No. 24 Oklahoma at Nebraska
The Cornhuskers still have a slim chance of winning the Big 12 North, but more than likely they will need to settle for second place as Kansas State is playing well. However, this week they will take on an old rival when the Sooners come to Lincoln to face the Huskers and the 85,000-strong “Sea of Red” that will be in the stands.
Both rosters are loaded with talented player who are likely NFL players over the next few years, but we’ll concentrate on the top few including they young man many are touting as the best available player in next year’s NFL Draft.
Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 302) – When you talk about the “unstoppable force vs. the immovable object” Suh is the former and then some. The talented defensive lineman has a non-stop motor and he has a great burst off the ball allowing him to really cause problems up front. If you try to just use a guard or center to block him, you might as well just have the quarterback fall to the ground because Suh makes mince meat of one-on-one blocking. Because his arms aren’t very long, he can have trouble protecting his legs from cut blocks, but he usually recognizes when they are coming and he’s able to use his outstanding athleticism and quickness to avoid it altogether. Suh is probably a better fit as a three-technique because of his ability to get penetration and his closing speed on the quarterback, but he could play some nose tackle as well and be very effective in that role as well. Look for Suh to hear his name called within the first few picks of next April’s Draft.
Nebraska RB Roy Helu (6-0, 215) – Helu, only a junior, is a physical runner with a good burst once he gets into the open field, but he doesn’t have great top end speed so he’s never going to run away from defensive backs on a regular basis. Helu just keeps the chains moving for the Husker offense that is very young. He’s got decent receiving skills and he’s a solid blocker in pass-protection, so there’s a very good chance he’ll be asked to stay in tight to help protect freshman QB Cody Green or junior QB Zac Lee so they don’t get killed by the Sooners’ outstanding pass rush. Helu isn’t ready for the NFL yet, but keep an eye on him as a player that could be a middle-round steal in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Nebraska DE Jared Crick (6-6, 285) – He’s only a sophomore, but there’s no reason not to believe that Crick won’t end up being a top draft choice when his time comes. Crick is an absolute beast from his starting spot, either at end or at tackle. While Suh commands the double-teams, Crick has taken advantage of the lack of attention and leads Nebraska in tackles (49) and sacks (8) and is tied with Suh for the most tackles-for-loss with 13. Crick is strong at the point and really closes on the ball carrier or the quarterback well. At times he’s too aggressive and runs himself out of plays, but there’s no denying he will be one of the top players available in either the 2011 or 2012 draft.
Other Cornhusker players to keep an eye on: WR Niles Paul (jr.); DE Barry Turner; DE Pierre Allen; C Jacob Hickman; LB Phillip Dillard; TE Mike McNeill (jr.).
Oklahoma OT Trent Williams (6-5, 318) – We’ve talked about Williams before and he’s a player who seems to be a bit overrated because of the position he plays. Many have him projected into the top 25, but his productivity hasn’t been consistent enough for me to rate him that high. When he’s focused, Williams has the size and athleticism to be one of the best tackles in the country, but he’s struggled holding off speed-rushers who he should easily handle. Many expect him to move to the right side of the line and that might ultimately be his best position where he can use his outstanding lower-body strength and athleticism to be really hinder the pass-rush from the bigger, more physical strongside defensive ends. Look for him to go early in next April’s draft, but it won’t be because of his productivity.
Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy (6-4, 289) – McCoy isn’t far behind Suh as far as talent is concerned, but he just doesn’t have the same motor that the senior Cornhusker DT has. Even so, McCoy is a load inside and causes a lot of problems for offensive coordinators. He will be a big determining factor in whether the Sooners will be able to contain Helu or not. He’s got a great first step and he anchors well, but he hasn’t been as consistent as I would expect someone with his immense talent to be. Look for McCoy to declare for the draft following this season and expect him to go in the top 15 on his talent alone.
Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal (6-4, 254) – Beal is talented as a pass-rusher, but where he’s really come on is as an every-down defensive end. He’s super-quick and really knows how to rush the quarterback, evidenced by his 8.5 sacks, but he’s gotten better at shedding blockers and has accounted for 42 tackles and 13.5 tackles-for-loss this season as well. Because of his size, Beal will need to find a 3-4 team that can utilize his pass-rushing skills and athleticism. However, he could add about 10 more pounds and be a solid weakside, situational pass-rusher at the next level as well. I do not expect Beal to leave a year early, so look for him to be a player to keep an eye on for the 2011 Draft.
Other Sooner players to keep an eye on: LB Ryan Reynolds; CB Brian Jackson; CB Dominique Franks (jr.); DE Auston English; WR Ryan Broyles (jr.); RB Chris Brown; FB Matt Clapp.
The two other great matchups to watch this weekend that will have BCS ramifications are Ohio State traveling to take on Penn State and LSU going on the road to take on second-ranked (or first depending on the poll) Alabama.
Ohio State always features a plethora of talented players who NFL teams are looking at, but this season they just seem to be off. Even so, they are still ranked 16th with a 7-2 record, but they have to continue to get better play from QB Terrelle Pryor, an outstanding athlete but a below-average passer at this point.
When Pryor drops back, his favorite target will be sophomore WR DeVier Posey, a physically imposing wideout who has hauled in 43 receptions for 595 yards and six touchdowns. Complementing Posey on the other side is Dane Sanzenbacher, a lightning-quick wideout who also has six touchdowns as well.
Up front the Buckeyes usually are loaded with NFL-quality, but this year they just haven’t performed like expected. Junior G Justin Boren, a Michigan transfer, is the best of the bunch right now, and he gets some help from T Jim Cordle, but at this point they’ve underachieved up front. He and his mates will have their hands full with DT Jared Odrick, DT Ollie Ogbu and outstanding sophomore DE Jack Crawford – who has 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss so far this season.
When Penn State has the ball, the Nittany Lions will throw a multi-pronged attack at the Buckeyes with QB Daryll Clark throwing the ball to senior TE Andrew Quarless, who has really come on of late, and sophomore wideouts Derek Moye and Chaz Powell.
RB Evan Royster grinds out his yards mainly between the tackles, but he’s got enough burst to get outside and shows good speed and vision once he gets into the open field. He’s well on his way – 859 yards and five touchdowns – to a second-straight 1,000 yard season.
LT Dennis Landolt and C Stefen Wisniewski have had outstanding seasons for Penn State this season and their battle up front with Ohio State’s deep defensive line, led by junior standouts Cameron Hayward and Thaddeus Gibson who have combined for seven sacks and 52 tackles from their defensive end positions. Helping to slow down the Nittany Lion attack will be linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle who need to stay at home and keep Clark and Royster from moving the chains.
Down in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide’s loaded defense, which ranks fourth in the country allowing only 241 yards per game, will take on LSU’s so-so offense in a battle for the top spot in the SEC West. Alabama DT Terrence Cody is outstanding at taking up space and double-teams, allowing players like junior LB Rolando McClain and S Mark Barron to fly around and make plays.
LSU QB Jordan Jefferson has to be on his game and will also need to use his legs to keep the aggressive Tide defense honest. Helping him out with be standout wide receivers Terrance Toliver and Brandon LaFell as well as running back Charles Scott.
Keep an eye on the battle between LSU’s outstanding offensive tackle tandem of LT Ciron Black and RT Joseph Barksdale and Alabama defensive ends Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deadrick as well as LB Eryk Anders who is tied for the lead in sacks on the Tide defense with four.
Offensively, Alabama has an explosive running game led by sophomore Mark Ingram who has 1,004 yards and eight touchdowns and is squarely in the Heisman race.
WR Julio Jones was outstanding last season as a freshman, but this season he hasn’t had the same impact, but that might be more of comment on the great Alabama running game as well as the play of QB Greg McElroy who is accurate, but rarely throws the ball down the field.
The battle between Jones and fellow sophomore Patrick Peterson, who is one of the most physical corners in the country, should be fun to watch.
LSU’s front four with defensive tackles Al Woods, Charles Alexander and Drake Nevis will be tough on the Alabama offensive line, so, as usual, the battle up front is likely to be a good barometer on how the game will go.
Lastly, when Alabama gets into punt formation or kicks off the ball, watch the magic that WR Trindon Holliday, who possesses world-class speed, is able to weave as he tries to get the Bayou Bengals good field position. If he gets into the open-field, watch out.
Other games to catch if you can: Syracuse at No. 13 Pittsburgh; Kansas at Kansas State; Memphis at Tennessee; Duke at North Carolina; No. 8 Oregon at Stanford; South Carolina at Arkansas; No. 19 Oklahoma State at Iowa; No. 12 USC vs. Arizona State; Fresno State at Idaho.