The first week of college football is here, which means it's also the first week for NFL scouts to begin evaluate the latest crop of talent for the 2014 draft. Each week we'll be spotlighting several key games or matchups to focus on as we continue putting together analysis and rankings.
Throughout the season, expect previews of the weekday games when there is enough prospects worth mentioning and a full preview for Saturday's action. Here is who to follow in Thursday's games:
North Carolina at South Carolina - 6 p.m. (ET), ESPN
The kickoff to the college football season starts with arguably the best individual matchup of Week 1. North Carolina left tackle James Hurst (OT5) could make his highlight reel in a single game if he can neutraliz star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (DE1). Coaches everywhere will agree that it won't be easy. But if Hurst can do it, NFL teams will view him differently to begin their scouting season.
For Clowney, Hurst is probably the second-best offensive tackle he'll face this season after Tennessee's Antonio Richardson (OT4). Hurst can come close to matching Clowney on pure power moves, so look for Clowney to use his speed moves. If UNC uses extra blockers on Clowney, that should free up Chaz Sutton (DE12) opposite him. Look for North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron (TE5) to block a little more than usual in this game. Ebron is a good athlete, but he needs to prove himself as an all-around tight end.
In this game, North Carolina may have the superior NFL talent, in terms of sheer numbers. Quarterback Bryn Renner (QB12) might not have the best natural tools, but he's a decisive thrower. Renner has to get better this season on obvious passing downs. Tar Heels safety Tre Boston (S4) should be all over the field as the Gamecocks try to establish an identity on the ground. Boston is a converted corner and can hold his own on pass plays. Tim Scott (CB14) gives the Tar Heels a viable No. 1 cornerback as well.
Akron at Central Florida - 7 p.m. (ET), ESPN3
This game is worth noting to see how far along Central Florida's Blake Bortles (QB18) has progressed. He should get ample opportunity to pass against the woeful Zips.
Utah State at Utah - 8 p.m. (ET), Fox Sports 1
Utah State's Chuckie Keeton (QB21) is another quarterback to monitor the progress on early in the season.
Utah is light on prospects this year, but some may come along. A name to keep in mind is tight end Jake Murphy who had 33 receptions for 349 yards last season. Murphy has decent size at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt - 9:15 p.m. (ET), ESPN
The ESPN nightcap has an intriguing wide receiver/cornerback matchup that could take place. Charles Sawyer (CB29) of Ole Miss could test Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (WR4). Jordans at 6-foot-3 will have the size advantage on the 5-foot-11 Sawyer, but the Rebels junior can hit hard. The former safety may try to get physical with Matthews if they line up across from one another.
Southern California at Hawaii - 11 p.m. (ET) - CBS Sports Network
Stay up for this one to check in on the health and progress of USC senior Devon Kennard (DE15). He missed last season with a torn chest muscle, but plays the hybrid end/linebacker spot for the Trojans. Teams looking for a versatile playmaker may like Kennard more so than teammate Morgan Breslin (OLB10) by the end of the season.