Week 3 is behind us and there's plenty to talk about in the world of College Football and the NFL Draft. We covered a good amount of it on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast, but here are the things I'll be keeping my eyes in Week 4.
Game Ball: Texas LB Anthony Wheeler
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
While I'm not going to jump up and down screaming that the Longhorns are "back" (a team isn't really "back" until we don't need to talk about them being "back"), that was still a big win for Tom Herman's squad on Saturday night against USC. One of the catalysts for the victory was senior linebacker Anthony Wheeler, who racked up five tackles, one for a loss, and returned a blocked field goal 46 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to make it a two-score game. At 6-3, 240 pounds, Wheeler is a throwback thumper with the size to win at the point of attack in the run game. I question whether or not he's athletic enough to make it as a three-down player in the NFL, but he can provide value on the back end of an NFL roster.
PREDICTION: Texas has another big game this weekend at home against in-state rival TCU. The Longhorns are coming off an inspirational victory against the Trojans, while the Horned Frogs are still smarting after a disappointing loss to Ohio State a week ago. Experts see this game as being very close, but I'm going to lean toward TCU and I don't think it will be a tight game in the fourth quarter. I think the Frogs bounce back.
Draft Buzz: Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald
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.
Fitzgerald missed his team's Week 1 game due to suspension, came back in Week 2 in a bit of a sloppy win against Kansas State on the road, but then bounced back strong with a dominant win at home against Louisiana-Lafayette. The senior posted 350 scrimmage yards in the blowout victory, but it's not that performance alone that has people buzzing. Fitzgerald has legitimate NFL size with high-end athleticism for the quarterback position to go along with a strong arm. He has a lot of growing to do in terms of playing the position, but there are enough tools there that he will almost certainly be drafted in the middle rounds as a developmental starter at the most important position in football.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State takes on a tough Kentucky defense on the road this week. UK has players at all three levels with NFL potential, and they should have a handful of players at February's Scouting Combine. This is a great opportunity for the senior to prove himself against a talented group ... and I think he'll push his team to victory. Experts think this will be a decisive win for MSU, but I think this will be really, really close. I picked the Wildcats to go on the road and beat Florida earlier in the year, and I have a lot of faith in them, but Mississippi State won this matchup 45-7 a year ago and neither team has suffered too much turnover. I'll take MSU.
Best Pro Comparison: Boston College DL Zach Allen
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.
In a defensive line class chock-full of talent, Zach Allen is sliding a bit under the radar. I think I know why. A defensive end in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme, I think Allen will do most of his damage on the interior at the next level. Similar in how guys like Calais Campbell and DeForest Buckner have made their money in the NFL, I think Allen will line up outside on early downs and inside on passing downs. This is a lofty, lofty comparison, but the way Allen plays reminds me a bit of those two. A smart, stout lineman with the versatility to play multiple positions in various schemes, I want to see Allen continue to get better with his hands and get a bit stronger and more powerful, but his upside is high. He's not the finished product that Buckner was coming out of Oregon a couple of years ago, but if he's coached up right he can be that kind of interior disruptor with his length and athleticism.
PREDICTION: BC has been churning out crazy amount of yards on offense, but so has Purdue, its Week 4 opponent. The Boilermakers have lost three straight games at home, and Boston College's ground-and-pound attack may wear them out while the BC defense has enough firepower to get after the Boilermakers. Keep an eye on the upset here. Purdue is looking for its first win of the season at 0-3, but the Boilermakers easily could be 3-0 due to some timely mistakes over the first month of the year. I think BC wins, but it's close.
Small-School Standout: Old Dominion EDGE Oshane Ximines
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
I got a tip on Ximines from a friend of mine in the league, and I was glad to have watched him over the summer. A four-year starter at ODU after being just a two-star recruit out of high school, Ximines doesn't have great athletic upside, but he wins with good technique and a solid overall plan of attack as a pass rusher. His go-to move is a pretty quick swim move and he looks strong at the point of attack in the run game. The biggest thing I wanted to see from him this year was an improved motor and overall urgency getting off blocks. Ximines doesn't profile as an every-down starter in the NFL, from what I've seen anyway, but I think he will stick in the league.
PREDICTION: The Monarchs travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech this week, and I don't think it will be close. This game was 38-0 in favor of VaTech a year ago, and I expect a similar outcome on Saturday.
Philly Connection: Stanford RB Bryce Love
This is a player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles.
One of the top players and biggest names in college football, Bryce Love is a fascinating case study. He's been very productive as a starter in a pro-style offense, just like his predecessor Christian McCaffrey. Is he big and strong enough to be a three-down running back in the NFL? I don't know, but he's a competitive runner who can make people miss and has the physicality to work between the tackles, despite his size. Is he skilled enough as a receiver to be used as a satellite player and mismatch weapon in the NFL? Well, I don't know that either because Love hasn't really been used as a receiver with the Cardinal, particularly in the last couple of years. I do think Love will find a place in the league, though I think it's more in a role similar to the latter option. So what's Love's connection to the City of Brotherly Love? His coach, David Shaw, was a quality control coach here in Philadelphia under Ray Rhodes in 1997.
PREDICTION: Stanford takes on Oregon in what should be a really fun game on Saturday night. Both teams are undefeated, but neither has had a truly formidable test. That changes this week. David Shaw is 4-2 against the Ducks in his career as a head coach and has won each of the last two meetings. Love went 17-147 with two touchdowns in last year's matchup. I like Stanford here, even with the game in noisy Eugene, Oregon.
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. Missouri QB Drew Lock vs. Georgia Defense
Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri - Noon - ESPN
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock was my No. 1 senior quarterback entering the season, mainly because of his physical tools. He's a big, athletic kid with a strong arm and impressive touch to all areas of the field. Lock has looked outstanding to start the season. I went back and watched his game against Purdue last week, and there was some good improvement from his junior film. Lock was manipulating safeties with his eyes. He showed more trust in his receivers, delivering the ball quicker on isolation routes. He displayed improved accuracy and ball placement than he did a year ago, and part of that is mechanical.
In 2017, I noted that Lock had a bad tendency, particularly on throws outside the numbers to his right, to square up his body to his target as he threw. You can almost visualize it, as he would cock his right arm to deliver the football he would lock up his left leg, and his left shoulder would open up early. As my friend Greg Cosell noted on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast, that resulted in him "pushing" the ball in his throwing motion. That kink in his mechanics seems, at least based off last week's game, to have disappeared. Lock has been extremely productive through three games, but he hasn't truly been tested yet. I won't be able to say that this time next week, as he and his teammates host one of the most ferocious defenses in college football this week. If Lock can stand tall in the pocket against this rush and continue to show marked improvement in his mechanics and ball placement, it will go a long way toward proving himself worthy of a first-round selection this spring.
Georgia is loaded with talent, and the Bulldogs have seniors at each level of the defense to watch in this game. Up front, I really like edge player D'Andre Walker. A menacing run defender with heavy hands and the ability to collapse the pocket, Walker isn't necessarily a fearsome pass rusher but he will be in Lock's face early and often. Linebacker Natrez Patrick has sideline-to-sideline ability and the burst to close in space. In the secondary, DeAndre Baker is one of the top senior cover guys in the nation. He's a smart zone corner who could absolutely fool Lock on the back end. While he has issues finding the ball downfield at times, he's a competitive kid who will have his name called often on Saturday afternoon.
PREDICTION: Missouri can throw it around with Lock at the helm and senior receiver Joseph Hall running amok in opposing secondaries, and for that reason, I do think this will be closer than people think. However, I think the Bulldogs win. Georgia is just too good across the board to lose this game, even on the road.
2. Iowa TE Noah Fant vs. Wisconsin S D'Cota Dixon
Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa - 8:30 p.m. - FOX
One of the more athletic tight ends in the country, Noah Fant is not your typical Iowa tight end. The Hawkeyes have put out players like C.J. Fiedorowicz, Henry Krieger-Coble, and George Kittle in recent years, and all of them were point-of-attack blockers primarily with a secondary role as a receiver. That's not the case with Fant, who is more similar to a player like Evan Engram with the New York Giants. He's an explosive athlete with downfield potential at the next level.
The Badgers have a senior-laden defense with upperclassmen at each level of the unit. One name that people around the country are high on, however, is senior safety D'Cota Dixon. A competitive, physical safety with good hands, Dixon has issues in his game but a strong outing against the Hawkeyes and Fant will go a long way toward helping his stock.
PREDICTION: The Badgers are coming off a tough loss to BYU last week where they were beaten at their own game. I like what I've seen from young Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and I'm excited about his future, but I think Wisconsin comes out firing and they win this game handily.
3. Alabama C Ross Pierschbacher vs. Texas A&M DT Daylon Mack
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama - 3:30 p.m. - CBS
Position versatility is an important attribute to have for an interior lineman transitioning from college to the NFL, and Ross Pierschbacher has that. The four-year starter for the Tide has established himself both at left guard and center throughout his career in the SEC. He's smart, reliable, tough, and a good enough athlete that I think he'll be viewed as a mid-round pick by the time the draft rolls around next spring.
Daylon Mack was an impact player up front for the Aggies the moment he stepped on campus, and while he isn't a strong run defender at the point of attack he has a quick first step and the ability to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
PREDICTION: It's tough to imagine the Tide losing to anyone right now, especially this A&M team. I think Alabama rolls here by four scores.
What fun is making predictions if we're not keeping score?
Last Week: 6-2
Season Record: 13-6
I was an LSU last-second field goal away from matching my Week 2 score of 7-1, but I'll take the thrilling game as a fan of college football. I was disappointed in Notre Dame's effort against Vanderbilt.
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.