Oregon TE Ed Dickson (Getty)
In a battle of top 10 teams, the Oregon Ducks will do their best to loosen USC’s seven-year stranglehold on the Pac 10 title. While this game will be loaded with talented players who have NFL futures, there are several more contests that are intriguing this week as well…
No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon
For a while, Autzen Stadium has been seen as one of the toughest venues to win a road game in. The last time SC visited, they came away 24-17 losers in their only loss of 2007 season and this year, while they aren’t undefeated coming in, they face off against the Ducks for the lead in race for the top spot in the Pac 10.
Here’s a look at some of the top NFL prospects that will be on the field this weekend…
Oregon TE Ed Dickson (6-4, 245) – Dickson is the only senior starter on the Ducks offense and while he got off to a slow start this season, he’s exploded in some of Oregon’s biggest games including an 11-catch, 148-yard, three-touchdown effort in a blowout win over California. Dickson has soft hands and he’s an underrated blocker, but he isn’t build for the traditional tight end role. The talented senior will wow NFL scouts with his athleticism and route-running so he’ll come off the board early and if he goes to a team like Indianapolis that likes to split their tight ends out wide, he could have a lot of success early in his pro career.
Oregon DE Will Tukuafu (6-3.5, 270) – The talented defensive end isn’t a dynamic pass-rusher, getting by on sheer effort more than athleticism, but he’s got enough talent to be a threat off the edge in the right pro scheme. Tukuafu definitely holds the point of attack well with his outstanding lower-body strength, but he doesn’t disengage well and he doesn’t have long arms so he can be engulfed by tackles if he allows them to get into his body. Tukuafu will need to have impressive pre-Draft workouts in order to make himself a draftable player, but he could sign as an undrafted free agent and really be a valuable practice player who could find a spot on the right NFL team.
Oregon DE Kenny Rowe (6-3, 230) – The junior is having an outstanding season, posting seven sacks from his defensive end position. However, his size will dictate a move to linebacker at the next level so that will have a effect on where he ends up going in the draft. On sheer athleticism, Rowe is a special player who has a knack for getting to the quarterback, but he’s never really played in reverse and looks lost in space when asked to drop into coverage. With his outstanding production, NFL scouts already have their eyes on the talented defender so he’s stock has been steadily on the rise.
Other Ducks players to keep an eye on: QB Jeremiah Masoli (jr.); WR Drew Davis (jr.); DT Blake Ferras; S T.J. Ward; CB Talmadge Jackson (jr.).
USC S Taylor Mays (6-4, 235) – When he returned for his senior season with the Trojans, many were surprised since he was guaranteed to be a top 10 selection this past April. The talented safety isn’t great in coverage, but he’s an intimidating force in the deep third and he loves to lay anyone out who comes into his zone. Mays will likely play close to the line to keep an eye on Masoli who is magical as a runner and he’ll also be matched up on Dickson at times as well. While he’s struggled at times with the injury bug this season, Mays continues to be a fixture at the top of most Draft boards and he could easily end up in the top five depending how things fall next spring.
USC LT Charles Brown (6-5, 290) – He’s one of the top pure left tackles in the country and his battle this week with Rowe will be a good one. Brown’s feet and athleticism are impressive on film, but he isn’t a very physical player so he’s only average as a run-blocker. Brown continues to sit near the top of my left tackle board, but he’s more of a late first round guy than someone who should go in the top 15. Teams will be impressed with his agility and quickness and might overrate him, but wherever he ends up he shouldn’t disappoint.
USC DE Everson Griffen (6-4, 280) – The first thing you notice about Griffen is his impressive size and athleticism. At 6-4, 265 pounds as a senior in high school, I personally witnessed him run a 4.46 wind-aided forty time at our So Cal Combine and since then he’s done nothing but impress me with his abilities as a football player. At times Griffen can play too high and he has lapses in concentration that can be aggravating at times, but he’s really improved in that area this year showing the consistency you expect in a player with his talent. The junior isn’t likely to leave following this season, but if he does he could end up being a first rounder depending on how he finishes the season.
Other Trojans players to keep an eye on: CB Kevin Thomas; CB Josh Pinkard; G Jeff Byers; DT Jurrell Casey (so.); LB Chris Galippo (so.); WR Damien Williams (jr.); LB Malcolm Smith (jr.); LB Mike Morgan (jr.).
One of the top border wars happens this weekend when Florida and Georgia face off in Jacksonville in what was once known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party".
Florida has QB Tim Tebow and host of outstanding skill players to get the ball to, but their defense is the real story, allowing only 10 points per game and 229.6 yards per game.
Players like junior DE Carlo Dunlap and senior DE Jermaine Cunningham and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe will do their best to get pressure on Georgia QB Joe Cox while containing a struggling Bulldogs running game.
A matchup to watch in this game is the one that will take place outside as Georgia’s outstanding sophomore WR A.J. Green is mirrored around the field by Florida junior CB Joe Haden, two future NFL stars.
In order for Georgia to even have a chance to win this game, they have to get pressure on Tebow with their three senior defensive tackles – Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kad Weston – but doing their best to keep them at bay will be Michael and Maurkice Pouncey, twins who will be future NFL linemen.
The other big matchup with week features Texas traveling to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State.
This matchup would have been great had WR Dez Bryant been able to play, but the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, decided to give the talented wideout a suspension for the remainder of the year for his association with Deion Sanders.
Still, the Cowboys have loads of talent on offense and their trigger-man, QB Zac Robinson, is the same one that almost led Oklahoma State to a win over Texas on the road, falling just short in a 28-24 thriller.
Because Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter is likely to only see limited action this week due to a sprained ankle, senior RB Keith Toston has been able to showcase his skills rushing for over 300 yards the past three games in Hunter’s absence.
Protecting Robinson’s blindside is highly-regarded left tackle Russell Okung, a 6-5, 302 pound athlete who can handle both speed and bull-rushers. Okung is a top 10 talent and should go sometime early in the first round next April.
Texas DE Sergio Kindle is about as talented a player as there is in the country, but he just hasn’t maximized his productivity despite his upside. This weekend he will continually face off against Okung in what should be a great matchup of first round talent.
Colt McCoy continues to show why he’s so highly regarded as a pro prospect with his outstanding accuracy and underrated athleticism. He’s smart and has really matured as a passer, completing 71.7% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions so far this season.
When he drops back he has WR Jordan Shipley, his roommate, to throw the ball to and the pair have hooked up 58 times for 713 yards and five touchdowns this season already. Doing his best to stop Shipley from tearing up the Cowboys’ secondary will be CB Perrish Cox, who is a top corner prospect and could hear his name called in the second round as long as he keeps progressing.
Underrated OSU linebackers Andre Sexton, Donald Booker and Patrick Lavine are all playmakers and will be counted on to slow the explosive Longhorn offensive attack.
Other games to catch if you can: No. 22 South Carolina at Tennessee; No. 24 California at Arizona State; No. 25 Mississippi at Auburn; Southern Miss at No. 18 Houston; No. 8 Cincinnati at Syracuse; Indiana at No. 4 Iowa; Kansas at Texas Tech; UCLA at Oregon State.