of his run blocking ability and if he can at least be serviceable in pass protection, he could be an early second round pick to be plugged in at right tackle.
No. 13 USC at UCLA // 10:30 p.m. EST // ESPN
It’s been a down year for the Bruins and it was looking like USC was going in the same direction until a spark named Sam Darnold came along and the Trojans are looking to finish the season on an eight-game winning streak if it wins out. UCLA’s season took an even bigger turn for the worse when star sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen was ruled out for the rest of the season. UCLA is look for dignity as its cross-town rival is looking for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship.
The NFL prospect match-up to watch here is senior left tackle Chad Wheeler (#72) of USC versus edge defender Takkarist McKinley (#98) of UCLA. Wheeler battled injuries earlier in the season and has bounced back well with little to no missteps compared to before. McKinley will test Wheeler’s ability to recover. McKinley has long arms in which he continuously extends throughout the play keeping blockers off his chest. His vision is superb. Watch McKinley diagnose a play is a fun thing to watch and his stats support that high praise and football intelligence with 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Wheeler does do a great job at controlling speed off the edge and has a fluid kick slide if rushers want to take the outside route to the quarterback. He has controlled footwork and plays with a tremendous amount of intensity. Keep an eye out for these future pros in their battle in the trenches.
Best Pure Scouting Match-up: #74 Cam Robinson, LT, Alabama vs. #93 Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga
Robinson has become the unanimous No. 1 offensive tackle in this class even behind just average play that may not earn a first-round billing in most years through this class is the exception. Robinson has struggled with quick and speedy pass rushers this year with slow feet and somewhat of an overwhelming feel to his game. Davis is no slouch, so Robinson should not expect the week off before the Iron Bowl (will be fun to watch Robinson versus Auburn’s Carl Lawson and Marlon Davidson next week). Robinson’s stock is almost already solidified but Davis has plenty to gain with an impressive showing this week. Davis embarrassed Florida State offensive tackle Roderick Johnson in 2015 making him look silly. Davis can win inside with strength and flexibility but also has enough moves and speed to make something happen on an outside route to the quarterback. Davis’ eight sacks have been inflated due to performances in two games so consistency is something he is also trying to prove.