Saturday 3:30 pm EST on NBC
Stanford vs Notre Dame
In previous years, Notre Dame has failed to live up to program expectations, but after years of somewhat stagnant improvement, head coach Brian Kelly has assembled an excellent cast of talent with a scheme to fit. The Irish are far more athletic this season than they have been in the past, but Stanford is neck and neck with them in terms of NFL caliber talent. After beating USC with an excellently executed gameplan, the Cardinal dropped an egg the following week against Washington. As a team, are the Irish consistent enough to remain undefeated? It may come down to playing mistake free football, especially against Stanford’s gap sound, responsible gameplan.
Notre Dame's running game vs Stanford's front seven
After an early season two game suspension, junior RB Cierre Wood (#20/6’0/215) has come on strong the past few weeks and really adds something different to the Irish running attack due to his explosive cutting between the tackle or in the open field. He has pushed RB/WR Theo Riddick (#6/5’11/200) out of the top running back duties and back to his “chess piece” role, as in a slot receiver or ball carrier. Stanford ILB Shayne Skov (#11/6’3/244) has missed time in his collegiate career due to injuries and off field issues, but when on the field he is a solid contributor in the middle, especially when junior NT Terrence Stephens (#99/6’2/295) gives him space to run. If the USC game is any indication, C Braxston Cave (#52/6’3/305) is in for a big day. In that game, the Cardinal continuously blitzed in the A gaps with loops, stunts, twists, etc. and play after play were able to generate pressure. Sophomore QB Everett Golson is far more mobile, but a gap/lane sound defense is tough to escape. There has been some discussion that OLB Chase Thomas (#44/6’4/240) is having a down year. Others say he is on the rise. I was very high on Thomas prior to his season due to his ability to stack and shed on the edge, his versatility and finally relentless motor. But, don’t overlook his two bigger teammates in DE/OLB Trent Murphy (#93/6’6/261) and junior DE Ben Gardner (#49/6’4/252). All three can bring heat and the confusing blitzing can frequently free a rusher. All three will be putting pressure on T Zack Martin (#70/6’4/304) and G Mike Golic (#57/6’3/295). TE Tyler Eifert (#80/6’5/252) is a willing blocking, although he struggles in the area to sustain. He is best in the slot or in the redzone as a go-up-and-get-it receiver.
Stanford TEs Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz vs Notre Dame's coverage
Even with the loss of Coby Fleener to the NFL, Stanford continues to have two of the best tight ends in all of college football. The duo is a matchup nightmare for any opposing offense, and after junior TE Zach Ertz (#86/6’6/250) carried the passing offense for a few weeks, junior TE Levine Toilolo (#11/6’7/263) had a monstrous game last week. The difficulty covering the two is that each can stay on the field in every personnel package, but will keep defenses guessing of the formation until they are aligned. Then, depending on the alignment, the opposition may not have the correct set of personnel on the field to cover correctly. Both can line up inline and burn linebackers vertically, both can line up out wide and use their size as a mismatch on defensive backs, but in either case junior QB Josh Nunes (#6/6’4/216) has to put the ball in proper placement. I am not sure how the Irish will matchup, but some combination of S Zeke Motta (#17/6’2/215) and ILB Manti Te’o (#5/6’2/255) will be used. Motta is a reliable, up in the box type safety while Te’o is excellent straight-line but may struggle flipping his hips and trailing downfield or on crossing routes sideline to sideline. The more athletic LB Prince Shembo (#55/6’2/250) will likely be involved as well.
Stanford's running game vs Notre Dame’s defensive front
Prior to the season, I thought RB Stepfan Taylor (#33/5’11/210) was a third day prospect that did not offer a standout skill in any specific area. This year, he has improved his cutting ability behind blockers and has made more tacklers miss at the second level. Some are even saying a second day pick is likely. C Sam Schwarzstein (#64/6’3/292) and G Kevin Danser (#76/6’6/298) have quite the load to handle in redshirt sophomore DT Louis Nix (#9/6’3/326), who is one of the top young defensive linemen in all of college football. DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (#89/6’4/306) is not talked about as much as he should be, and projects as a five technique edge player at the next level. Above all, both will attempt to give ILB Manti Te’o (#5/6’2/255) roaming room at the second level. Te’o is an absolute hammer when filling lanes between the tackles but struggled with cut blocks against Navy and has occasionally been beaten to the edge point by runners. Again, watch out for junior TE Levine Toilolo (#11/6’7/263) as a blocker. He can really get movement and does well to sustain.
Junior CB Terrence Brown (#6/6’1/178)
FB Ryan Hewitt (#85/6’3/238) junior
Saturday Noon EST on ESPN
Iowa vs Michigan State
Evaluators have loved Iowa for quite some time due to the physical, hard working type of prospects they produce and are seemingly ready to contribute immediately. This year, however, the team has lost to Iowa State and Central Michigan while looking fairly average in other contests. Two prospects stand out on the Hawkeyes offense. First, C James Ferentz (#53/6’2/285), the coach’s son, has a future in a zone blocking scheme at the next level. He may be undersized, but the senior hits his assignment on every snap, moves very well, and his anchor will only get better with more size. I believe he is a better prospect than former teammate Adam Gettis, who went in the fifth-round. He’ll have a nice battle with steady DT Anthony Rashad White (#98/6’2/330) and massive junior DT Micajah Reynolds (#60/6’5/330), but will the two interior DL have the foot speed and stamina to keep up with slanting OL? Next, junior TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (#86/6’7/265) is one of the top young tight ends in college football but receives far too few targets, not to mention his imrpoved blocking. Spartans junior LB Denicos Allen (#28/5’11/232) will have a height disadvantage but can keep up with speed. Former walk-on FB turned sophomore RB Mark Weisman has been a revelation at the position, but junior ILB Max Bullough (#40/6’3/252) is a reliable read and react tackler. Junior DE William Gholston (#2/6’6/278) will hold down his usual fort on the edge but has been rumored to be moving inside to NT in nickel situations. If that is the case, G Matt Tobin (#60/6’6/290) has the length to manage but his anchor may give out. QB James Vandenberg (#16/6’3/210) will attempt to hook up with WR Keenan Davis (#6/6’3/215) downfield, but CB Johnny Adams (#5/5’11/178) and junior CB Darqueze Dennard (#31/5’11/190) will manage. Many have said Adams is “slipping” but we feel he works best in the slot due to his over-aggressive style, but that mindset gets him in trouble downfield at the catch point.
Without junior TE Dion Sims (#80/6’5/285), who is out with an injured left ankle, the Spartans offense could sputter. Sims didn’t receive that many targets, especially in the first half, but his blocking prowess will be sorely missed. Junior RB Le’Veon Bell (#24/6’2/244) takes a couple steps to get going, but once at full stride he is very difficult to bring down and is more agile than most larger backs. Adding to the agility are soft hands, so the Spartans would be wise to use him as a receiver. DT Steve Bigach (#54/6’3/285) will look to slow Bell down at the line of scrimmage while junior ILB James Morris (#44/6’2/230) and junior OLB Christian Kirksey (#20/6’2/220) run and chase. CB Micah Hyde (#18/6’1/190) was arrested during the off-week, but he has later round NFL talent and may project as a safety prospect.
S Tanner Miller (#5/6’2/200) junior
Saturday Noon EST on ABC
Oklahoma vs Texas
This Red River rivalry may not have the national implications as other seasons, but there are plenty of prospects to keep an eye on. Sooners QB Landry Jones (#12/6’4/230) adds a weapon this week in Fresno State transfer junior WR Jalen Saunders (#14/5’9/160) after he was ruled eligible. Saunders led his team in receiving last season and offers some similarities to WVU’s Tavon Austin, who did well against the Longhorns last week. That was until Texas put S Kenny Vaccaro (#4/6’1/215) on the slot target to rough him up, so if Saunders gets going, expect more of the same from Vaccaro. The Sooners sport other solid targets, however, in junior WR Kenny Stills (#4/6’1/190) and Penn State transfer WR Justin Brown (#19/6’2/209) who will face junior CB Carrington Byndom (#23/6’0/180) and junior S Adrian Phillips (#17/5’11/199). The passing game all starts with Jones, however, and his inability to perform against pressure. All the arm talent in the world is fairly useless unless he can win in confined space. T Lane Johnson (#69/6’6/295) and the rest of the banged up Oklahoma offensive line have a tough assignment against power rusher DE Alex Okafor (#80/6’4/260) and speedy edge threat junior DE Jackson Jeffcoat (#44/6’4/250). Okafor is a stud and forced the top pocket manipulator in the NCAA last week off his game. Don’t look past interior guys like junior DT Chris Whaley (#96/6’3/279) and junior DT Brandon Moore (#97/6’5/335), which is where Landry struggles most. RB Dominique Whaley (#8/5’10/195) and junior RB Brennan Clay (#24/5’11/201) get most of the backfield work, behind true blocking junior FB Trey Millard (#33/6’2/250), but that leaves out high yards per touch junior RB Roy Finch (#22/5’7/165), which is a shame. Junior OLB Jordan Hicks (#3/6’2/235) and juniors LB Demarco Cobbs (#7/6’2/220) have not played up to top billing this season, so it could be a big day on the ground.
Offensively, the Longhorns don’t have a ton of talent but continue to put up points on the board. WR Marquise Goodwin (#84/5’9/178) and junior WR Mike Davis (#1/6’2/188) can really get downfield. At that level, CB Demontre Hurst (#6/5’10/180) and junior S Tony Jefferson (#1/5’10/200) are the Sooners best talent in the deep half. With a multitude of players in the front four, Oklahoma will rotate DE RJ Washington (#11/6’3/250), DT Casey Walker (#53/6’2/310), DT JaMarkus McFarland (#97/6’2/295), and converted defensive end, now DT David King (#90/6’5/286) all game.They will matchup against Junior RG Mason Walters (#72/6’6/315), junior LG Trey Hopkins (#75/6’4/298), and junior LT Donald Hawkins (#51/6’5/310).
junior LB Tom Wort (#21/6’0/230)
LB Joseph Ibiloye (#5/6’3/220)
LB Corey Nelson (#7/6’1/220) junior
CB Aaron Colvin (#14/6’0/175) junior
CB Gabe Lynn (#9/6’0/195) junior
S Javon Harris (#30/5’11/210)
P Tress Way (#36/6’1/220)
Saturday 3:30 pm EST on ABC
Oregon State vs BYU
This may be a puzzling inclusion to some, but these two programs will produce two talents this season that have a solid shot to be drafted in the top-64. The Beavers offense will have a new look this week after redshirt sophomore QB Sean Mannion (#4/6’4/220) was ruled out following meniscus surgery. He, in combination with WR Markus Wheaton (#2/6’0/178), were on quite a roll in the early parts of the season. Athletic stud DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah (#47/6’6/270) will be happy to keep Mannion’s replacement down. Ansah, a native of Ghana and former track athlete, has only played football for two seasons (in his third), and in his first year as a starter the freakishly framed prospect has been on a rampage. Sure, his technique is quite rough around the edges, but Ansah improves his game every week. His closing burst, size, and length are three things you cannot teach. The Cougars utilize him at OLB, DE, and inside, so be on the lookout. The sky is the limit. Not only will T Colin Kelly (#64/6’4/295), junior T Michael Philipp (#77/6’3/308), and junior G Josh Andrews (#69/6’2/295) have to keep tabs on Ansah, junior OLB Kyle Van Noy (#3/6’3/235) is a relentless rusher in his own right. The Beavers deploy a young, but talented group at running back, who will meet ILB Uona Kaveinga (#4/5’11/233) and ILB Brandon Ogletree (#44/5’11/228) at the second level.
Offensively, The Cougars are also in some turmoil at the QB position, but junior WR Cody Hoffman (#4/6’4/215) is a dependable downfield receiver with length. His matchup with CB Jordan Poyer (#14/5’11/190) is deifnitely one to watch. Poyer is sound in multiple types of coverage, but his off field issues may ding him a bit. If that checks out, Poyer is poised to be a top five senior corner, at least.
LB Feti Taumoepeau (#41/6’1/243)
TE Colby Prince (#82/6’4/260)
junior CB Rashaad Reynolds (#16/5’10/185)
CB Preston Hadley(#7/6’0/200)
junior TE Kaneakua Friel (#82/6’5/250)
T Braden Brown (#75/6’6/300)
junior S Daniel Sorensen (#9/6’2/215)
G Braden Hansen (#76/6’6/307)
Saturday 8:00 pm EST on ABC
South Carolina vs LSU
This is one hell of a game if you like defensive ends. Starting with LSU’s defense, they are led by junior DEs Sam Montgomery (#99/6’5/260) and junior Barkevious Mingo (#49/6’4/240) on the edge. We consider Mingo the better prospect due to his flexibility around the edge and proneness to shed in the backfield. Montgomery is a great prospect in his own right, and the added weight put on in the offseason has helped, but he stays in linemen’s grasp too often. Don’t overlook DE LaVar Edwards (#89/6’5/264), an excellent third option that can play inside on passing downs. The Gamecocks are fairly young on the edge in terms of blocking, but C T.J. Johnson (#55/6’5/318) will have his own battle with junior DT Bennie Logan (#18/6’3/295). Logan, a penetrator, is much different than Johnson’s matchup last week with heavy NT John Jenkins, and that may provide an odd transition. Obviously junior RB Marcus Lattimore (#21/6’0/220) is a great prospect, but his second level contact with junior ILB Kevin Minter (#46/6’1/245) will be very fun to watch. Minter hits hard and flies around the field, but the Gamecocks use a lot of one cut, zone blocking runs. We expect LSU to load the box to create one on one situations for their defenders and perhaps only play a single safety over top. That prospect may be junior FS Eric Reid (#1/6’2/212), who plays the ball very well in the air and can cover a lot of ground. As always, teams will have to account for the running ability of junior QB Connor Shaw (#14/6’1/205), possibly with a spy.
LSU’s offense has sputtered, and it all starts up front. Junior LT Chris Faulk (#76/6’5/323) is out for the year and LT Josh Dworaczyk (#68/6’6/301) is likely going to take over the blind side after moving from guard. RT Alex Hurst (#72/6’6/332) would be better suited on his more natural right side due to heavy feet, but rumors are swirling that the senior left the team. If so and Hurst misses the game, a freshman will start on the right side for the third straight game. This is a perfect recipe for the Gamecocks defensive line to wreak havoc in the backfield. We all know about swarming sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney (#7/6’6/256), but if stiff hipped DE Devin Taylor (#98/6’7/267) does not make an impact, that is telling. Junior DE Chaz Sutton (#90/6’5/248) has really impressed me in the past few weeks as a third rusher. Junior QB Zach Mettenberger (#8/6’5/230) is an absolute statue in the pocket, so the Gamecocks instant pressure should be enough to crumble the pocket. With junior RB Alfred Blue (#4/6’1/220) out, LSU will go with juniors RB Spencer Ware (#11/5’11/225) and junior RB Michael Ford (#42/5’10/215) in the backfield. S/LB DeVonte Holloman (#21/6’2/241) plays the rover spot very well, but be sure to focus on S D.J. Swearinger (#36/5’11/210), who moves very well moving towards the line when closing but is also very adept in coverage in the deep half.
TE Justice Cunningham (#87/6’4/264)
LB Shaq Wilson (#54/5’11/225)
WR Russell Shepard (#10/6’0/195)
Saturday 9:00 pm EST on ESPN2
Tennessee vs Mississippi State
Tennessee’s talent on offense undeniable, but Bulldogs CB Johnthan Banks (#13/6’1/185), the top senior prospect at his position, will look to shut down at least one of the Vols talented receivers. We expect him to match up with junior WR Justin Hunter (#11/6’4/200), who smoothness creates separation, and junior QB Tyler Bray (#8/6’5/215) may attempt to bait Banks with pump fakes, since the senior corner likes to leave his zone and jump routes. That means junior WR Cordarrelle Patterson (#84/6’2/205) should see time across from CB Darius Slay (#9/6’1/190). Patterson has been slowed in recent weeks by physical press man coverage, but the Bulldogs like to run a lot of zone coverage. Speaking of that zone coverage, whether it be a single high or cover 2, S Corey Broomfield (#25/5’10/180) and junior S Nickoe Whitley (#5/6’1/205) will have to make sure third WR Zach Rogers (#83/6’0/180), who we think will make an NFL roster, does not take the top off of the defense while accounting for TE Mychal Rivera (#81/6’3/245) underneath. Our favorite LG Dallas Thomas (#71/6’5/310), who can play LT in the NFL, has a nice competition with DT Josh Boyd (#97/6’3/300) inside. Boyd made some plays while watching Fletcher Cox last season, but he’ll have to do it on his own this season. OLB Cameron Lawrence (#10/6’2/230) has talent, so junior RG Zach Fulton (#72/6’5/325) will have to meet him to seal the holes for RB Rajion Neal (#20/5’10/212) to run through.
On offense, the Bulldogs are led upfront by junior OG Gabe Jackson (#61/6’4/320), perhaps one of the best juniors at his position in college. Along with redshirt sophomore C Dillon Day (#63/6’4/300), the two will have to handle mammoth junior NT Daniel McCullers (#98/6’6/377), who played 40 snaps last week, a big number for a big man. After containing that monster at the line, they will need to peel off and take on LB Herman Lathers (#34/6’0/230) and possibly even rover junior LB Jacques Smith (#55/6’2/244) when pulling around the edge.
sophomore LT Antonio Richardson’s (#74/6’6/332)
juniors RT Ja’Wuan James (#70/6’6/324)
CB Prentiss Wagner (#23/6’2/184)
junior QB Tyler Russell (#17/6’4/220)
WR Chad Bumphis (#1/5’10/200)
OLB Deontae Skinner (#51/6’2/245)