At this time last year, we all eagerly anticipated the first games of Southern California's Matt Barkley, LSU's Sam Montgomery and others who went on to tumble in the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson (the Nos. 1 and 4 picks) were relatively obscure prospects at the same time.
It stands to reason that there will be plenty of turnover among the top prospects. Starting this week, we'll get to start figuring out who are this year's Fisher or Johnson. We'll also start to understand which players could be Barkley or Montgomery and slide.
It's Week 1 of the college football season. Here are your Saturday draft watch notes:
Buffalo at Ohio State - noon (ET), ESPN2
Could it be that the best NFL Draft prospect in this game is not on Ohio State? With Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby on a one-game suspension, that's true. Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack sure looks like the real deal. He'll get to prove himself against Ohio State left tackle Jack Mewhort. After the James Hurst/Jadeveon Clowney matchup from Thursday night, this is the head-on showcase of the weekend. Mewhort doesn't have as much at stake as Hurst did (and Hurst was average), but Mack is one of the best he'll see this season. Mewhort is mostly a power blocker, so this game will be a good chance to monitor his foot quickness. Don't expect Mack to just pass rush, though. He's an active linebacker who will have to drop in coverage when Ohio State goes with four receivers and he may have to spy some on Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.
Ohio State has a good linebacker of its own in junior Ryan Shazier, one of the best coverage linebackers in college football. Shazier may not do a lot as a pass rusher, but he's a good player in every other area. This season he's being relied on to be the leader of Ohio State's front seven. That may include calling the shifts for the front, so his football intelligence will be put to the test. Shazier will spend much of the afternoon chasing down Buffalo running back Branden Oliver. The senior running back missed some time last season, but he's an effective runner. He topped 100 yards against Georgia a year ago and is Buffalo's best hope for pulling an upset.
In addition to Shazier, Ohio State has talent in the back half of its defense. C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are one of the best safety tandems in the nation. Barnett could be a top 100 pick in April because of his ability to play the whole field.
Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State - 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
When Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson collides with Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, expect to hear thunder. Both are big, mean players who can typically manhandle the opposition. Jackson comes in competition with Stanford's David Yankey as the best guard prospect in the nation. Barnett isn't quite as highly regarded, but he showed promise in his first season at Oklahoma State after transferring form a junior college.
Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert could be poised to rise back up draft boards after a disappointing 2012. He has the size and athleticism to get drafted highly next April.
Brigham Young at Virginia - 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
Flip over to this one when Virginia has the ball to see giant offensive tackle Morgan Moses try and handle the quickness of BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. It was something of a surprise last season when Van Noy decided not to go pro. His teammate, wide receiver Cody Hoffman, also considered making the leap. Both should be headed for the Senior Bowl after the season.
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech - 5:30 p.m. (ET), ESPN
Alabama, of course, is loaded with NFL talent. Virginia Tech has its fair share of prospects as well. There is maybe no more important storyline in Week 1 than Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. A colossal disappointment a year ago, Thomas worked throughout the summer with quarterback specialist George Whitfield to completely refine his game. If the coaching worked, Thomas should show much better footwork and a more compact throwing motion. Thomas has incredible physical tools, but his ball placement was off last season and he seems to prefer throwing on the move.
Just the opposite of Thomas is Alabama signal caller A.J. McCarron. He's a steady quarterback who knows how to set his feet and deliver consist throws. The negative on McCarron is his pure ability. He doesn't have an arm like Thomas and he has ordinary size. There's going to be a debate all year about McCarron and whether or not he's a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect or a product of Alabama's talent. Against a tough defense like Virginia Tech, he can prove himself. It will be interesting to see how often MccCarron throws in the direction of Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller. With Antone Exum out, Fuller is far and away the team's best defensive back. McCarron will also see pressure from Hokies defensive end James Gayle. The senior might get moved around to avoid Tide left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who looks like a future top 10 pick.
We'll get into them more as the season progresses, but keep tabs on Alabama middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. All of them have the potential to end the season atop their positions. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson and cornerback Deion Belue aren't bad either. Actually, just go ahead and keep tabs on every player on Alabama's defense. And offensive guard Anthony Steen.
Georgia at Clemson - 8 p.m. (ET), ABC
Is Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray the next David Greene (a record setting, very good college quarterback), or is he a legit NFL prospect. There's no doubt Murray will get drafted. But a game like this one could go a long way in determining where exactly. Murray has a pair of solid receivers in wide out Malcolm Mitchell and tight end Arthur Lynch. He'll just have to avoid the rush of undersized junior end Vic Beasley.
When Clemson has the ball, it's all about quarterback Tajh Boyd connecting with wide receiver Sammy Watkins. This year Watkins will see far more snaps on the outside, so it will be worth noting how the two have their timing down. Boyd rates highly coming into the season but needs to show even more maturation as a pocket passer. Boyd tends to get happy feet when pressured instead of stepping up into the pocket and delivering.
The strange thing about this game is the lack of high-level prospects on defense. Maybe that will change after Saturday night.
LSU vs. TCU - 9 p.m. (ET), ESPN
Zach Mettenberger is the SEC version of Logan Thomas, in that he's packed with tools but had a disappointing 2012 season. Mettenberger started to show promise toward the end of last season and if it carries over he's a top 100 sleeper quarterback. Looking to stop that from happening will be TCU cornerback Jason Verrett. He's a legit first-round pick with good awareness and the ability to cover a lot of ground.
As they always are, LSU's defense is packed with talent. Tackle Anthony Johnson has dropped a lot of weight since coming to LSU and this may be the season he's comfortable in his frame. He's unquestionably the man on LSU's front four. Next to him is Ego Ferguson. Mostly a backup last year, Ferguson's potential is high. If TCU running back Waymon James gets past those two, keep an eye on middle linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston. Both players can hit hard. They may be after TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, who is back after substance abuse issues abruptly finished his 2012 season.
If fullbacks are your thing, you have a strange football fetish. Still, it's hard to find one better (and bigger) than LSU's J.C. Copeland.
Boise State at Washington - 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
At the start of last college football season, everyone was looking for the next Robert Griffin III. Washington quarterback Keith Price was the choice for many (including me). It never happened because Price didn't take that next developmental step. Chiefly, that includes ball placement and pocket presence. Price has talent, though, and Washington is simplifying its offense this season. The trouble for Price is that he won't have tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is suspended this week. He will have talented running back Bishop Sankey and wide receiver Kasen Williams at his disposal, though.
More NFL Draft content
- Jadeveon Clowney watch: South Carolina DE had North Carolina on notice in 2013 debut
- Mocking the Draft podcast episode 9
- Top 100 prospects | Complete rankings