LSU OT Ciron Black (Photo courtesy of Steve Franz)
This week we, yet again, focus on the SEC which has two big-time matchups on Saturday. With all the NFL-caliber talent on the field in Baton Rouge, the Florida/LSU matchup trumps the Alabama/Ole Miss tilt, but not by much…
No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU
Last year, the Gators put the pedal to the metal and rolled up 475 yards of total offense, including 265 on the ground, in a 51-21 route of the then, fourth-ranked Tigers. This year, Florida comes in ranked first in the nation, but they may be without their on-field leader and LSU still hasn’t shown enough in many people’s eyes to warrant their ranking.
This one should be a great matchup under the lights where LSU has won 32 straight night games at Tiger Stadium and, as ESPN College Football analyst Beano Cook once said, “Dracula and LSU football are at their best after the sun goes down.”
Here’s a look at the top players on each roster that NFL scouts will have their eyes on…
LSU OT Ciron Black (6-6, 325) – Heading into the season, Black carried a late-first round, early second grade and he’s done nothing to dispel those inclinations. Black is massive, but he’s a great athlete who shows good footwork and the ability to play in space. He sets up quick when pass-blocking and he’s got a great initial punch when keeping the defender at bay. He can struggle at times with speed rushers that have counter-moves , but for the most part he handles them well. As a run-blocker, I’d like to see Black be a little more aggressive. He doesn’t maul people, choosing to use finesse more than brute strength. While that is adequate for getting the job done, with his size and athleticism, I’d like to see him really show that nasty side.
LSU WR Brandon LaFell (6-3, 200) – LaFell is widely considered one of the top wideouts in the country, but he hasn’t put up big-time numbers yet. That has more to do with the limited passing game the Tigers have shown so far due to the relative inexperience of sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson. He’s still managed to post 23 of 282 yards and five touchdowns in five games. He’s got great body control and even though he doesn’t have impressive top-end speed, he always seems to get separation from the DBs covering him. Look for him to get long looks from teams in the mid-first round next April.
LSU LB Perry Riley (6-2, 245) – He isn’t flashy, however all Riley does is get the job done. He’s an impressive athlete and he’s always around the ball. He isn’t a tackling machine, but he uses sound mechanics and wraps up well. He doesn’t protect his legs as well as you’d like and he can get caught up in the trash a lot when plays are run away from him, but he’s solid in coverage and he’s smart. He’s projected as a mid-round player and I could see him as a standout on special teams his first season in the league while he works his way up the depth chart.
Other LSU players to keep an eye on: DE Rahim Alem; S Harry Coleman; LB Jacob Cutrera; DT Al Woods; WR Terrance Toliver (jr.); RB Charles Scott; RB Keiland Williams; WR Trindon Holliday.
Florida DE Jermaine Cunningham (6-3, 255) – A dynamic speed-rusher, Cunningham will probably have to move to a standup rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme because of his lack of size. He’s an outstanding athlete, but teams have been able to run the ball right at him with success because he just isn’t able to hold up at the point. However, when told to pin his ears back and rush the quarterback, Cunningham is about as special as it gets off the edge, although he still hasn’t posted a sack yet this season. Watch for his battle against Black who has struggled at times with speed rushers.
Florida DE Carlos Dunlap (6-6, 290) – The junior is still just beginning to tap the near unlimited potential he possesses, but there’s no denying he’s one of the top defensive linemen in the entire country, regardless of class. He’s big and physical and, athletically, he outmatches almost every tackle he faces off against week in and week out. Dunlap plays the run well, but he also is an underrated pass-rusher. He’s at his best coming off the snap and attacking. He closes well when he gets the chance to pursue the quarterback and he uses his long arms to cause problems with the passer’s throwing lanes. Dunlap still plays a little too high at times and he can be too aggressive, running himself out of plays, but with his elite size and athleticism, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be one of the top defensive prospects in the Draft, whether he comes out this year or next.
Florida C Maurkice Pouncey (6-5, 315) – Maukice and his twin brother, Michael, form an impressive interior lineup for the Gators. Maukice is taller than most centers, but he’s a great athlete and very smart. He’s also got that nasty streak you like in your interior linemen while possessing the technique and feet to be solid in pass-protection. He could play either guard or center, which will add to his value once NFL teams come calling. It wouldn’t surprise me if he decides to leave early, but word is he and Michael both want to return for their senior seasons.
Other Florida players to keep an eye on: RB Emmanuel Moody (jr.); QB Tim Tebow (injured); LB Brandon Spikes; DT Lawrence Marsh (jr.); WR Riley Cooper; WR David Nelson; RB/KR Brandon James.
On a weekend when two of the top four teams in the country aren’t facing off, Alabama at Ole Miss would be the featured matchup of the week.
Both teams have loads of talent, but Alabama has so much on defense it almost seems unfair.
Up front DT Terrence Cody is destined for the top ten of next April’s NFL Draft. He’s big and explosive for someone his size (6-4, 365). He loves to collapse the pocket when rushing the quarterback, but he’s more adept at getting penetration on running plays causing negative yardage to pile up.
Joining Cody up front are two other sure-fire NFL players – DE Brandon Deaderick and DT/DE Lorenzo Washington. Both are fierce run stuffers who allow the Crimson Tide’s athletic linebackers to run and make plays.
I believe both G Mike Johnson and T Drew Davis are underrated players who pave the way for Alabama’s talented tandem of backs – senior Roy Upchurch and super-sophomore Mark Ingram – keep the chains moving.
Junior QB Jevan Snead is a dynamic passer for the Rebels who can move the ball with his arm or his legs. At times his decision-making has been suspect this season, but he’s one of the most naturally talented signal-callers in the country and that includes Florida’s Tebow.
RB/WR Dexter McCluster can do almost anything for Ole Miss, posting big plays as both a running back, receiver, return man and as the director of the “Wild Rebel” offense that head coach Houston Nutt has employed at various times.
All-SEC wideout Shay Hodge reminds me of former Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson with the way he runs his routes and seems to get separation even though he doesn’t have elite speed.
On defense, when healthy, there isn’t a better defensive end in the country than Greg Hardy. He’s quick off the snap and he is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. He can track down plays on the other side of the field with his speed and athleticism as well.
Also keep an eye on junior DT Jerrell Powe who is an absolute monster inside for the Rebels.
In the Big 10, this season it doesn’t get much better than Michigan and Iowa.
Michigan has one of the top freshman in the country in QB Tate Forcier who has made plays upper-classmen would be hard-pressed to make. He’s surrounded by a bunch of young playmakers on offense, especially at the wide receiver position, so he’ll continue to rely on running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, both of whom have the ability to grind it out for the Wolverines.
S/Rover Stevie Brown doesn’t have elite size (5-1, 210) or speed (4.65), but all he does is make plays and most of them seem to be behind the line of scrimmage. He’s always around the ball and he’s a sure, physical tackler.
DE Brandon Graham is another Wolverine who has garnered a lot of NFL attention with his pass-rushing abilities, but Michigan’s underclassmen, especially CB Donovan Warren, LB Obie Ezeh and DE Ryan Van Bergen, are the players to keep an eye on for down the road.
Iowa’s defensive line really stepped up their game against Penn State, holding one of the top offenses in the Big 10 to just 307 total yards and 15 first downs.
Leading the way that night and seemingly every Saturday so far this season has been junior DT Adrian Clayborn whose three sacks lead the Hawkeyes defense. Clayborn also leads the team with six quarterback hurries and blocked a punt and returned it 53-yards for touchdown against the Nittany Lions. He’s big, physical and relentless. So far this season, besides Nebraska’s outstanding defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, I haven’t seen a more impressive interior defensive lineman than Clayborn.
With Clayborn and defensive ends Karl Klug and Broderick Binns leading the way up front, that allows linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds to clean up the mess they leave behind and both have the potential to be first-day selections next April.
On offense, the Hawkeyes again have a bunch of possible NFL players in junior LT Bryan Bulaga, RT Kyle Calloway and LG Dace Richardson. Also keep an eye on wide receivers Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt who both bring big-play abilities to the table.
Other games to catch if you can: Boston College at No. 5 Virginia Tech; No. 17 Auburn at Arkansas; No. 15 Oklahoma State at Texas A&M; No. 13 Oregon at UCLA; Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State; Georgia at Tennessee.