Miami DT Allen Bailey (Getty)
Three weeks into the college football season and things are up in the air as far as the top 10 is concerned. USC lost last week and Mississippi has already fallen this week (losing last night to South Carolina), so the question becomes…who’s next? Miami and Virginia Tech are the two teams in the big matchup this week, but there are several more games to keep an eye on…
No. 9 Miami at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Heading into the season, there wasn’t a lot of talk about the ACC and their prospects of producing a big time program that could shake up the national scene. Leave it to two former Big East foes like Miami and Virginia Tech to bring the conference into the spotlight with a matchup in Blacksburg, Virginia that promises to be a barn-burner with loads of talented underclassmen and NFL prospects on both rosters.
Here’s a look at a few of the top pro prospects from each team…
Virginia Tech OG Sergio Render (6-3, 315) – Talk about a road-grader. I love the way Render goes about his business. He’s very physical at the point and he’s got good feet, allowing him to get to the second level to take on linebackers and then using his athleticism to ride them out of the play. He struggles a bit with inside pass-rushers, but he’s more than adequate in that area. He really gets after it is in the running game where he mauls the man across from him on almost every play. Right now Render holds a mid-round grade, but I could see him moving up into the second round with some good post-season workouts.
Virginia Tech OT Ed Wang (6-5, 305) – Wang and Render combine to form one of the top left sides in all of college football. Wang has good feet and is a very good athlete. He’s also got long arms which allow him to really keep pass-rushers at bay. He’s not an elite left tackle prospect, but he’s solid and could sneak up into the third round because everyone is always looking for athletic tackles. However, he needs to show better run-blocking and not have the lapses in concentration that have sometimes been a problem for him.
Virginia Tech S Kam Chancellor (6-3, 235) – When you have the size and speed (4.55) of a player like Chancellor, you had better make plays all over the field. Chancellor is great in run-support, able to use his speed, quickness and strength to cut down angles for runners and blockers, but he’s got long legs and this causes him problems in coverage. He doesn’t change direction smoothly and can get caught out of position at times, but when he arrives at the ball, violent collisions usually ensue. I can see him moving to a linebacker position when he gets to the NFL and being a demon on special teams and because of that I think he will drop a bit from where his talent and athleticism probably would dictate that he should fit into the draft.
Other Hokie players to keep an eye on: DT Cordarrow Thompson; DE Nekos Brown; DE Jason Worilds (jr.); QB Tyrod Taylor (jr.); TE Greg Boone.
Miami LT Jason Fox (6-6, 315) – I had Fox rated as a low-round prospect heading into the season, but he’s been rising up my list for the past few weeks due to his outstanding performances against some very good pass rushers in the first two weeks. Fox has very quick feet and he gets a really good initial punch when setting up in pass-protection. His standout performance so far this year has been a big reason why sophomore QB Jacory Harris has been able to produce the numbers (41 of 55 for 656 yards and five touchdowns) he’s put up in two games.
Miami S Randy Phillips (6-0, 210) – If he had just a little more speed and was an inch or two taller, Phillips would be right up there with the top safety prospects available in the draft. As it is, he relies on his instincts to make most of the plays he’s able to generate from center field. Phillips appears to have fully-recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss all but two games in 2008 and he’s been a steadying force in the deep third of the Hurricanes’ secondary with his leadership and smarts. I look for Phillips to be a late-round selection who could find his way onto an NFL roster eventually.
Miami DT Allen Bailey (6-3, 285) – Bailey has had an outstanding junior season so far and he could be a player that opts to come out early if things go the way they seem to be heading. Bailey has a super-quick first step, allowing him to get through creases when pass-rushing or stuffing the run and he’s relentless in his pursuit of the ball. At times he’s too aggressive, taking himself out of plays, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a force to be reckoned with as the year progresses and this week it should be fun watching Render and Bailey battle it out inside in this conference matchup.
Other Hurricane players to keep an eye on: TE Richard Gordon; TE Dedrick Epps; RB Javarris James; MLB Darryl Sharpton; OLB Colin McCarthy.
Another game I plan to sit down and watch a lot of this weekend will be the Cal-Oregon tilt taking place at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. These two teams were expected to have high-powered offenses and vie for the Pac 10 championship, but it appears that Cal is the only real contender between these two.
Last year Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli looked like a poor-man’s Matt Grothe, able to run or pass with equal aplomb. However, this year the junior signal-caller has looked lost in the passing-game completing only 45% of his passes. However, he’s rushed for over 100 yards and made some good decisions in the running game of late and that’s led to two wins after the Ducks’ terrible showing in an opening week loss on national television to Boise State.
The Ducks claim one of the more underrated tight ends in the country in Ed Dickson. The talented senior doesn’t get a lot of attention in Oregon’s scheme, but he’s a great athlete and he’s got the size and speed to be a real threat in the redzone. I also think he’s really improved as an in-line blocker, which will help him in his transition to the pro game.
On defense, CB Walter Thurmond is a real gem and should get some looks in the fourth round of the NFL Draft next April. He’s got good size (5-11, 185) and speed (4.5) and he anticipates well notching an interception returned for a touchdown this year already. He also doubles as a punt returner which adds to his value.
Cal junior RB Jahvid Best continues to show why he should be considered the top running back in the country, posting over 200 yards and five touchdowns against Minnesota last week in a 35-21 win over the Gophers on the road. Best is shifty in the open field, but what sets him apart is his vision and explosiveness. If he gets into the open field, there aren’t many players in the country who can catch him.
Lots of scouts love the potential of Cal CB Syd’Quan Thompson, but I’m a little more skeptical. He isn’t very physical and will struggle against the run in the NFL. He’s quick and he anticipates well, but he also gambles a little more than I’d like to see. Right now he’s carrying a second round grade with a lot of people and I think that’s probably where he’ll end up being selected, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he fell a little into the third or even the fourth round due to his limitations.
In Happy Valley, No. 5 Penn State will play host to Iowa in a rematch of last year’s thriller that the Hawkeyes won 24-23.
Penn State has the Big Ten’s best quarterback in Daryll Clark. He’s been solid so far this year throwing for 760 yards while completing 67% of his passes for eight touchdowns and three interceptions, but that came against three teams (Akron, Syracuse and Temple) who aren’t very good. Clark will be tested by a good Iowa secondary, but he isn’t one-dimensional – he can beat you with his arm or his legs.
RB Evan Royster is a bruiser who gets a lot of yards after contact, but he hasn’t put up big numbers so far this season. However, I expect him to break out very soon and this could be the week he does.
LB Sean Lee is out for the Nittany Lions this week and they will really miss his steadying presence and playmaking ability, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have players to pick up the slack. DT Jared Odrick is a fire-plug inside and can stuff the run well, while LB Josh Hull adds his instincts and muscle to the linebacking corps.
Iowa has really shown some improvement since the first week of the season when they relied on two blocked field goals to sneak by Northern Iowa 17-16 in week one.
Up front the Hawkeyes continue to produce top-shelf talent and they have three players – T Kyle Calloway, G Dace Richardson and C Rafael Eubanks who could all be playing pro ball this time next year.
QB Ricky Stanzi, a junior, loves to hit WR Trey Stross and let him do all the work and the two have combined to hook up for 11 passes for 167 yards. The problem for Stross is he hasn’t gotten into the endzone yet and he could find it tough going this week against Penn State’s outstanding secondary.
On defense the best two Hawkeyes are at linebacker. A.J. Eds is a bruiser inside while Pat Angerer (a perfect linebacker name) is an All-Big 10 linebacker on the outside.
Also keep an eye on S Tyler Sash who already has four interceptions on the season. He’s only a sophomore, so he’s more of a prospect to keep an eye on in the years to come.
Other games to catch if you can: Arizona State at No. 21 Georgia; No. 24 Washington at Stanford; Pittsburgh at North Carolina State; Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama; Southern Miss at Kansas; No. 22 North Carolina at Georgia Tech; Texas Tech at No. 17 Houston; Illinois at No. 13 Ohio State.