No. 1 Alabama is facing No. 3 LSU, in a night game, at Death Valley, and nothing else matters.
(But I’m still gonna write about other games; don’t worry.)
Three games that are pretty interesting on Thursday night: Northern Illinois v. Akron at 7:00 PM EST; Ohio at Western Michigan at the game time; Temple against #12 UCF at 7:30. #MACtion!
Northern Illinois is looking to stay undefeated in the MAC West, and they have last year’s MAC East champion in Akron on the road. NIU looked a strong team coming into the season, but each of their four wins has come by a possession or less. (It’s for that reason that I’m thinking about Akron +6.) I just wrote up Max Scharping, the left tackle for the Huskies — he’s not as well known nationally as teammate Sutton Smith, but he has NFL size, and may be drafted higher.
Ohio’s only lost in the West was to Northern Illinois (24-21). They come into the Western Michigan hot, having scored 101 points and allowed 28 across their last two contests (Ball State and Bowling Green). QB Nathan Rourke is the player I’m watching — he caught my eye as a true sophomore with true dual-threat ability, and has improved statistically as a passer this season, with an increased completion percentage and yards per attempt. Western Michigan doesn’t have much in terms of pro players of interest, but they do have the offense to make this a barnburner. Tune in!
And last but not least, Temple — who knocked of an undefeated Cincinnati team already this season — faces the other undefeated team in their division, though this one has a bit more daunting a pedigree. Playing in Central Florida is a tough ask, but Temple brings S&P’s 15th-ranked defense against UCF’s 14th-ranked offense in what will be another key resume game for the ever-hopeful Knights. UCF’s QB McKenzie Milton may be out again for this one, but the biggest name prospect is undoubtedly Temple CB Rock Ya-Sin, an ex-wrestler and late football player who won’t stop turning in dominant performances.
a coward looking to do something else with your Friday night other than college football, catch a bit of Pitt v. No. 25 Virginia as you’re getting ready for your night on the town. It’s been well-established to this point that The Draft Network is fans of Virginia CB Bryce Hall, but don’t sleep on his teammate, SAF Juan Thornhill — Thornhill has corner experience, so his movement skills and versatility are both nice for the position. Ball skills look strong, too.
Later at night, Colorado looks to salvage a promising season. One game away from a bowl berth, they’ve dropped three straight, including a deflating overtime loss to an inferior Oregon State team. They’re against the up-and-down Arizona Wildcats in Tuscon, and they’ll be tasked with taking the wind out of RB J.J. Taylor’s sails. Taylor has posted at least 150 yards in his last two games and currently sits fourth in the nation in rushing yards.
I’m also excited to watch Colorado OLB Drew Lewis deal with the option looks he’ll get from the Wildcats’ backfield: Lewis is a great athlete who needs to play with discipline and improve his tackling form. QB Khalil Tate can’t get the edge around him on Friday Night.
The most interesting contest here is likely Texas A&M v. Auburn, which isn’t super thrilling. I’m quite done talking about Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham as a pro prospect — I don’t think he’s very good — but I will talk about the quarterback of that defense, LB Deshaun Davis. Davis is a striker with good downhill explosiveness to get into gaps, and he’s willing to engage with much bigger offensive linemen to fit against the run and open up his teammates.
Davis’ athleticism will keep him from reaching top flight prospect status, which is a shame — but to what degree is he limited? I’m interested to watch him against the Aggies RB Trayveon Williams, who has risen in my eyes over the 2018 season. Williams is a hard-nosed, bellcow runner who will not shy from meeting Davis in the hole with power. My biggest question with Trayveon Williams, however, regards his elusive traits: how many players can he make miss? He should have a quickness advantage over Davis, and I’d like to see him use it with the ball in his hands.
Also of note: Williams is very active running routes out of the backfield, and Davis will likely have to deal with him in short zones. Davis’ weaknesses in coverage, especially down the field, are well-documented. Can Williams get downfield on him? If so, he’ll be in for a big day production-wise.
And hey — if he’s not getting Williams in pass coverage, Davis might get TE Jace Sternberger instead. No reps off, I suppose.
- Nebraska’s draft-eligible wideouts (Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman) square off against a tough Ohio State secondary led by corner Kendall Sheffield and safety Jordan Fuller. Spielman has particularly impressed this season; that’s where my eyes go first
- If it counts as an early game (2:00 PM EST) San Jose State’s TE Josh Oliver — off to a banging start this season — will see Wyoming SAF Andrew Wingard in coverage a fair bit. I don’t see much of a defensive future for Wingard — I think he’s a special teamer — but he’s still one of the stiffer cover men Oliver will see this season.
- Don’t watch Clemson v. Louisville.
I knew my feature match-up for the afternoon slate the moment I saw it: all eyes will be on No. 9 Kentucky and No. 6 Georgia, and particularly, I want to see Georgia WR Riley Ridley go up against Kentucky corner Derrick Baity.
I’ve written on Baity in this column before — he’s just the sort of corner I always end up falling for. Long, fluid, technically sound in press alignments. Baity is also solid in off-coverage at overlapping zones and reading route combinations, which you can’t help but love in a corner: makes him a playmaker.
Baity’s ball skills are lacking a bit, especially in contested situations, which is disappointing. If he doesn’t land hands, he will lose to explosiveness as well. That’s a recipe to get knocked around by Riley Ridley, who excels in contested catch situations and has nice explosiveness off the line.
Riley Ridley, man — can’t help but wonder if he saw similar to volume to some other top receivers in this class, would he have more hype? He continues to turn out good film every time I get eyes on him, and I think his testing will be competitive with that of the top receivers in this class. With the injury to DK Metcalf, this class is thirsting for that dominant X receiver, and I think that Ridley has as good an angle on that role as anyone else.
But will Ridley get that volume? Probably not. Even when Georgia finally turned to their pass-catchers — like Ridley, speedster Mecole Hardman, and tight end Isaac Nauta — against the Gators, their offense hummed. But the ever-precious “offensive identity” of a team may dictate they continue to run the football — which could turn this Kentucky game into a low-scoring slugfest. The Wildcats would like that. If Georgia plays this wisely, they’ll turn to the air.
- Huge game for WVU QB Will Grier, who endured some rocky weeks before eviscerating Baylor last Thursday night. The Texas defense, despite surrendering points in a terrible loss to Oklahoma State last week, remains the standard in Big 12 play. They run similar concepts to that of Iowa State — and the Cyclones clamped Grier for his worst passing output of the past two seasons. WVU has new life for a Big 12 title; this game is critical.
- Utah corner Julian Blackmon is still a bit up-and-down for my liking, but you can’t deny that he’s grown since 2017 and has awesome traits for a long, physical press corner on the boundary. Blackmon’s disciplined will be tested against Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry, who has the size to bully him down the field.
- Whatever happened to TCU EDGE Ben Banogu? He had some run coming into the season, but he’s been so inconsistent off the edge. What are his quality wins? I know he’s a great athlete, but I think Kansas State’s offensive tackles — Scott Frantz and Dalton Risner — are gonna snuff him.
Oh, what to pick, what to pick in this Alabama v. LSU clash. I don’t want to pick it as my premier battle, because Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III aren’t yet eligible, but LSU CB Greedy Williams could cement his status as a top prospect in this class if he takes even the smallest bite out of Bama’s passing attack.
I’ll land on Garrett Brumfield, the LSU left guard who will be a go against the Tide. (He’s been nursing a knee injury.) Brumfield’s tape was a pleasant surprise to me: he’s an active and aggressive pass protector with excellent movement skills at an NFL size. I think his hand placement needs to get a bit cleaner, both in run blocking and pass protecting, but generally, his technique is fine for a college player. He looks like an NFL starter to me.
Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams looks like an NFL Pro Bowler to me. He’ll challenge Brumfield a way Brumfield has yet to be challenged — and that’s not to take anything away from Jabari Zuniga or Gerald Willis, who both gave Brumfield a good run (though I haven’t yet seen that Florida/LSU game). Williams is an elite college football player, and he’ll threaten Brumfield’s initial set with excellent explosiveness, and test Brumfield’s recovery ability when he penetrates.
Williams is stronger and quicker than Brumfield, so this will be a battle of technique. Brumfield needs to be perfect with his base, balance, and hand placement to ride Williams beyond the QB’s set point, while Williams must activate his hands when attacking to dominate Brumfield at the line. I’m thrilled for this trench match-up.
- Duke v. Miami is such a weird game for me. I have no idea what to expect from either team. Here’s what I know: I kinda like Miami RB Travis Homer, and I definitely like Duke LB Joe Giles-Harris. Homer’s gotta get rumblin’ for the Miami offense to get back on track.
- I think both Stanford and Washington planned for this game to matter a bit more when they circled it in the preseason. Fortunately for us, this is still a clash of the titans: The best corner in the Pac-12 — Byron Murphy III — goes against the best receiver in the Pac-12 in JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The best TE in the Pac-12 — Kaden Smith — goes against the best safety in the Pac-12 in Taylor Rapp.
- Real heroes will stay up and watch the two best QBs in the Mountain West kick -off at 11:59 Eastern. Hawai’i’s Cole McDonald and Utah State’s Julian Love. Admit it: you’re intrigued.