The final week of the regular season is highlighted by, of course, rivalry week. The Game headlines the weekend with the winner being rewarded with a trip to the Big Ten Championship and, with a win in Indianapolis, will be a shoe-in for the No. 2 seed in the playoff. The Iron Bowl’s flame doesn’t shine as bright as it did three weeks ago, but Auburn still has the talent on the field to make things interesting.
By: Christian Page
With a plethora of must-see conference games, I didn’t highlight all of them (mostly pushed aside the ones I have covered in recent weeks) this week but featured plenty of notable next-level matchups and talents. Here are some players to watch and match-ups to highlight this weekend with a focus on draft-eligible players.
Toledo at No. 21 Western Michigan // 5 p.m. EST // ESPN 2
In a game that may not carry good ratings, this Friday night MACtion game has a handful of potential pros. Western Michigan ranks in the top five in scoring offense, top 10 in total offense and also ranks in the top 10 in scoring defense. There is no question to why the Broncos lead the pack of the Group of Five teams as head coach PJ Fleck has put together a marvelous season and will look to extend a 13-game winning streak dating back to last season. Even compared to Western Michigan’s prolific offense, Toledo stands tall ranking 16th in points per game and seventh in total offense.
The biggest prospect in this game is potential first round pick Corey Davis (#84) as he continues to impress each week. Davis could get drafted solely due to his athleticism after the catch and excellent route running. Davis currently leads the NCAA in touchdown receptions with 16. Quarterback Zach Terrell (#11) has the best touchdown to interception ratio in football (27 to 1) and is heavily underrated in draft talks. Terrell does not have the arm strength (especially downfield) to be a next level quarterback but does possess great ball placement and shows consistency as a good decision maker.
Vine of Corey Davis:
Points should not be lacking in this matchup as Toledo boasts some solid talents on offense as well starting with running back with Kareem Hunt (#3). Hunt displays contact balance with some underrated agility for his 6-foot 225-pound frame. Running with power behind his pads, Hunt brings physicality with also acceleration after contact. His receiving ability is also attractive hauling in 36 receptions for 304 receptions and one score entering this game. Toledo also boasts one of the most underrated players in the whole class with tight end Michael Roberts (#80). Roberts is rumored to have 11¾-inch hands and is tied for sixth in the country with 12 touchdowns. Roberts is a huge target at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds and has some deceptive speed up the seam to give defenses headaches.
Vine for Hunt:
No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State // Noon EST // ABC
In its 11th matchup featuring two top five teams, The Game may have the highest stakes riding on it in its history. Two defenses that have impressed all season are loaded throughout the depth chart, especially in the secondary. Similar to last week’s game between Florida and LSU, this game may feature up to five first round picks. Gareon Conley (#8) has been somewhat resting in the weeds this season but will most likely have his named called early in the 2017 draft. Conley is a solid bump and run cover corner with the ability to locate the football while staying disciplined. He rarely gives up major separation to call for an easy reception and his experience keeping his head on a swivel and staying sticky downfield will alone get him selected in the first round. I would project to see Conley matched up with Amara Darboh (#82) for the majority of the day as he is more of the deep threat, which is something Conley has a high success rate in.
Even with the buzz of Conley reaching a maximum, Marshon Lattimore’s (#2) stock has hit an ultimate high. With some analysts projecting Lattimore as a top 10 pick if he comes out, a big game Saturday will only solidify it. Lattimore is an exceptional closer on the football and is a better tackler in space than his teammate. With Michigan only forcing 59 passing yards last week, it will be only tougher to produce something through the air versus this stingy secondary. Don’t forget about Malik Hooker (#24) at safety either that I have mentioned a few times in this series throughout the season.
Sticking with the secondary theme, Michigan boasts a couple of its own depending on what Jabrill Peppers (#5) is labeled as in the spring. The best that this game features will be Peppers locating and being manned up with the dynamic playmaker for the Buckeyes, Curtis Samuel (#4). Samuel is used in so many different alignments as a running back and as a receiver becoming a mismatch nightmare for linebackers. With Peppers’ speed and ability to quickly diagnose, Samuel may not see the wide open spaces he is used to seeing in Big Ten play. Peppers is still eyeing his first turnover this season (one forced fumble).
Another defensive back with first round implications in this game is senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis (#26). Lewis is an undersized lockdown cornerback that is rarely targeted. Even with his lean frame, Lewis packs a punch facing physical receivers and can hang with the speedsters on the outside. If Lewis was 15 pounds heavier and a couple inches taller, he has the game tape and experience to be the top cornerback selected (I am not a fan of stereotypes).
No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama // 3:30 p.m. EST // CBS
If Auburn could have just squeaked out of Athens with one more touchdown, this Iron Bowl showdown would have been just the second meeting between the two with the winner heading to Atlanta (2013). Injuries have been a common theme for Auburn and the quarterback position is still up in the air for Saturday. Alabama is coming off a underwhelming performance versus Chattanooga and now faces the seventh-ranked scoring defense and a defense that has only allowed four rushing touchdowns all season (Alabama 23 rushing touchdowns this season).
What should be featured as the nation’s best pure scouting matchup, Cam Robinson (#74) and Carl Lawson (#55) battle it out for first round bragging rights. Robinson has been fine but hasn’t yet lived up to the OT1 billing yet and Lawson has looked more explosive than ever now being fully healthy. Robinson is rugged from a technique standpoint but held his own versus Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and looks to have the same result versus Lawson. Lawson can win with power or speed while boasting impressive upper body strength and flexibility to get to the backfield. This is a scout’s dream matchup.
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) November 22, 2016
Most likely lining up on the right side shoulder of right guard Braden Smith (#71), Jonathan Allen (#93) will look to exploit the inside run game of Auburn’s power rush attack headlined by Kamryn Pettway (#36). Smith has graded out well on Pro Football Focus this season and is a brute in the run game covering plenty of ground being an excellent pulling guard. Allen has shown he is a proven all-star in both elements of the game and can create instant penetration with a quick swim in the interior. Some murmurs have been passed around that Dalvin Tomlinson (#54) is actually one of the top prospects on this loaded Alabama defense. Tomlinson is a load in the run game, which is key versus the heavy Tiger oriented rush offense.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts can get overwhelmed at times but then as a result escapes the pressure with his legs. Nickelback/safety Rudy Ford (#23) will be key in this matchup keeping Hurts in check along with the rest of the Auburn linebacking corps (a much improved unit). Ford may also have the responsibility of keeping tabs on OJ Howard if or when he is utilized in the passing game. Ford is not a smooth pass defender in coverage but excels in the run game and tackling in open space. Montravius Adams (#1) is the best prospect that no one is talking about and look for him to seal up the middle in the run game and add an interior pass rush at defensive tackle.
No. 22 Utah at No. 9 Colorado // 7:30 p.m. EST // FOX
Just recently pointing out Chidobe Awuzie (#4) in last week’s preview his report for this week may sound repetitive. Awuzie had a sensational game versus the passing attack of Washington State displaying his open field tackling skills and lockdown coverage ability. Awuzie’s open field tackling and physicality will be tested versus Utah running back Joe Williams. Williams is a downhill runner that tests the secondary often with 12 runs of 20-plus yards in just seven games this season.
Utah left tackle prospect Garrett Bolles (#72) is a quiet riser that has been playing some consistent football being one of the best pass protectors in all of college football. Even with choppy footwork, his hand placement is superb redirecting defenders with strong and powerful hands. Bolles will battle the speedy edge rusher Jimmie Gilbert (#98) of Colorado who has totaled for 20 plays behind the line of scrimmage this season. Gilbert is a load off the edge with not much power but length and flexibility to establish himself as a legitimate pass rushing presence. He packs a punch with his hit power and has a nose for the football forcing six fumbles (second in the nation). Bolles wins with power; Gilbert wins with speed. This should make for an interesting matchup.
Vine on Bolles’ movement skills:
The nation’s leading sack artist, Hunter Dimick (#49), followed up his five-sack performance at Arizona State with two sacks versus Oregon. Dimick shows versatility across the line and can win with power or quickness off the edge. He doesn’t show much chase speed in the run game which questions his ability to be a three-down player at the next level not being able to consistently set the edge. Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay (#23) likes to take things outside the tackles and this will provide for a big test for Dimick and his ability to keep outside leverage.
No. 15 Florida at No. 14 Florida State // 8 p.m. EST // ABC
In somewhat of a weird season for both teams, the Florida schools meet in Tallahassee as a top-15 matchup. The Seminoles have bounced back after its embarrassing loss to Louisville and its home loss to North Carolina to finishing the season to this point on a 5-1 run. Florida, though not having much offensive production, has found itself as the SEC East champions, again.
Once viewed as a highly regarded left tackle (not by me), Roderick Johnson (#77) has slipped off first-round radars and possibly even second round. Johnson is mechanically flawed as his kick slide is not quick enough versus speed and his handwork leaves a lot to be desired. Johnson’s lack catch-speed off the edge is concerning at the next level and raises questions if he can even be successful at right tackle. True sophomore CeCe Jefferson brings a lot of finesse and quickness at defensive end and will be a true measuring stick to see how much Johnson has progressed.
I came away impressed with Florida’s front versus a stout rush offense in LSU last week as a goal-line stand ended the game. Caleb Brantley (#57), a true 3-tech defensive tackle, has been a penetration and run-stuffing freak this season and he looks to do the same versus possibly the top running back in all of college football. Brantley’s ability to control at the point of attack and playing with tremendous balance makes him all the more impressive. The A and B gaps will be taken away from Dalvin Cook (#4) if Brantley produces an encore performance from last weekend.
Florida State receiver Travis Rudolph (#15) has had a roller coaster season of production with two weeks having just one reception and then a game consisting of 13 receptions. Rudolph has completed three games in a row with one touchdown and faces off against Quincy Wilson (#6) who has only allowed one touchdown all season (lost footing and slipped on the field). Rudolph seems to gain separation downfield with plenty of distance with the cornerback left in the dust but that is not a common theme with Wilson. Wilson plays tough at the line of scrimmage and then shows some of the best footwork I have seen since evaluating. Rudolph, only a junior, needs to develop consistency and showing up the cornerback that is regarded as a top 15 pick would certainly point his stock into the right direction.