One of the biggest weekends of college football is in the rearview mirror as we hit the home stretch of the regular season. As the NFL Draft starts to come into focus, there are still a lot of matchups with postseason implications. Here’s who you should be watching in all the key games!
Game Ball: Missouri QB Drew Lock
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
Going into last weekend, Missouri’s Drew Lock had yet to beat a ranked team over the course of his career as a starter for the Tigers. That changed after Saturday afternoon’s 38-17 stomping of the Florida Gators, when Lock completed 75 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no picks. It was the most efficient performance of the year against a Power Five team for Lock, who definitely has traits to work with to stretch the field and operate in a downfield passing attack. We’ll see if Lock can build on this to end the year.
Prediction: Missouri hosts conference foe Vanderbilt this week, and I expect the Tigers to roll in convincing fashion. Not only is Lock the hot hand, but he’s starting to get some of his key pieces back fully healthy on offense. I like Mizzou by three touchdowns.
Draft Buzz: Miami DT Gerald Willis III
This is a player who continues to generate positive attention and has the arrow pointing up with his draft stock at this point in the process.
He popped on the scene in Week 1 against LSU on national television, and ever since then Gerald Willis III has started to see his name pop up in various mock drafts. Willis, who appeared in the Top 20 of draft analyst Jon Ledyard’s Big Board this week, is a former big-time recruit with a lot of traits to like. Willis has a quick first step and has the look of an interior disruptor thanks to that burst off the ball and ability to win quickly. I have some concerns about his ability to hold up at the point of attack in the run game on an every-down basis, but he can impact the game right now as a pass rusher.
Prediction: Miami goes on the road to face Georgia Tech and that triple option offense under coach Paul Johnson. I like the Canes here in a relatively close game.
Best Pro Comparison: Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here’s a player with an easy picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.
A strong, stout defensive tackle with an extremely high motor, Daniel Wise may not be the sexy name in this draft class chock-full of talented defensive linemen but he’s one of my favorites. The senior competes at a high level, knows how to use his hands, and I believe he has enough pass rush value to be a three-down player in the NFL. With his skill set and physical dimensions, he reminds me a good bit of former UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who went on to become a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers and a starter in his rookie season. Like Clark, I don’t think Wise is a future Pro Bowl talent, but he should be a longtime key contributor on an NFL defensive line.
Prediction: The Jayhawks, ushering in a new era after firing coach David Beatty this week, go on the road to take on cross-state rival Kansas State. I like State here by two touchdowns against a team in transition, even though the Jayhawks have plenty of talent.
Small-School Standout: Morgan State LT Josh Miles
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
There’s been plenty of buzz on the scouting trail about the 6-6, 310-pound senior left tackle for the Bears, who did not play in 2017 after starting every game as a junior the previous season. The Baltimore native has NFL size and next-level traits that have scouts excited. Miles is long and athletic and was a D-II basketball recruit in high school. He’s had five offensive line coaches in five years with the program, so he’s seen as a raw athlete with more than enough functional strength to last in the league. Remember, NFL teams are starving for offensive linemen, and kids with his skill set are not often overlooked. I expect the buzz to pick up on Miles as the process continues.
Prediction: Morgan State has had a couple of tight losses this year and this week they take on a Delaware State team that has been up and down this year. Give me Morgan State in a tight one.
Philly Connection: Temple CB Rock Ya-Sin
This is a player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles that you should keep a close eye on.
Rock Ya-Sin has a phenomenal story. His college career is ending here in Philadelphia, where he plays his games at Lincoln Financial Field with the Temple Owls, but it began at a small school at Presbyterian. When it essentially shut down the football program, Ya-Sin was allowed to transfer wherever he wanted for his final year. He took advantage of the opportunity in North Philadelphia, where he arrived in the summer and quickly took over a starting job. Ya-Sin is a big-bodied kid, at over 6-2 and 200 pounds, plays with a hard edge (which you’d expect from a former two-time state champion high school wrestler). You can argue that no corner has helped himself more this season in the senior class than Ya-Sin.
Prediction: Temple nearly stunned an undefeated Central Florida team last week on the road. The Owls take their show away from home again to visit Houston and star defensive tackle Ed Oliver. I like the Owls to get a W on the road.
Three Matchups To Watch
One of the first things NFL evaluators do when scouting college prospects is watch them against the best competition. How did a wide receiver fare against the best cover corner on his schedule? How did a pass rusher do when he faced a top-flight left tackle? How did a quarterback perform against the best defenses on the schedule? These are the first games scouts will look at, and here are three matchups that fit the bill this week.
1. Boston College G Chris Lindstrom vs. Clemson DT Christian Wilkins
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts – 8 p.m. – ABC
Tough, versatile linemen usually stick in the NFL, and that’s exactly what Chris Lindstrom brings to the table, among other things. At 6-4, 310 pounds, the four-year starter for the Eagles has lined up at both tackle and guard, though he projects better to the inside in the NFL in my opinion. Lindstrom uses his hands well and plays with a nasty demeanor. With his position versatility, I think he’ll serve as a swing backup at the very least with the upside as a solid starter on the inside. He’s consistently flashed this season against quality defensive linemen. He’ll get his biggest opportunity to do the same on Saturday night.
Clemson’s defensive line is billed as one of the best in college football, and at the forefront of that group is 3-technique tackle Christian Wilkins, a longtime starter who, like Lindstrom, has starting experience both inside and outside for his team up front. Wilkins is an impressive athlete in the trenches, and his blend of quickness and power has people like me excited about his pro potential. Defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are also players to watch in this game, as is senior defensive tackle Albert Huggins and junior nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, a player who some analysts believe could be a future first-round pick.
Prediction: Boston College can run the ball and that could be enough to keep this close, but Clemson is firing on cylinders right now. I think the Tigers win and win big.
2. Mississippi State C Elgton Jenkins vs. Alabama's Defensive Line
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama – 3:30 p.m. – CBS
Elgton Jenkins is one of the top interior linemen in this senior class. He’s not the best athlete in the world, but Jenkins has heavy hands and is a really strong positional blocker. He doesn’t move people, but he also doesn’t get moved off his spot either. Like Lindstrom, he too has plenty of versatility, with starts at four of the five offensive line positions, including left tackle, before shifting to center the last two seasons. He’s up for his biggest test of the year this Saturday.
Jenkins and the rest of a talented Bulldogs offensive line will take on the undefeated Crimson Tide and their dominant defensive line. Senior Isaiah Buggs will get a few reps against Jenkins, but most of the reps will come against the dynamic junior Quinnen Williams, Alabama’s outstanding nose tackle. Junior Raekwon Davis will see some of Jenkins as well. To be frank, Jenkins will have his hands full. A good performance in this game will go a long way toward boosting his stock.
Prediction: Not much needs to be said here. Roll Tide. Mississippi State kept it close last year, but I don’t expect that to happen this weekend.
3. West Virginia LT Yodny Cajuste vs. TCU DE Ty Summers
MIlan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia – Noon – FS1
A four-year starter for the Mountaineers, Yodny Cajuste looks the part of a starting tackle in the league. I’m going to be honest, I’m excited to see him up close, whether that’s at the Senior Bowl or at the Scouting Combine. Cajuste has pretty light feet and, like Jenkins, has a strong anchor to hold his ground on contact. He’s had a history of knee injuries, so that will need to get checked out, but on film he’s one of the better senior tackles in this class and a player who I think can start on the left side at the next level.
Cajuste may see some of TCU senior pass rusher Ben Banogu, but he spends most of his time against opposing right tackles. The guy I’d keep an eye out for, however, would be Ty Summers, who had been seeing most of his reps against left tackles before his injury a couple of weeks ago. The senior, a converted linebacker who is in his first season along the defensive line, missed last week’s matchup with Kansas State, and his status is up in the air for this week’s game against WVU. If he goes, this should be a fun matchup to watch.
Prediction: West Virginia has come away with a couple of big wins in a row, and I expect that to continue this weekend. I like the Mountaineers here by two touchdowns at least.
What fun is making predictions if we’re not keeping score?
Last Week: 7-1
Season Record: 54-21
The only loss last week came with Southern Miss upending Marshall at home ... I shouldn’t have gone with the road team. However, I’ll take that record in one of the biggest weekends of college football.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.