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)