Week 2 of college football is here, and while this week doesn't have the glitz and glamour of last week's extraordinary lineup of games, this is shaping up to be another interesting week across the country. Every week, I'll give you a taste of five key matchups to keep an eye on across the country, highlight a prospect who is getting a lot of positive buzz in the media and profile a small-school player to keep an eye on for next year's NFL Draft. This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games of the week, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on.
1. TCU QB Kenny Hill vs. Arkansas Defense
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas - 7 PM - ESPN
Junior quarterback Kenny Hill burst onto the national stage in 2014 as an early Heisman Trophy candidate as the successor to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Two years later, he's created some buzz again after completing 67 percent of his passes for 439 yards and a pair of touchdowns in TCU's opener against South Dakota State. Can he offer a repeat performance against his first SEC opponent since leaving the Aggies after his freshman season? Hill's undersized, but his physical tools are apparent whenever you watch the Texas native play.
Hill goes up against an Arkansas defense that has playmakers at every level, but there are two players to really keep an eye on. Senior defensive end Deatrich Wise was named to every major defensive award watch list this preseason. At 6-5, 271 pounds, he has the size to play immediately in the NFL. In the secondary, cornerback DJ Dean is a bit smaller at 5-10, 195 pounds, but I love his combination of quickness and competitiveness. Dean reminds me of a former All-SEC performer in E.J. Gaines, who earned early playing time with the Rams as a rookie just two years ago.
2. Tennessee RBs Jalen Hurd/Alvin Kamara vs. Virginia Tech S Chuck Clark
Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee - 8 PM - ABC
There aren't many backfields in the country as deep as Tennessee's, and when you consider that quarterback Josh Dobbs is also a big rushing threat, it only adds to the allure. Juniors Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara make this rushing attack as dangerous as any "Thunder and Lightning" duo in college football. Hurd, at 6-3, 242 pounds, is a chore to bring to the ground, but also has really impressive straight-line explosiveness. Hurd boasts good vision and immediate third-down value in the NFL because of his abilities as both a receiver and a blocker. Kamara is a different body type at 5-10, 215 pounds, and he is certainly the more dynamic of the two options. He doesn't have Hurd's size or vision inside, but he can be moved around the formation, has the quickness to make people miss to go along with the speed to pull away in space. Both of these running backs will be drafted when they decide to enter the NFL.
I spoke about Kamara's versatility, but even he may not be able to match the amount of roles that Chuck Clark has played for the Virginia Tech defense throughout his career. A former cornerback on the outside, Clark moved to safety before his junior season and was a bit of a Swiss army knife for defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Clark lined up deep, in the slot, in man coverage against backs and tight ends, and down in the box as an extra linebacker in some subpackages. He may be a player who Foster tries to match up on Kamara when he's flexed out on the perimeter, and if not, I expect him to be a big part of the run defense. As a former corner, I was very impressed with Clark's willingness to defend the run, which could come up huge for the Hokies in this game.
3. Iowa State WR Allen Lazard vs. Iowa CB Desmond King
*Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa - 7:30 PM - Big Ten Network *
Cyclones wideout Allen Lazard opened some eyes a year ago as a punt returner ... at 6-5, 225 pounds. The former blue-chip recruit went to Iowa State because it is his father's alma mater, and now he's creating his own legacy. The team's leading receiver has impressive athleticism for his size, and would be a tough cover for anyone on the other side of the line. He's got a great test this week against the Hawkeyes, one that could put him in the national spotlight with a big day.
Iowa's Desmond King is considered by many to be one of the top defensive prospects in college football. At 5-10, 201 pounds, he's a bit undersized, but he's got the ability to line up inside or outside, has very good quickness and is as feisty as they come. He's been compared to former first-round pick Jason Verrett. King has his share of tough targets to cover in the Big Ten, but Lazard should not be taken lightly. This could be a really interesting matchup to watch this weekend given Lazard's size advantage.
4. Virginia Tech TE Bucky Hodges vs. Tennessee LB Jaylen Reeves-Maybin
Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee - 8 PM - ABC
Last week, I wrote about a talented tight end from the ACC in Clemson's Jordan Leggett, and this week we've got another one from Virginia Tech in Bucky Hodges. He runs with the receivers in the Hokies' new offense, but at 6-6, 245 pounds, he has a tight end frame. The former quarterback has really good movement for a kid his size, and he excels at the catch point, going up and securing the football in the air with bodies around him. Hodges has been up and down as a blocker throughout his career, but he can certainly more than hold his own out in space as a moveable part of the Tech offense.
If Tennessee treats Hodges like a wide receiver, then they've got an outstanding cornerback in Cameron Sutton to put on him in man-to-man situations if they so please. But if Hodges is working over the middle of the field, there will be times when he's lined up against the athletic linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin. At 6-0, 222 pounds, Hodges has the size advantage over the senior linebacker, but Reeves-Maybin has the quickness and instincts to hang in coverage one on one, and the range to make plays down the field. This could be a really interesting matchup to watch as this game progresses.
5. Cincinnati OL Deyshawn Bond vs. Purdue DL Jackson Replogle
*Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana - Noon - Big Ten Network *
At 6-1, 292 pounds, Deyshawn Bond is a bit undersized, but is an established starter along the Bearcats' offensive line. The second-team All-AAC performer was recently named to the Senior Bowl Watch List for the 2016 season, and he'll have a great opportunity to prove himself against one of the top defensive linemen on his schedule Saturday afternoon.
Jackson Replogle is a player who not many people hear about, but should get to know. The 6-5, 293-pound defensive tackle isn't the flashiest player or most explosive prospect. However, he's a really stout run defender, knows how to use his hands and is what I'd call a "high-floor" player in terms of his NFL projection. Replogle is still developing as a pass rusher, but he's a hyper-competitive lineman with scheme versatility at the next level that will likely see his stock rise this fall.
The linebacker position was chock full of stars in last year's class from players like Jaylon Smith to Reggie Ragland to Myles Jack and beyond. This year, there are certainly a few names to watch, but not many have found the national spotlight as of yet. One player vying for that kind of attention is senior Kansas State star Charmeachealle Moore. The starting weakside linebacker for the Wildcats is athletic, physical and has a high motor.
His ability to read and diagnose plays early in the down has improved throughout his career, and I thought he had a really strong game last Friday night against a Stanford squad that includes Heisman Trophy hopeful Christian McCaffrey. Moore returned a fumble for a touchdown in the game, but it was his downhill physicality, and ability to press the line of scrimmage and navigate through traffic at a much more efficient rate that really impressed me from the undersized senior. Moore was not named to the Senior Bowl Watch List in August, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he ended up in Mobile, Alabama this winter.
You're going to hear a whole lot about this tight end crop for the upcoming NFL Draft, with prospects like O.J. Howard, Jake Butt, Hodges and Leggett among others, but here's a name I want you to remember - Billy Brown. At just under 6-4, 244 pounds, Brown plays wide receiver at Shepherd University in West Virginia, but he's one of the best small-school players in this draft class. Brown is capable of being a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses with his combination of size and athleticism, and I was very impressed with his ball skills as well. He'll need to learn how to be a blocker at the next level, and he'll get knocked for his level of competition, but Brown is a real sleeper to watch in the upcoming year.
Last year, the University of Florida surprised a lot of people after they won the SEC East in head coach Jim McElwain's first year on the job. After losing playmakers like running back Kelvin Taylor and receiver Demarcus Robinson to the NFL Draft, this is a team that will largely lean on its defense this fall. I caught up with Edgar Thompson who covers the Gators for the Orlando Sentinel to get a real sense of how some of the top defenders are off the field on this unit.
LB Jarrad Davis - "He started carrying a three-ring binder with all of his football plays in it when he was like seven. He's loved football ever since he started playing. He was just a three-star recruit ... not on a lot of teams' radars. You could see early on he was a pretty special guy. At SEC Media Days this year, he (talking about his sophomore season in 2014) said he basically was just playing video games and screwing around ... and he realized how he was mismanaging his time, especially after his knee injury and was out for the season, so he spent that whole offseason rehabbing," Thompson said. "He was working with Antonio Morrison during rehab, and he realized after being around Morrison how hard you have to work. He has come back and last year was really dedicated. Now, he's the team leader. He's put on almost 10 pounds of muscle, he's up to 240 (pounds). He's noticeably bigger and stronger. He's always been incredibly fast and physical and he hits really hard ... but he's a really well-spoken kid. A leader, a hard worker, intelligent and very dedicated. Jarrad Davis is the leader of this team, he sets the example. He does everything the right way."
Davis is a high-upside player because of his freakish short-area burst, his range and how explosive he is as a hitter. He reminded me a lot of former first-round pick Alec Ogletree. His "football character" development will serve him very well as teams try to figure out if he will reach his ceiling.
CB Jalen Tabor - "He's the best. He and Davis are everyone's two favorite players. Tabor just has loads of personality. He loves the spotlight. He's a smart kid, he's funny, he's clever, cocky, talks a little trash, he just has fun," Thompson said. "He has fun with the media, he has fun on the field. I don't know what the reasons were for the suspension with the fight (Tabor and tight end C'yontai Lewis got into a fight during a Training Camp practice), but we heard it was a pretty bad altercation.
"I don't know the exact message that (McElwain) was just trying to send to him (Tabor was suspended twice in the last two seasons for marijuana-related incidents, so Thompson believes it may have something to do with that as well). He's always out there on Twitter, he's not going to hold his tongue. Some teams may find that alarming, we find it refreshing."
Tabor has every physical attribute you want from a starting NFL cornerback. He needs to improve as a tackler and prove to teams that he's alright off the field, but it was very interesting to hear Edgar's feelings on Tabor personally. If he's as impressive with teams during the draft process, that could go a long way.
S Marcus Maye - "Maye is a nice guy, not as impressive as Jarrad in terms of how he expresses himself, but a really nice, polite guy," Thompson said. "He's going to impress teams. He has some lapses in coverage. He got benched (in 2013 as a redshirt freshman), but last season he seemed like a totally different player. He's a big guy, very good tackler. He appears to have improved his speed this year. I don't know what he's done, but he looks really fast, and maybe it's because he knows where he's going and that (he's playing faster)."
Like Thompson said, Maye is an excellent tackler who has to prove himself on the back end this year, taking on a more traditional role with the departure of first-round pick Keanu Neal.