The major NFL Draft storyline to follow in Week 9 of the college football is players in need of big games to help their stock. Some players who have struggled could help themselves with big games today. Below are the NFL Draft storylines I'll be watching today. Look for a full preview of UCLA/Oregon from Matthew Fairburn later today.
Louisville at South Florida, noon, ESPN2
Top prospect to watch: Cardinals junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the obvious headline grabber in this one. It may even seem somewhat odd to point out this game, but Bridgewater will actually be going against a pass rusher that can disrupt plays. In defensive end Aaron Lynch, Bridgewater hasn't seen a pass rusher this good since Kentucky on Sept. 14. Lynch isn't piling up the stats, but if he's not being double teamed he can generate a rush. With Lynch rushing from the right, Bridgewater may be forced to move to his left, where he's sometimes uncomfortable.
Keep an eye on: Louisville's Calvin Pryor is quickly emerging as one of the nation's best all-around safety prospects. Pryor closes quickly on the ball and can really hit. Pryor is just a junior, but in a suspect class after Alabama's HaHa Clinton-Dix, he could benefit coming out early.
More to watch: This season, Louisville is much more than just Bridgewater among prospects. Middle linebacker Preston Brown is a stout between the tackles run stuffer. Junior wide receiver DeVante Parker is a big-play threat with size at 6-foot-3. Strong safety Hakeem Smith has the speed to match up with receivers one-on-one and is adept when asked to drop back in zone coverage. South Florida middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore should at least get a shot in training camp.
Tennessee at Alabama, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Top prospect to watch: Raise your hand if you would have guessed that Alabama's Adrian Hubbard would have had no sacks after seven games. Anyone? This season, Hubbard has as many pass breakups as he does tackles for loss (two). Things won't be any easier for Hubbard this week. Tennessee's Antonio Richardson had more downs than ups against Jadeveon Clowney last week and may be looking for a bounce back game.
Keep an eye on: How well has Alabama's C.J. Mosley played this season? He leads the team in tackles with 58 and the next closest player has just 29. Mosley is this year's version of Luke Kuechly. A speedy, instinctive player, Mosley can fit on the weak side or in the middle of a defense. He'll often come face to face with Tennessee running back Rajion Neal, one of the harder runners in the nation.
More to watch: Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers is quietly putting together a solid season. As always, he routinely takes up multiple blockers, but this year he's been more active. McCullers may still be a two-down player in the NFL, but his range is improved. Alabama guard Anthony Steen could be in for a long day against McCullers. Alabama's Ed Stinson may not be a superstar end, but he should be a dependable player in a three-man front.
South Carolina at Missouri, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Top prospect to watch: Could this be the week that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney picks up a few sacks? The Missouri offensive line isn't a strength and Clowney could build off a stellar game against Tennessee.
Keep an eye on: Missouri's MIchael Sam has three games of three sacks this season and is a terror working around the edge. Sam benefits somewhat by playing left end. On that side, he'll avoid mammoth South Carolina junior left tackle Corey Robinson.
More to watch: One of the reasons Missouri has become the biggest surprise team in college football is its stellar wide receiver group. L'Damian Washington is an angular 6-foot-4 vertical receiver who is finally having a season many expected. Fellow senior Marcus Lucas is even bigger and more of a possession receiver, but a legitimate NFL prospect as well.
Penn State at Ohio State, 8 p.m., ABC
Top prospect to watch: At some point for Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, his poor play becomes a trend. First it was against Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin. He didn't do much against Northwesten and was kicked out of last week's game against Iowa for targeting. How will Roby fare against Penn State's Allen Robinson, who is considerably better than Abbrederis? Robinson can match Roby physically and easily win jump ball situations.
Keep an eye on: DaQuan Jones of Penn State is one of the better defensive tackle prospects that doesn't get a lot of attention. He's second on the team with 39 tackles and has 8.5 tackles for loss. Jones is a good athlete for the position, but suffers throuh bouts of inconsistency. Jones is at his best when he can drive linemen backward to disrupt the pocket. He may struggle to do that at times against Ohio's State interior blockers Marcus Hall, Corey Linsley and Andrew Norwell.
More to watch: Jones is the top defensive tackle in the game, but Ohio State's Michael Bennett isn't very far behind. Like Jones, Bennett will have a tough matchup against Penn State right guard John Urschel. Bennett isn't quite the playmaker Jones is, but he can occupy multiple blockers. Ryan Shazier of Ohio State remains a top prospect as a weak-side player, but he's not having a lot of highlight reel plays. Neither is Buckeyes safety C.J. Barnett. But both are dependable players who are particularly solid against the run. Ohio State junior Doran Grant is finally coming along after being a top recruit. His instincts aren't quite there, but he's a good athlete.
Stanford at Oregon State, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Through seven games, Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks already has a season's worth of production with 76 receptions for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns. If you listen to the MtD podcasts, Cooks earned a DeSean Jackson comparison a few weeks ago because he's a quick, shifty receiver with deep speed. Look for Stanford to try both Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter on him. Good luck.
Keep an eye on: Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion is coming off three-straight games of more than 400 yards passing. But should he be considered highly as an NFL Draft prospect? Mannion wasn't 100 percent a season ago, but is off to a hot start this year. Purely as a prospect, Mannion has some flaws. He throws off this back foot, will float some passes and doesn't have a compact delivery.
More to watch: Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov finally looks healthy following a knee injury a season ago. Trent Murphy gets a lot of attention next to him because of his sack numbers, but Skov has played well. Defensive lineman Ben Gardner proved his toughness last week playing through injury. Like Stinson at Alabama, Gardner should be a solid lineman in a three-man front.
More to watch:
- Buffalo's Khalil Mack is a proven pass rusher. He showed as much against Ohio State to open the season. Against Kent State, Mack may be tasked with chasing down offensive weapon Dri Archer. The senior running back / wide receiver / kick returner is finally healthy and capable to breaking a big play whenever he touches the ball.
- Arguably the best one-on-one matchup of the weekend will take place in the Vanderbilt/Texas A&M game. Monstrous Aggies wide receiver Mike Evans should face up against Vanderbilt rising senior cornerback Andre Hal. Evans may have six inches on Hal, but he won't simply win every jump ball situation to get his yards.
- A&M's Johnny Manziel played through an injury to this throwing shoulder last week and still managed to throw for 454 yards. Keep an eye on Manziel's health going forward this season as he was clearly hurting last week.
- In addition to the Evans/Hal matchup, another good wide receiver / cornerback showdown should be Texas' Mike Davis against TCU's Jason Verrett. Davis likes to get physical, which isn't Verrett's strong point.
- With Louis Nix out this week for Notre Dame, Stephon Tuitt will shift inside to nose tackle. That's a good opportunity to show the NFL a different type of skill set.