There is a reason ESPN's College Gameday is in North Dakota this week. There isn't a big-time matchup on the schedule today. There are, however, several key NFL Draft storylines to follow throughout the day. Below are some watch notes on what to key on in Week 4 of the college football season. (Week 4? That means we're a quarter through the season. Sad)
Matthew Fairburn will have a standalone preview of Arizona State/Stanford, the game of the day. If you can call anything today the game of the day.
Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (ET), NBC
Michigan State Darqueze Dennard has proven he can get physical in man coverage situations. But can he keep up with fleet-footed Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones?
A name to keep in mind for 2015 is Michigan State redshirt sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun. He has quick feet and can get into the backfield in a hurry. Calhoun should give Notre Dame senior left tackle Zack Martin trouble. It's notable that Calhoun has three scores this season. Break out the Heisman talk!
This should be a game where Notre Dame defensive linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt look good. They've been inconsistent to start the season, particularly Tuitt.
Utah State at Southern California, 3:30 p.m. (ET), ABC/ESPN2
If Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is to assert himself as an NFL prospect, this is the weekend to do it. From a talent standpoint, Keeton won't be more challenged than he is against Southern California. Through three games, Keeton is completing 78.1 percent of his passes for 923 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception. But that's come against Utah, Air Force and Weber State. Do it against the Trojans and Keeton, a junior, will really begin getting NFL attention. Keeton is a clever playmaker with a decent arm. His throws at the sideline trail downward a little too much, but he's talented. He can make plays on the ground as well, so teams interested in the read option could put a higher value on Keeton.
Dion Bailey is in his first season of playing safety for the Trojans after shifting from linebacker in the offseason. He's leading the team in tackles with 21 and has two interceptions and to pass breakups. Bailey is consistently in on the play, whether its in coverage or in the box against the run. As the NFL offenses continue spreading out, Bailey is the type of safety/linebacker combo player that could become popular.
Keep USC senior cornerback Torin Harris in the back of your mind. He's been inconsistent throughout his career, but seems to be putting it together this season. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, teams will be after Harris' length. Considering 30-plus cornerbacks get drafted every year, it stands to reason that Harris will hear his name called in May.
Tennessee at Florida, 3:30 p.m. (ET), CBS
Florida defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell might be the most athletic pass rusher in the country. That's not just hyperbole. Remember that Powell is coming back from a torn left ACL. If there is any doubt about Powell's athleticism, just remember his first sack of the year against Toledo. Rockets quarterback Terrance Owens, a good athlete himself, alluded Powell's interior rush before the Gators junior shed a block and chased the quarterback down.
Powell's speed around the edge could give Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson trouble. Richardson is better suited as a run blocker. We'll learn in this game if Richardson has the foot speed to block quickly to the outside. Tennessee right tackle JaWuan James is even more questionable as a pass blocker. Tennessee's entire line is draftable, actually.
A guard prospect to note is Tennessee senior Zach Fulton. He's a power blocker on the right side at 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. He'll be tasked with slowing down Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley. A favorite of the NFL Draft community, Easley has an impressive first step, so Fulton will have to flash quick hands to get him blocked.
Michigan at Connecticut, 8 p.m. (ET), ABC
In what should be a packed quarterback class in the 2014 draft, Michigan's Devin Gardner can't afford too many average or bad games. He had a bad game against Akron last week. Narrowly beating the Zips, Gardner was 16 of 30 passing for 248 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.He even fumbled the ball once. The game was a sudden reminder that Gardner has just started eight games at quarterback and may be better off coming back for his senior year at Michigan.
Chasing Gardner around the field for Connecticut is linebacker Yawin Smallwood. A junior, Smallwood has 30 tackles in just two games this season. At 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, Smallwood is intriguing because of his size and athleticism.
A wide receiver to keep stashed away in the back of your mind during this game is Connecticut junior Skakim Phillips. At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Phillips has some bulk. He leads the Huskies with 15 receptions for 255 yards and three touchdowns this season. Look for Michigan to play redshirt sophomore Blake Countess on Phillips. Countess has bounced back nicely after tearing his ACL in last season's opening game. He has three interceptions in two games.
More notables on Saturday:
• There isn't a lot of talk about San Jose State's David Fales this season. That's largely because he's thrown for just 441 yards in two games. While Fresno State's Derek Carr is grabbing headlines, Fales may have to play catchup starting today against Minnesota. Gophers defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is arguably the best player in this game. In Minnesota's three easy games to start the season, he has 4.5 tackles for loss.
• Marshall, college football's fastest offense, will test the Virginia Tech defense. Top draft prospects Kyle Fuller (cornerback) and James Gayle (defensive end) are off to so-so starts.
• It will be interesting to continue following LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger as he plays his first SEC game of the season. Can he sustain the success he's had against UAB, Kent State and TCU.