USC S Taylor Mays (Getty)
The college football season got off to a rousing start last week with several big games, but this week’s tilt in Columbus, Ohio with USC visiting Ohio State is the game of the year and will go a long way in determining who is a pretender and who is a contender for the national title. This game also promises to feature a multitude of NFL prospects, so read on to find out more…
No. 3 USC at No. 8 Ohio State
The Buckeyes looked terrible last week as they barely squeaked out a win over Navy at home. Last year, USC put a hurting on Ohio State 35-3 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. Both teams are loaded with NFL prospects, but there are several that stick out as potential big-time players at the next level that aren’t even eligible in next year’s NFL Draft.
Here’s a look at the top 2010 Draft prospects on both rosters in our feature matchup…
Ohio State DE Lawrence Wilson (6-4, 275) – The senior defensive end is the top playmaker along the defensive line for he Buckeyes when he can stay healthy. He’s missed all but eight games over the past two seasons with a broken leg and a torn ACL. While on the field, Wilson can be a force against the run, holding the edge well against offensive tackles who outweigh him by 50 pounds. He’s very explosive off the ball, but he isn’t a dynamic pass-rusher getting most of his sacks when plays break down, but he’s got a non-stop motor and he’s working on developing some counter-moves in the pas-rush. Right now he’s carrying a mid-round grade, but he could vault himself up draft boards if he has a breakout season.
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor (6-6, 230) – He’s only a true sophomore, but there aren’t many more dynamic quarterbacks in the country. Pryor is an elite athlete who used his legs and athleticism to be a playmaker as a freshman starter in 2008. This year, after only one game, it’s pretty obvious he’s worked hard on his passing, developing a less-elongated delivery and a quicker release. He’s still working on reading defenses and when things break down, he tends to lose some of his mechanics, but as long as he progresses over the next two years, he should be a top 10 selection in 2012.
Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward (6-6, 287) – Heyward, only a junior, has a chance to be a real difference-maker this year for the Buckeyes. He’s adept at playing both tackle and end. He projects as an end in a 3-4 scheme or a three-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3. His first step is explosive and he’s strong at the point. He still plays a bit too high, but he’s an incredible athlete and he’s got long arms so even if he doesn’t get the quarterback, he’s someone that can still cause problems in the passing game.
Other Buckeye players to watch: DE Thaddeus Gibson (jr.); RB Dan Herron (so.); WR DeVier Posey (so.); OT Jim Cordle; LB Austin Spitler.
USC S Taylor Mays (6-3, 235) – The Seattle native could have come out last year and been a top 10 selection and there’s no reason to think, barring an injury, that he won’t end up in that lofty company once again. Mays is a freakish athlete, possessing sprinter’s speed (4.4) in a linebacker’s body. When I saw him in high school, I came away from the three times I watched him thinking he was soft. He’s done nothing but dispel my initial diagnosis and has become a feared hitter. He’s average in coverage, but he’s elite when asked to come up and stuff the run. Is he another Thomas Davis, someone who possesses the size, speed and athleticism to 'woo' scouts, but lacks the football I.Q. to be anything but average in space at the pro level? I don’t see that happening and one of the reasons he came back was because he wanted to improve against the pass. He’ll be a big time player this year for the Trojans this fall and could sneak into the top five of next April’s draft depending on how he looks this season.
USC DE Everson Griffen – When you talk about freakish athletes, Griffin, only a junior, should be at the top of your list. When he was a senior in high school, I had the chance to watch him at a workout and he posted a wind-aided 4.46 forty time at 260 pounds. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my 38 years on the planet and I’m not speaking in hyperbole. The talented pass-rusher has played for one of the most talent-laden programs in the country since he arrived as a true freshman and there’s no reason to think he won’t be good enough this year to possibly come out a year early. He’s super-quick off the ball and an explosive pass-rusher, but he’s average against the run at this point. You’d like to see him anchor against the run a little bit better and be a little more well-rounded, but there’s no denying his elite athleticism and abilities to get to the quarterback. If he has a breakout season this year, he’ll end up forgoing that final year with the Trojans.
OT Charles Brown (6-6, 295) – Brown has been overshadowed by all of the elite skill players on the roster, but he, along with the rest of the Trojan offensive line, is what make the USC juggernaut go. He’s also is tasked with protecting the blindside of uber-elite QB prospect Matt Barkley who is still feeling his way and finding his comfort zone as a true freshman. Brown is a very good athlete with quick feet and a good initial punch. He’s not very physical though, so he’s only average in the running game, but there’s no doubt he can be a solid bookend tackle at the next level where I could see him starting for 10 years after he polishes up his game just a little bit more. Brown currently projects as a late first, early second rounder, but with a good senior season he could easily move himself into the middle of the first round.
Other Trojans players to watch: G Jeff Byers; C Kris O’Dowd (so.); CB Josh Pinkard; LB Chris Galippo (so.); RB Stafon Johnson; DT Averell Spicer.
Another game to keep an eye on is No. 18 Notre Dame traveling to meet one of their traditional rivals in Michigan at the ‘Big House’ in Ann Arbor. Junior QB Jimmy Clausen is just now starting to realize the potential many saw in him as a high schooler. He’s making better decisions and getting rid of the ball quicker. He doesn’t have a big time arm, but he can make all the throws needed and he throws a very catchable deep ball.
OT Sam Young is someone to watch. He’s a huge man, going 6-8, 320, but he’s a good athlete, able to handle speed rushers pretty well. Where he struggles is with the bull-rushers, who get into his body before he can react and then he get pushed off the ball. He’s still a mid-round tackle prospect with the ability to move up with a big senior season and good offseason workouts. G Eric Olsen and OT Paul Duncan are two more players to keep an eye on up front.
In the secondary, the Irish have CB Raeshon McNeil and CB Darrin Walls who bring different skill-sets to the table. Walls is a big, physical corner whereas McNeil relies on speed and quickness to cover his man.
The Wolverines have a tradition of producing big-time offensive linemen who’s game can translate to the pros, but they are moving away from the big, physical players and moving to more athletic linemen who can pull and trap. Junior OG Steve Schilling hails from the Puget Sound area and was one of the top line prospects in the country when he came to Michigan. Other offensive linemen to watch are LT Mark Ortmann and RG David Moosman, both seniors, and they will be counted on to keep the blitzing Irish defense off of freshman signal-callers Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
WR Greg Mathews and running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are all playmakers for the Wolverines and they have some younger players who could get carries as well.
Defensively, Michigan has DE Brandon Graham to rush the QB and players like S Stevie Brown and CB Donovan Warren, a junior, in the secondary to cover Notre Dame’s plethora of talented wideouts.
There are some other great games on the slate Saturday, but Central Michigan taking on Michigan State in Lansing is appealing because one of the top senior signal-callers in the country, Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, takes on an underrated Spartans defense.
LeFevour has outstanding athleticism and good size for a QB (6-3, 240). He can make all the throws and he hurts teams with his legs almost as much as he does with his arm.
Central Michigan WR Bryan Anderson is a big target and he could end up getting looks from pro scouts as an H-Back, but the real playmaker for the Chippewa’s is junior WR Antonio Brown.
One of the top linebackers in the country this year is Michigan State junior Greg Jones, a physical player in the same mold as Seattle Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu. Jones can run and is physical at the point even though he doesn’t possess ideal middle linebacker size. His instincts are outstanding though and his speed (4.55) allows him to be an effective blitzer as well.
The Spartans should win this one, but with LeFevour leading the way, it’s never smart to completely discount Central Michigan against anyone.
Other games to catch if you can: UCLA at Tennessee; No. 9 BYU at Tulane; South Carolina at No. 21 Georgia; No. 19 North Carolina at Connecticut; Stanford at Wake Forest; Fresno State at Wisconsin.