Game of the Week:
Friday 7:30pm EST on ESPNU
NC State vs Tennessee (Atlanta, Georgia)
Despite their history of producing solid NFL talent on both sides of the ball, Tennessee only had one player drafted last year, DE/DT Malik Jackson in the fifth round, compared to five drafted players on NC State’s roster from last season. Depending on certain juniors declaring, Tennessee almost certainly is destined to flip those numbers on the Wolfpack, especially on the offensive side of the football. This matchup will be the first of two games played in the Georgia dome during the first week of the season, and despite plenty of talent on both rosters, it may come down to the coaching of new Vols defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and his implemented 3-4 defense. Also of note, Tennessee’s second WR Da’Rick Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech on Sunday, meaning JUCO transfer WR Cordarrelle Patterson (#84/6’2/205) will likely step into Rogers’ vacancy.
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray/WR Justin Hunter vs NC State CB David Amerson
Both junior QB Tyler Bray (#8/6’5/215) and WR Justin Hunter (#11/6’4/200) suffered season ending injuries in 2011, and the Vols offense crumbled along with them. Bray will remind many of Ryan Mallett, but Bray does have better lower body mechanics when on point. The junior lacks mobility in the pocket and trusts in his arm talent too much when throwing into undesirable matchups, but that same trait bails him out in situations that others cannot convert. Hunter is an incredible talent, able to separate from tight corners because of quick breaks in routes and his leaping ability to high point throws in traffic. He will certainly face a tough matchup in CB David Amerson (#1/6’2/194), who finished last year with 13 interceptions and another five passes defended. Because of his size, plenty of Amerson’s interceptions came from jumping routes while in underneath coverage. He lacks exceptional change of direction quickness, so it is well worth noting how much separation Hunter will be able to generate. The duo make up one of the best matchups of the entire 2012 season.
Tennessee OL Dallas Thomas/Zach Fulton/Jawuan James vs NC State DL Thomas Teal/Brian Slay
Despite moving inside in order to accommodate sophomore LT Antonio Richardson’s (#74/6’6/332) ascension into the starting lineup, we still consider LG Dallas Thomas (#71/6’5/310) the top senior LT prospect due to his use of length, lower body balance, athleticism, and anchor. Along with juniors RT Ja’Wuan James (#70/6’6/324) and RG Zach Fulton (#72/6’5/325), Tennessee sports one of the top offensive lines on paper, although their cohesiveness is still to be determined. On the other side, the Wolfpack offer redshirt sophomore DT Thomas Teal (#69/6’2/315), who has shown plenty of powerful flashes and DE Brian Slay (#55/6’2/275), who is undersized but has enough speed to make plays on the edge. With a quarterback that lacks desirable movement skills, the Vols O-Line needs to be consistently dependable in keeping a clean pocket.
NC State QB Mike Glennon vs Tennessee NT Daniel McCullers and New 3-4 Defense
QB Mike Glennon (#8/6’5/232) has drawn a considerable amount of buzz this offseason, and it is understandable to see why: Big frame, experience from center, solid velocity on downfield throws. However, Glennon does make some very questionable decisions when forced to leave the pocket or in tight spaces and his dropping release affords defensive backs extra time to make a play on the ball. As previously stated, Tennessee will sport a new look on defense with massive JUCO transfer NT Daniel McCullers (#98/6’6/377) locking down the middle. The junior has earned teammates praise in recent weeks because of his brute strength and high motor, which is rare for a player of his size. Jack junior LB Jacques Smith (#55/6’2/244) will be featured heavily as a pass rusher.
NC State S Earl Wolff/Brandan Bishop vs Tennessee TE Mychal Rivera
The Wolfpack sport a quality tandem at S in seniors Earl Wolff (#27/6’0/208) and Brandan Bishop (#30/6’1/205), and with Rogers dismissed earlier this week, TE Mychal Rivera (#81/6’3/245) could be featured more prominently in the passing attack. Wolff closes hard downhill and delivers a nice pop, and Rivera has struggled in the past to hang on to contested catches when being hit immediately. Still the senior flashes intriguing qualities as a target between the numbers with athleticism to pick up yards after the catch.
Other NC State Prospects
T Rob Crisp (#78/6’7/312)
C Camden Wentz (#53/6’2/302)
G Zach Allen (#72/6’2/308)
Other Tennessee Prospects
LB Herman Lathers (#34/6’0/230)
CB Prentiss Wagner (#23/6’2/184)
RB Rajion Neal (#20/5’10/212)
Thursday 7:00pm EST on ESPN
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
What To Watch For:
Not only is this matchup the opening game of the season, but it also pits two SEC East teams against each other. Vanderbilt certainly wanted to forget their meeting last year since the Commodores only managed 77 yards of offense. QB Jordan Rodgers (#11/6’1/208) has solid movement skills in the pocket, stepping up or moving outside of the tackle box with adequate arm strength. His intelligence will certainly be an asset against a talented S like D.J. Swearinger (#36/5’11/210), hybrid S/LB DeVonte Holloman (#21/6’2/241) and a swarming defensive line, led by DE Devin Taylor (#98/6’7/267) and sophomore sensation Jadeveon Clowney (#7/6’6/256). Taylor has great length and flashes some nice pass rush techniques, including a slap and swim to release past but be sure to pay attention to his base and balance, because Taylor ends up on the ground too often. The Gamecocks are down their top veteran CB in Akeem Auguste (#3/5’9/188) while he recovers from a right thigh muscle, so Rodgers game-managing style could prove to be effective despite a lack of velocity. The Commodores will be helped by thickly built RB Zac Stacy (#2/5’9/210), who averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season.
Obviously everyone will be watching the return of one cut junior runner Marcus Lattimore (#21/6’0/220), who is expected to be 100 percent after suffering a torn ligament in his left knee last October. The Gamecocks offense crumbled after the junior’s injury, when QB Connor Shaw (#14/6’1/205) failed to stretch the defense with his limited arm. Vanderbilt’s two best defensive prospects are sturdy junior DE Walker May (#90/6’5/250) and atheltic OLB Archibald Jones (#15/6’4/235). Jones offers athleticism, but getting off second-level blocks will be his biggest challenge.
Other South Carolina Prospects
LB Shaq Wilson (#54/5’11/225)
TE Justice Cunningham (#87/6’4/264)
OL T.J. Johnson (#55/6’5/318)
Saturday Noon EST on Big Ten Network
Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State
What To Watch For:
You may raise an eyebrow at the decision to choose this game as one of the contests to watch this week, but of the games currently on the schedule it is Miami (Ohio) QB Zac Dysert’s (#4/6’3/228) stiffest test. I included Dysert in an article a few weeks ago after immediately loving what I saw in terms of his comfort from center, strength in the pocket, and willingness to fit throws into tight windows between the numbers. Dysert’s favorite target, junior WR Nick Harwell (#8/6’1/193) is back after a 97 catch, 1,425 receiving yard season. Senior CB Travis Howard (#7/6’0/196) will likely blanket Harwell and should see some help from aggressive sophomore CB Bradley Roby (#1/5’11/190) and coach-like junior S C.J. Barnett (#4/6’0/202). The Buckeyes’ best weapon against the pass will comes up front, specifically with the duo relentless DE John Simon (#54/6’2/260) and junior DT Johnathan Hankins (#52/6’3/320), who we consider the best talent in the country at his position. Simon is a tough prospect to project position wise, but his undying motor along with brute strength makes me believe he will make a strong impact. Perhaps the most overlooked player, somewhat deservedly, on Ohio State’s defense is LB Etienne Sabino (#6/6’3/238). There is no doubting Sabino’s athletic prowess, freely chasing down runs sideline to sideline, but he fails to quickly decipher the developing play in front of him and is susceptible to being caught out of position.
On offense, the Buckeyes are quite young, but pay attention to how former TE, now WR Jake Stoneburner (#11/6’5/245) transitions into his new Aaron Hernandez-type role. The group also has some talent on the offensive line in juniors T Jack Mewhort (#74/6’5/310) and G Andrew Norwell (6’5/305), but the Red Hawks senior DTs Austin Brown (#90/6’2/274) and Mike Johns (#94/6’3/271) work best when getting upfield. Potential top FB Zach Boren (#44/6’0/245) will lead the way for Ohio State’s running game.
Other Miami (Ohio) Prospects
C Brad Bednar (#72/6’4/293)
CB D.J. Brown (#6/6’1/181)
TE Steve Marck (#87/6’3/237)
Other Ohio State Prospects
T Reid Fragel (#77/6’6/298)
RB Jordan Hall (#7/5’9/198)
T Marcus Hall (#79/6’5/317)
S Orhian Johnson (#19/6’2/210)
DE Nathan Williams (#43/6’3/250)
DT Garrett Goebel (#53/6’3/285)
Saturday 7:00 pm EST on ESPN
Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Georgia)
What To Watch For:
The Tiger throwdown in the Georgia Dome, Clemson technically enters as the home team and deploys the top talent on either team. Despite missing sophomore stud WR Sammy Watkins (#2/6’1/200) to a suspension after he was arrested in the spring on a drug charge, they still have zone running specialist RB Andre Ellington (#23/5’9/192) and acrobatic junior WR DeAndre Hopkins (#6/6’1/200), who consistently makes difficult catches. We consider Ellington the second best senior back in the country because of his decisive one cut style and the ability to outrun tacklers’ angles if given a seam. Many tout junior QB Tajh Boyd (#10/6’1/225) because of his blend of athleticism and strong arm, but he struggles tremendously when under pressure and consistently falls away from his throws. That means junior DE Corey Lemonier (#55/6’3/242) could make a huge impact off the edge, especially after gaining 10 pounds during the offseason, while junior DT Jeffrey Whitaker (#54/6’3/302) could push the pocket from the interior. For legitimate reasons, Clemson fans have worried about their offensive line starters and depth. Their most consistent staple, C Dalton Freeman (#55/6’4/286), even pondered a move to T.
Auburn will put forth their own athletic QB in sophomore Kiehl Frazier (#10/6’1/220), who was intercepted on two of his 12 throws last year, but did pick up 327 yards on the ground. Their top two receiving targets, WR Emory Blake (#80/6’1/170) and TE Phil Lutzenkirchen (#43/6’4/250), are not made for speed, but the latter is a versatile option that creates separation with his routes. With only one upperclassmen starting on Auburn’s offensive line, G John Sullen (#71/6’4/336), Clemson power rusher DE Malliciah Goodman (#97/6’4/280) could teach the two freshman tackles a lesson if they fail to anchor. Auburn could slow him down with some play action by RB Onterio McCalebb (#23/5’10/176). who is gone if given some space along the sideline.
Other Auburn Prospects
DE Dee Ford (#95/6’2/245)
CB T’Sharvan Bell (#22/5’11/185)
CB Chris Davis (#11/5’10/185)
Other Clemson Products
LB Jonathan Willard (#46/6’1/223)
T Brandon Thomas (#63/6’3/300)
LB Quandon Christian (#34/6’2/224)
LB Corico Hawkins (#42/5’11/230)
WR Jaron Brown (#18/6’1/200)
S Jonathan Meeks (#5/6’1/210)
Saturday 8:00 pm EST on ABC
Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
What To Watch For:
In the house that Jerry built, the defending national champions face off against a viable offense in the Michigan Wolverines. The Crimson Tide lost plenty of talent on defense, but as always they seem to easily reload. Despite his smaller stature, DT Jesse Williams (#54/6’3/320) will take over at NT for the departed fire hydrant Josh Chapman. Williams offers a different skill set and should play in the backfield more often. On the outside in Bama’s three man front are two strong seniors in DE Damion Square (#92/6’3/282) and DE Quinton Dial (#90/6’5/304) who will face-off against prototypical T Taylor Lewan (#77/6’7/310), lean T Michael Schofield (#75/6’6/300) and athletic G Patrick Omameh (#65/6’4/305), who excels on the move. At the second level, LB Nico Johnson (#35/6’2/245) will be a force against the run and will rotate out with LB C.J. Mosley (#32/6’2/232) in passing situations. Johnson will have to contain ultra-mobile QB Denard Robinson (#16/5’11/197) and junior RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (#28/5’9/202), who is listed as the starter but is technically still under suspension. With WR Roy Roundtree (#21/6’0/180) possibly hurt, backup QB Devin Gardner (#12/6’4/203) has been taking snaps on the outside, and combined with Robinson’s erratic placement, junior CB Dee Milliner (#28/6’1/198) and S Robert Lester (#37/6’2/212) could really give the Wolverines’ passing attack plenty of trouble. Milliner does rely on his length and make up speed to get himself out of tough situations at times.
The Crimson Tide are much more traditional with their offensive approach, featuring junior QB AJ McCarron (#10/6’3/210) under center and a thunderous offensive line led by G Chance Warmack (#65/6’2/323). C Barrett Jones (#75/6’4/305) moves inside from left tackle to anchor the line, but we consider Warmack the better prospect. Even junior T D.J. Fluker (#76/6’6/335) gets more publicity and he certainly projects as a power blocker in the NFL. This is all leading the way for physical junior RB Eddie Lacy (#42/5’10/220), who shows an underrated burst after lower his shoulder on incoming tacklers. Rugged DE Craig Roh (#88/6’4/280) has shifted positions in each of his offseasons, and will line up on the strong side this year. Former walk-on S Jordan Kovacs (#32/5’11/202) has been a super reliable tackler and rarely misses his assignment in coverage. Both Wolverines will face large and in charge TE Michael Williams (#89/6’5/272) who is a solid blocker with reliable hands. A new wrinkle in Saban’s offense may be junior H-back Jalston Fowler (#45/6’0/242), who has received positive reports throughout camp.
Other Alabama Prospects
G Anthony Steen (#61/6’3/303)
WR Kevin Norwood (#83/6’1/195)
DE Ed Stinson (#49/6’4/282)
Other Michigan Prospects
CB J.T. Floyd (#8/5’11/184)
ILB Kenny Demens (#25/6’1/242)
C Rocko Khoury (#63/6’4/288)
DT William Campbell (#73/6’5/308)
Sunday 6:30 pm EST on Fox Sports South
SMU at Baylor
What To Watch For:
The QB Nick Florence (#11/6’0/205) era begins in Waco… Okay, maybe not. Still, Florence led Baylor to a win last season against Texas Tech by completing nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns while adding 14 yards and a score on the ground. His biggest opposition, literally, will be DE Margus Hunt (#92/6’7/280), a converted track and field stud. Hunt made a name for himself on special teams, blocking 14 career kicks, but failed to make an impact on defense until the school’s bowl game last year against Pittsburgh when he registered three sacks. Hopefully he will be matched up at some point with Baylor’s top O-Line prospect in junior C Ivory Wade (#78/6’3/310), who is taller than most centers but has the footwork to step in the departed Philip Blake’s place. Hunt will certainly square off against junior G Cyril Richardson (#68/6’5/335), who is strong at the point of attack but gets beat on counter moves. With Kendall Wright gone, the spotlight will be on WR Terrance Williams (#2/6’2/205), who is best in the slot and out running coverages vertically. SMU does sport some other defensive talent in LBs Ja’Gared Davis (#56/6’0/235) and Taylor Reed (#44/5’11/240).
June Jones deserves a lot of credit for offensive success wherever he goes, and SMU is no different. With plenty of four receiver sets, including WR Darius Johnson (#3/5’10/175) who excels after the catch, the Baylor can’t overlook RB Zach Line (#48/6’1/230) due to his toughness and ability to get what is blocked for him. Junior S/LB hybrid Ahmad Dixon (#6/6’0/210) may be the Bears best defender, but his understanding for the game needs to catch up to his natural ability.
Other Baylor Prospects
LB Terrance Lloyd (#11/6’3/235)
CB Joe Williams (#22/5’9/182)
TE Jordan Najvar (#18/6’5/260)
S Sam Holl (#25/6’1/200)
WR Lanear Sampson (#3/5’11/205)
S Mike Hicks (#17/5’10/200)
CB K.J. Morton (#8/5’9/178)
CB Chance Casey (#9/5’11/185)
Monday 8:00 pm EST on ESPN
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
What To Watch For:
An ACC Coastal division matchup, the Virginia Tech defense has had all summer to prepare for Paul Johnson’s triple option offense. The Jackets line is led by G Omoregie Uzzi (#77/6’3/302), but NFL scouts will obviously have concerns about his ability to pass protect. QB Tevin Washington (#13/6’0/205) will touch the ball on every snap, but the misdirection and pulling offensive linemen is what LBs Bruce Taylor (#51/6’2/244) and Jack Tyler (#58/6’1/236) will have to key off of. DT Antoine Hopkins (#56/6’1/313) will have to hold the point of attack, with DE James Gayle (#99/6’4/268) setting the edge. Gayle reportedly gained 17 pounds during the offseason, while still running in the mid 4.4s, but will need to stick to his responsibility. Although overshadowed by Gayle, DE J.R Collins (#42/6’1/261) is a prospect in his own right due to an aggressive, yet balanced, mentality.
The Hokie offense is obviously led by junior QB Logan Thomas (#3/6’6/260), who has all of the desired physical traits of a top quarterback prospect, specifically arm talent and mobility, but he needs to continue to build off of last year’s success. WR Marcus Davis (#7/6’4/232), a large but athletic downfield target lacks polished technique, which could cause difficulties when attempting to separate from physical CBs Rod Sweeting (#6/6’0/187) and junior Louis Young (#8/6’1/196). The Jackets are physical at the second level also with LB Jeremiah Attaochu (#45/6’3/240), and although he tends to overrun plays and make mistakes, he absolutely does it at full speed.
Other Georgia Tech Prospects
OLB Quayshawn Nealy (#54/6’1/232) rSoph
DE Izaan Cross (#94/6’4/300)
Other Virginia Tech Prospects
CB Kyle Fuller (#17/6’0/193) Junior
DT Derrick Hopkins (#97/6’0/306) Junior
T Nick Becton (#54/6’6/318)
WR D.J. Coles (#18/6’4/226)
S Detrick Bonner (#8/6’0/198) rSoph
S Antone Exum (#1/6’0/224) rJunior
WR Dyrell Roberts (#11/6’1/195)