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Saturday Spotlight: Week 8
Ever since they joined the Big 10 back in 1993, Penn State has been fighting against Michigan and Ohio State for the top spot in the conference, both in perception as well as reality. Over the past few years, the Nittany Lions have surged past the Wolverines and have been close to the equal of the Buckeyes.
This game will feature plenty of talent on both sides of the ball from two programs who have consistently put talented players into the NFL. Here's a look at a few of the top players on each roster and who to keep an eye on this weekend…
Penn State LB Navorro Bowman (6-1, 235) – The junior is likely headed for the NFL Draft with his speed and skills following the season and for good reason – he's likely to be one of the top players chosen next April. Bowman is an amazing athlete with outstanding instincts which is a deadly combination. He holds strong at the point of attack and uses a strong first strike to help him shed blockers. Bowman protects his legs well from the video I've seen on him and he's like a heat-seeking missile when he sniffs out a play. At times he can be too aggressive leading to plays being run behind him and he is only adequate, not great, in coverage. Bowman is an ideal weakside linebacker at the pro level and should go very early whether he decides to stay for another season or if he comes out after this one.
Penn State LB Sean Lee (6-2, 233) – The senior has struggled with a knee injury the past few weeks, but he is expected to be on the field this weekend against the Wolverines. Lee continues the line of solid middle linebacker prospects, but may be a better athlete than some of the top Nittany Lions linebackers to come out the past few years – Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Lee is solid in coverage for a middle linebacker, able to get depth and play in space well when asked to play zone. He's got good speed and he's a sure-tackler, squaring up well and wrapping up. He's only average when he has to take on blockers head up, so he's probably a better fit in a 4-3 scheme, but he could be a solid inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme as well. I expect Lee to be taken at some point in the second round and whoever gets him will have a solid special teams player who could easily work his way into a starting spot early in his career with the right team.
Penn State DT Jared Odrick (6-4, 295) – Against mediocre competition, Odrick dominates with his quickness and athleticism. He struggles though when asked to take on top interior offensive linemen. He plays a bit too high at times and he isn't very strong, lacking the ability to disengage if he doesn't get penetration with his outstanding first step. Some have also questioned his motor and that has been evident in the film I've watched. He'll likely go sometime in either round two or three just because of his talent, but Odrick needs to have the right coach who can motivate him to reach his full potential.
Penn State TE Andrew Quarless (6-5, 250) – Quarless is a freakish athlete who just hasn't seemed to realize his full potential. The talented senior can stretch the middle seam while possessing soft hands, giving QB Daryll Clark a nice safety valve to slow down the pass rush. Quarless' 21 receptions are tied with two other players for second on the team, but he hasn't been the threat in the redzone you'd think his size and skills would make him. Quarless isn't a great blocker which will hurt his stock when projecting the next level, but he's still a player that teams will give a look at in the mid rounds next April.
Other Nittany Lions players to keep an eye on: RB Evan Royster (jr.); QB Daryll Clark; TE Mickey Shuler; LB Josh Hull; OT Dennis Landolt; CB A.J. Wallace; P Jeremy Boone
Michigan SS/LB Stevie Brown (5-11, 210) – When you talk about pure football players, Brown rises to the top of the list, but with his size he'll need to find his niche at the next level. Brown is smart, runs well and always seems to be around the ball. He holds strong at the point for a player his size and with his instincts he always seems to beat blockers to the spot, allowing him to establish good leverage to take on the block and then make the play. He's a key cog to the Michigan defense and someone that is fun to watch when he's on the field.
Michigan DE Brandon Graham (6-1, 260) – Graham has really vaulted himself up Draft boards with his performance this season and rightly so. The relentless defender has a motor that just won't stop and he has the speed and athleticism to track plays that are run away from him down. Graham probably lacks the bulk to be a true defensive end at the next level, but because of his athleticism he could translate to a 3-4 rush linebacker position. His matchup with Landolt should be fun to watch.
Michigan OG Steve Schilling (6-5, 304) – Because of his size and agility, Schilling could play guard or tackle at the pro level, but with Michigan he's moved inside and it will be a real test of his skills this weekend against Odrick. Schilling is technically sound and has a nasty side, allowing him to maul the player across from him on a play-by-play basis. Actually, the change in Wolverine coaching staffs may have really helped Schilling the most because he's a better fit in a pulling/trapping scheme. We'll see if he decides to leave early or not, but he's got the skills to be drafted early next spring.
Other Wolverine players to keep an eye on: LB Jonus Mouton (jr.); WR Darryl Stonum (soph.); WR Martavious Odoms (jr.); RB Brandon Minor; P Zoltan Mesko.
The ACC finds the next top matchup of the week on Saturday as Clemson heads south to take on Miami.
Miami features some outstanding speed and talent and seems to have found some of their swagger again after several years of under-achievement. Sophomore QB Jacory Harris exploded on the scene early this season before tailing off a bit, but he's becoming more and more consistent as he gets more comfortable reading defenses and that can only mean bad things for Hurricane opponents.
Harris has plenty of help in the backfield to help him. Senior RB Javarris James is the leading rusher, but Graig Cooper is probably the most explosive player in the open field.
WR Leonard Handerson is a big-play guy down the field while LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Dedrick Epps are all players who can make plays from the receiver position.
LT Jason Fox is carrying a second-round grade right now and he'll be tasked with protecting Harris against the pass rush of DE/LB Ricky Sapp as well as sophomore DE Da'Quan Bowers who could end up being a high first-round selection in a few years.
Clemson has some serious playmakers on offense with RB C.J. Spiller likely to be taken in the top 20 picks in next year's NFL Draft. He's explosive with the ball in his hands and can be a threat as a runner, returner or receiver. Joining the talented senior is track star Jacoby Harris who can flat-out fly. Harris' matchup vs. super-sophomore CB Brandon Harris will be interesting to watch.
The players who will be tasked with stopping Spiller as Clemson tries to get the ball in his hands are DT Allen Bailey, LB Darryl Sharpton, LB Sean Spence and S Randy Phillips.
When TCU travels to Provo to take on BYU you will see two of the top non-BCS programs on the college football scene and it should be a fun matchup for fans to watch.
TCU has All-American DE Jerry Hughes has the skills to be an outstanding 3-4 outside linebacker and is a player who is relentless when pursuing the quarterback, evidenced by his eight sacks already this season. Hughes will match up against both BYU tackles – jr. Matt Alletto and soph. Matt Reynolds – to get pressure on QB Max Hall who is accurate and smart.
LB Daryl Washington is also a player getting looks from pro scouts and leads the Horned Frogs with 48 tackles. He can do a bit of everything because he's so athletic and smart. He isn't very big (6-2, 230) so he'll likely have to play an outside spot at the pro level but with the right team he could fit in as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Helping Hall out on offense for the Cougars will be tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George who are both excellent receivers and solid blockers. RB Harvey Unga is a bruising back who always seems to get positive yardage.
TCU QB Andy Dalton is having a great season and could be a signal-caller to watch as a senior in 2010 and he's got three outstanding junior targets to throw the ball to in Jeremy Kerley, Bart Johnson and Jimmy Young while RB Joseph Turner grinds things out on the ground.
LT Marshall Newhouse will have his hands full all day with outstanding BYU defensive ends Brett Denny and Jan Jorgensen who don't rack up a ton of sacks, but get consistent pressure on signal-callers.
Other games to catch if you can: No. 11 Oregon at Washington; South Florida at No. 20 Pittsburgh; Oklahoma at No. 25 Kansas; Boston College at Notre Dame; No. 6 Iowa at Michigan State; No. 1 Florida at Mississippi State; Oregon State at No. 7 USC; Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama; Iowa State at Nebraska; No. 3 Texas at Missouri.
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