In Week 8 of the college football season, NFL Draft prospects are already off to a good start.
On Thursday night, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron looked like a first-round pick against Miami, hauling in eight catches for 199 yards and a touchdown. Friday night featured a Louisville/Central Florida game that went down to the wire. Although UCF won, Teddy Bridgewater of the Cardinals had another standout game to further cement himself as next year's top quarterback prospect.
Needless to say, today's schedule of games has a lot to live up to. Look for a preview of Clemson/Florida State from Matthew Fairburn on the site a little later. For now, here are the games I'll be keying on today:
South Carolina at Tennessee, noon (ET), ESPN
Top prospect to watch:The obvious top prospect to watch is South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and how he fares against Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson. As SB Nation's Steven Godfrey found, Tennessee is trying to underscore the matchup despite Richardson getting the better of Clowney a season ago. If you're down on Clowney, don't look at the stat line. Look at how fast he's getting off the line and into opposing backfields. If you haven't read it yet, Josh Norris of Rotoworld has a great breakdown on that ideal right here.
Keep an eye on: As much attention as Richardson will get, Tennessee's tackle opposite him, Ju'Wuan James, will see Clowney plenty. James may exclusively be a right tackle prospect, but he's a solid one. He's not flashy or overly athletic, but he's reliable.
More to watch: Tennessee running back Rajion Neal doesn't garner a lot of headlines, but he's a solid running back. He had a good game against Georgia on Oct. 5 rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns largely due to his effort. South Carolina left tackle Corey Robinson is starting to gain some attention. At 6-foot-8 and 341 pounds, he's one of the bigger offensive linemen in the nation. He's coming off a good game against Arkansas.
UCLA at Stanford, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Top prospect to watch: For whatever reason, some people in the draft community seem to be down on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Just take a moment to remember that Hundley is just a redshirt sophomore. Call it the Andrew Luck Effect or Teddy Bridgewater Syndrome. People just seem to expect too much too soon from quarterbacks now. UCLA faces its two toughest games of the season starting with Stanford today and Oregon next week. Both games will be important for Hundley, particularly since NFL types are wondering about him now as well. From Albert Breer of NFL Network:
I spoke to one NFC executive who didn't believe Hundley should be a first-round draft pick. Another NFC personnel exec disagreed, with a caveat: "He has big-time arm talent, and great athletic ability and speed, but he makes quite a few questionable decisions in every game.
Keep an eye on: Guards will be on display with this game with Stanford's David Yankey and UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo. Both are athletic guards capable of getting out on the second level and delivering blocks. Yankey is the better drive blocker while Su'a-Filo has a slight athleticism advantage.
More to watch: UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr has distinguished himself clearly as the best player at his position. Barr is an ultra-athletic pass rusher who is showing a more complete game this season. Stanford linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas have both been having good seasons. Skov leads the Cardinal in tackles while Murphy is on top in tackles for loss and sacks. Skov is a strong between-the-tackles linebacker while Murphy is capable to blitzing and has the instincts to break up passes. Stanford safety Ed Reynolds is having a quiet season, but he's a solid tackler.
Arkansas at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect to watch: After a two-game suspension, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is back for Alabama. Clinton-Dix is overwhelmingly the best safety prospect in college football. If there's something required of a safety, whether it's coming up in run support or helping in coverage, Clinton-Dix can do it. Considering Arkansas is one of the worst passing offenses in college football, look for Clinton-Dix to be playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Keep an eye on: Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley will have a tough task in this game, particularly if he has to take on Arkansas center Travis Swanson. If the Razorbacks senior can get his hands on Mosley, he should be able to add some good tape to his highlight reel.
More to watch: Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith had a long game against South Carolina last week and face an even better tackle today against Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio. Smith has six sacks this season, which leads the SEC. Conversely, Alabama's top pass rusher (or the player expected to have that designation) is Adrian Hubbard. He has zero sacks this season. Amongst all the buzz about underclassmen, it's easy to forget about Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. But he's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes this season. McCarron is playing himself into a Senior Bowl invite, which will help prove whether or not he's simply a game manager signal caller.
Southern California at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Top prospect to watch: It's unknown whether or not USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is playing in this game because of a lingering knee injury. Lee may have three games of 90 yards or more receiving this season, but he's not as dynamic of a player. While some of that is due to the Trojans' quarterback play, Lee is in need of a big game. He only had 75 yards receiving against Notre Dame last year, and look for Irish cornerback Bennett Jackson to play him physically.
Keep an eye on: Morgan Breslin has been battling injuries all season, but when he's played, he's been good. He's a speed rusher around the corner and has shown this season he can drop in coverage. His availability is also up in the air because of a hip injury.
More to watch: Junior Troy Niklas is the latest in a growing line of Notre Dame tight ends. He's a good all-around player who should be a bigger part of the Notre Dame offense. Redshirt sophomore running back Tre Madden has had several splash plays for USC this season, in the pass and run game. He'll have a hard time running the ball against Notre Dame's talented defensive line featuring Louis Nix in the middle and Stephon Tuitt at end.