Ah, Championship Weekend; the crown jewel of the college football regular season. It’s the weekend where we can say that certain teams are a guarantee to make the College Football Playoff and compete for a National Championship all year long, only for it to potential come crashing down on our faces — take 2015 Ohio State, for example.
When it’s Championship Week, the whole world watches. All eyes are on you. This is your biggest moment to date. Not only are you playing for all the glory of your school, you’re playing for your own draft stock.
With that said, knowing all of the players who are draft eligible for each team playing a Power 5 conference championship game this weekend can be a lot to take in — although, if you’re up for it, you can always have our prospect database pulled up during games.
But, for those of you who might not be as crazy as the rest of us, here’s a guide of one prospect from each team that has the most to gain this weekend by putting their best foot forward on a national stage.
Pac-12 Championship: Washington v. Utah
Washington: LB Ben Burr-Kirven
Championship Week kicks off on Friday night with the Pac-12 up for grabs between Washington and Utah.
On Washington’s side, they have quite a few prospects who could have NFL-impact with this game. Cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Myles Bryant, safeties JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp, running back Myles Gaskin. But the guy who has the most to gain, if you ask me, is linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven.
Burr-Kirven, 6-foot, 225 pounds, is a senior linebacker who has an insane 155 total tackles on the season. He also has two interceptions and four tackles for loss. Just how all over Burr-Kirven could be might hold NFL value to his impact on a defense.
Utah: CB Julian Blackmon
Anytime you have a team who out-scores Washington State you know they can put up some points. That’s the case with Washington and the Huskies offense.
That means that this game is a big test for Utes junior cornerback Julian Blackmon. Blackmon earned All-Pac-12 honors in his first year as a starter last season, and was the MVP of the Utes’ bowl game last year. He hasn’t had as strong of a year this year, but the year is not over yet. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound do-it-all corner could have saved his best of 2018 for last.
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma v. Texas
Oklahoma: WR Marquise Brown
In the noon game on Saturday we have the Red River Rematch between Texas and Oklahoma. Texas is playing for their first Big 12 title since 2009, and Oklahoma is playing for revenge and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
On Oklahoma’s side, the prospect with the most to gain is still their speedster wide receiver Marquise Brown. Brown is proving he’s more than just a deep threat who runs go routes, and another big game against Texas would throw the word “consistent” on his scouting sheet, which doesn’t always happen for big play guys.
Texas: S Kris Boyd
Texas’ hot-and-cold Boyd has the chance to really solidify himself as a good prospect in this draft class with a few big games down the stretch, starting with this week against Oklahoma.
Boyd is a safety who has corner traits in man coverage and can support the run with consistency, but when it comes to ball skills and takeaways, he has had his blunders in those areas. Oklahoma will attack you through the air early and often, and a strong showing by Boyd against one of the best offenses in the country will go a long way.
SEC Championship: Georgia v. Alabama
Alabama: S Deionte Thompson
Ah, the SEC Championship we should have got last year. The wait will be worth it, though.
In a rematch of last year’s national championship, I believe that Alabama safety Deionte Thompson has the most to gain. As a prospect with top-tier range and athleticism as a single-high safety, Thompson burst onto the scene late last year around this time and made a name for himself going into his junior season. He’s had a relatively quiet regular season for the Tide, but another burst of star power this year in the same manner he did last year could solidify him as a first round pick.
Georgia: CB Deandre Baker
Believe it or not, Alabama has one of the best offense in the country. No, no, the apocalypse hasn’t come yet, but they are second in the nation in scoring. They also might have the best wide receiver group in the country. That means it’s going to be a busy and important day for Georgia’s shutdown cornerback Deandre Baker.
I wasn’t as high as others were on Baker going into the year, but he’s had a great season. A strong showing against the ‘Bama boys would go a long way towards his draft stock, even if Georgia loses. Baker is a guy who likes to be physical with his assignments, and Alabama’s guys are speedy and quick by nature, so handling them would mean one less weakness Baker would be susceptible to.
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State v. Northwestern
Ohio State: QB Dwayne Haskins
The two biggest prospects in the Big Ten Championship game are obvious ones.
It’s the quarterbacks.
On Ohio State’s side, Dwayne Haskins certainly has the most to gain. As just a redshirt sophomore, Haskins has some round one buzz, but inconsistencies this year against inferior opponents have cooled his stock from what it once was in the early weeks of the season. It’s now or never time for Haskins to turn it on. He’ll be going against the best competition he’s faced all year, starting with Northwestern, and then perhaps into the College Football Playoff.
His role in how far the Buckeyes go this year will play a strong hand into what his stock will be when they’re done.
Northwestern: QB Clayton Thorson
For Northwestern, if they’re going to pull off the upset of the year for a conference title, they’ll need their senior quarterback to stay strong and have one of his best games ever.
Thorson, who has already accepted a Senior Bowl invitation, has the prototypical build of an NFL quarterback at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Thorson is teetering the line of what is acceptable for a quarterback when it comes to efficiently, though, as he has thrown 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
He’ll have to have his best game to win this one, and get his draft season off on the right foot.
ACC Championship: Clemson v. Pitt
Clemson: EDGE Clelin Ferrell
Clelin Ferrell might be having the quietest 10-sack season I’ve ever seen.
This game is big for a lot of players on Clemson’s defense, but Ferrell has Top 10 potential, and because of that, I think this game means the most to him. If Clemson wins, as expected, and Ferrell plays well, stringing together a few highly-disruptive games on the edge for Clemson could solidify his Top 10 or Top 15 status; being forgotten could drop him a bit.
Momentum at the end of the season is big for edge rushers. A few more sacks for Ferrell in these big games will go a long way.
Pitt: RB Qadree Ollison
You know, I know this is going to come as a shock, but there aren’t many top-tier prospects from Pitt this year, even though they are representing half the ACC in the conference championship game.
Their best prospect is likely the 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior running back Qadree Ollison. Ollison runs physical and powerful, but the problem is he might not get the chance to show it off much. If Clemson gets up to a big lead, Pitt might have to abandon their run game, especially their power run game.
If they don’t, however, we could see one of the strongest bull-like backs in college football do his thing. Again, in a running back class that is shaping up to be a specialization class, some teams could really take notice.