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Saturday Spotlight: Week 11
Iowa DT Adrian Clayborn is one of the top interior defensive linemen in the country and he's only a junior so he could return next season to the Hawkeyes, but his stock has soared over the past month or so and I think he ends up declaring for the Draft.
His first step is very quick and he's relentless when getting after the quarterback. Because he's not huge, he can struggle at times when people run directly at him. However, he's improved against the run and now is at least average instead of a liability.
With Clayborn having such a spotlight on him, OT Bryan Bulaga doesn't get as much press but he's likely to be the higher selection when it's all said and done. Earlier this year, Bulaga missed three games with a thyroid condition, but that's been handled and the huge offensive tackle has proven his worth by stymieing some of the top pass-rushers in the Big 10 on a weekly basis. This week he takes on a trio of great pass-rushers in Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson who can all get after the quarterback for Ohio State.
Gibson reminds me a lot of current New Orleans Saints DE Will Smith when he was with the Buckeyes because he really plays well with leverage and his first step is very explosive. The matchup between Bulaga and Gibson is my favorite matchup this weekend.
Pitt and Notre Dame are teams headed in opposite directions. Both are headed by successful NFL coordinators, but the Panthers have seen a lot more success than the Irish have and head coach Charlie Weis could be on the way out after three years of underachieving.
Probably the top matchup in this game will be how Pitt QB Bill Stull handles the ball-hawking secondary of the Irish, especially FS Kyle McCarthy who has five picks so far this season.
Still isn't impressive physically, but what he hasn't done this season is turn the ball over, something he was notorious for until 2009. He's got an average arm, but he's worked hard on his accuracy has has put Panther wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in good positions to make plays once they get the ball in their hands.
McCarthy isn't a big time hitter, but he's good at reading a quarterback's eyes and he's athletic enough to get to the spot to make a play on the ball when it's in the air. Helping him out will be the foursome of Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil.
Also keep an eye on the battle between the Irish offensive line and the hoards of Panthers defensive linemen that will do their best to pressure QB Jimmy Clausen. Specifically, watch how much pressure Pitt DE Greg Romeus gets on Clausen when facing Notre Dame LT Paul Duncan. Romeus is long and has good edge speed while Duncan has struggled with athletic pass rushers like Romeus.
Stanford is surging and very confident after their big win last weekend over Oregon and USC, while still very talented, is not playing well. However, this game could determine who represents the Pac 10 in the Rose Bowl.
RB Toby Gerhart ranks second in the nation with 1,217 yards rushing and there isn't a more physical running back in the country. He rarely avoids contact and chooses to bowl over people on a down-by-down basis. When his 240-pound frame gets a head of steam, watch how defenders bounce off of him.
Doing their best to slow down the rolling thunder from Palo Alto will be the linebacking unit of the Trojans which is talented, but very young and not playing as well as many had anticipated.
Chris Galippo ranks second on the Trojans with 53 tackles and he makes all of the defensive calls and adjustments. Helping him out will be Mike Morgan and freshman Malcolm Smith. Also adding his skills to the mix will be first-round S Taylor Mays who is a very physical tackler. When Mays and Gerhart meet in the hole, that's exactly what old-time football purists want to see.
Another game with a good matchup is Tennessee at Ole Miss where Rebel QB Jevan Snead, who I had pegged as a likely first-rounder at the beginning of the season, as he does what he can to avoid giving the ball up to projected top 10 selection Eric Berry who plays safety for the Volunteers.
RB/WR Dexter McCluster is a big-play waiting to happen, but his size will be a detriment to his overall selection spot next April. He's explosive and a player who can take it the distance once he gets just a little bit of space.
When Miami travles to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina, watch how sophomore Hurricanes QB Jacory Harris handles the inside pressure provided by UNC DT Marvin Austin. The talented Austin is projected by many to be a top selection in next year's Draft and he's having an outstanding season for the Tar Heels. He's very strong in his lower-body and an underrated pass-rusher as well.
Also keep an eye on how Miami LT Jason Fox, an early-round possibility in April, handles sophomore DE Robert Quinn's outside pressure. If Fox can keep Quinn at bay, it could be a good day for the Hurricane offense. Fox is technically sound and a good athlete. Quinn is explosive and he's got long arms. That matchup should be fun to watch.
Lastly, here are some other top matchups to watch...
Florida QB Tim Tebow vs. South Carolina LB Eric Norwood and DE Clifton Geathers
South Florida DE George Selvie vs. Rutgers LT Anthony Davis
Washington QB Jake Locker vs. the Oregon State secondary
Syracuse DT Arthur Jones vs. the interior of the Louisville offensive line
Michigan DE Brandon Graham vs. Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi
Oklahoma OT Russell Okung vs. Texas Tech DE Brandon Sharpe
Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon vs. Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas
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