Saturday Scouting: Conference Championship Weekend Preview

The regular season is over as Conference Championship Weekend in College Football is upon us! As the pre-draft process inches closer and closer for a number of big names around the country, let’s first look at who you should be watching in the last set of games before bowl season gets underway!

Game Ball: Ohio State WR Parris Campbell
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.

I’ve written plenty about the Buckeye speedster this fall, and Parris Campbell put an exclamation point on his season with a dynamic outing against the archrival Wolverines last week in their blowout win. The senior receiver caught six passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns in The Game on Saturday afternoon, finishing the regular season with 71 grabs for 825 yards (11.6 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns. Campbell is an explosive athlete and he’s no smurf at 6-1, 208 pounds. A two-time team captain, he has traits on and off the field that will attract early attention from NFL teams. Even though he’s not an overly polished route runner or a proven deep threat (most of his damage is done in the screen game and on short passing routes), he’s going to be one of the first handful of receivers taken in April’s draft.

Prediction: Ohio State takes on Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship, and Campbell could see a good amount of Northwestern senior corner Montre Hartage. That’s an interesting matchup to keep an eye out for in this game. I think the Buckeyes do win this relatively easily (I’m thinking 16-plus points), as their offense has really begun to hit its stride. However, I don’t think a win, even a blowout, will be enough to get them into the College Football Playoff as one of the four best teams in the nation. Remember, it’s not about the win-loss record or the résumé. It’s about who are the four very best teams in the nation. I’m not sure the Buckeyes can say that they are this season.

Draft Buzz: Texas CB Kris Boyd
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.

I’ve written a bit about Kris Boyd, the cousin of former Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor, this season, and reports are that he will be going to the Senior Bowl in January. He’s a very competitive corner with the play personality to line up outside the numbers in the NFL, and I really like the way that he plays in zone coverage. An instinctive player who can jump routes and make plays on the ball, Boyd flashes great ball skills down the field. But that's the problem. There are only flashes. At times he struggles to find the ball late downfield. Without top-end size or top-end speed, that could be an issue for him transitioning to the NFL. That will be a question he’ll have to answer on the field in Mobile, Alabama, but turning in a strong outing against Oklahoma's explosive offense with world-class speed will be a good way to finish his career.

Prediction: Texas won this game back in October in the Red River Shootout, but I think Oklahoma gets revenge as the Sooners try and impress the College Football Playoff committee and earn a spot in the four-team postseason. Getting a victory over the only team that beat them this season would certainly get them some brownie points, and I think doing it in convincing fashion is within the realm of possibility. Give me the Sooners by 10 points in a high-scoring affair.

Best Pro Comparison: Georgia DE D’Andre Walker
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.

I watched Walker in the summer leading into the season, and I came away really liking him as a player. While he’s not an explosive athlete or an overly polished pass rusher, he’s a violent, competitive player and he did a lot of the dirty work last year for that Bulldogs front seven. A strong edge-setter in the run game who drops in coverage over tight ends down the seam, Walker lines up both in a 2- and 3-point stance and is a true "jack of all trades" defender off the edge. Watching him, especially in that Bulldogs uniform, I couldn’t help but think of former UGA edge rusher Jordan Jenkins, who was drafted by the New York Jets in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft and has been a starter ever since for Todd Bowles.

Prediction: In the rematch of last year’s National Championship between Alabama and Georgia, I find it hard to paint a picture where the Bulldogs win the game. Alabama has come out flat the last couple of weeks to start games and getting to Tua Tagovailoa is certainly going to be a key for Walker and that defensive front. I just don’t know if Georgia has the horses in the back seven to keep up with all of the explosive pass catchers in that Tide offense. If Georgia is going to win, the Bulldogs are going to need to force a couple of turnovers, getting to Tua in the meantime, and they need to control the clock with their rushing attack (which is entirely possible). However, I think the Tide roll this Saturday, winning the game by at least two scores as they march to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

Small-School Standout: Buffalo WR Anthony Johnson
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.

Johnson entered the season as one of the most highly touted receivers in the senior class, and while a mid-season injury kept his stats from going through the roof, he’s still been an effective player for the UB pass game. At 6-2, 207 pounds, Johnson, who is the cousin of former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, torched the Temple secondary at Lincoln Financial Field back in September, including a 29-yard game-winning touchdown. He’s a big, strong kid with soft hands and a competitive streak after the catch. There are athletic limitations but I think he’ll stick in the league as a big-bodied target in the middle of the field.

Prediction: Buffalo takes on Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game on Friday night, and I think they’ll come away with the W. The Bulls, led by Johnson and junior quarterback Tyree Jackson, rolled to a 10-2 record this season with an explosive offense, but the Huskies boast one of the best defenses in the conference with pass rusher Sutton Smith. Give me UB by a TD.

Philly Connection: North Dakota State QB Easton Stick and South Dakota State QB Taryn Christion
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.

I’m going to double dip in my Philly Connection this week as the second round of the FCS Playoffs kick off on Saturday and two Dakota signal-callers take the field. Easton Stick, who backed up Carson Wentz and took over when he was injured in his senior season, is a smart, efficient passer with impressive poise in the pocket and touch to all areas of the field. He’s got the makings of an NFL quarterback and has helped lead NDSU, the nation’s top seed. I’d be mildly surprised if Stick doesn’t end up at the Senior Bowl in January.

With North Dakota State as the No. 1 seed, South Dakota State sits as the No. 5 seed. The Jackrabbits are led by senior quarterback Taryn Christion, who helped propel Dallas Goedert to All-American status last year and is a legitimate pro prospect himself (though not to the level that the Eagles' tight end was a year ago). These two teams met earlier in the year, and we previewed that matchup on the Journey to the Draft Podcast that week while also breaking down these two quarterbacks. They won't meet again until the FCS semifinal round as long as both teams keep winning.

Prediction: I can’t pick against the Bison this week in their battle against Montana State, and I think the No. 1 seed rolls there. It’s tough to pick against Goedert’s Jackrabbits either, as they are undefeated in home playoff games and they crushed visiting Duquesne a year ago 51-13 on the road. Give me both Dakota teams this weekend.

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. Washington RB Myles Gaskin vs. Utah LB Chase Hansen
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California – Friday 8 p.m. – FOX

One of the most dynamic backs in the senior class, Myles Gaskin is undersized but versatile and has been a lynchpin of the Huskies' offense over the course of his long career as a starter in the backfield. Gaskin is a smooth, agile ballcarrier who can also impact the passing game as a receiver. His frame will come into question, as will his contact balance, but he’s a fun player who should have an impact in this game, just like he did last week in the Apple Cup (27 carries for 170 yards and three touchdowns) and back in Week 3 when these two teams met (30 for 143 yards and one touchdown). Keep an eye on Gaskin in this game.

A former safety, Chase Hansen was added to the Senior Bowl roster earlier this week and he was a subject of discussion on this week’s Journey to the Draft Podcast. He will be charged with trying to limit Gaskin’s production both as a runner and as a pass catcher.

Prediction: It hasn’t been a really impressive season for the Huskies, but I think they’re starting to play some of their best football and their defense was extremely impressive last week against Washington State. I think the Huskies take this one by double digits.

2. Clemson DT Christian Wilkins vs. Pitt RG Mike Herndon/C Connor Dintino
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina – 8 p.m. – ABC

My top senior in the country entering the season, I was (and am) a big fan of Christian Wilkins, the versatile defensive tackle for the Tigers. One of the top interior disruptors in the country, the former defensive end wins with quickness and effort against the run and the pass. He is improving at the point of attack in the run game, namely against double teams, so I think he’s definitely a three-down player with high upside at the next level. He translates well to one-gap scheme teams. On a very talented defensive line for the Tigers, I enjoy watching Wilkins the most.

I’ve never lied to you, and I’m not planning to start now. I haven’t watched a lick of Pitt football this year, mainly because they don’t have any prospects who were on my radar entering the year. So, I had to consult with Justin, an Eagles fan who is better known on Twitter as @NFLGimpy, to get a scouting report on an offensive line that struggled to protect last week against a talented Miami defensive line. Center Connor Dintino, who had to shift inside from left guard due to an injury to the starting center earlier this year, and right guard Mike Herndon, both seniors and former defensive linemen, struggled against athletic interior rushers throughout the course of the season. They were exposed by the Hurricanes and their front four. That does not make things look good for this weekend, but if the Panthers are going to get an upset the offensive line has to step up its play.

Prediction: I like Clemson to roll in this one. Pitt really picked things up down the stretch but I don’t think they can match up with the Tigers, and I expect that defensive line to dominate in this game. Clemson wins by at least three scores.

3. Fresno State WR KeeSean Johnson vs. Boise State CB Tyler Horton
Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho – 7:45 p.m. – ESPN

A four-year starter for coach Jeff Tedford out west, KeeSean Johnson is one of my favorite receivers who I’ve studied so far in this class. The senior led the team in catches in each of the past three years, and he’s one of the best route runners in the country for my money. Johnson is a loose, springy athlete who shows an understanding of how to set defenders up for failure mid-route with soft hands to finish at the catch point. I need to watch more of Johnson, but I have to think he’ll be in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. I think he could be a higher pick than he’s currently being projected (mid-round) at this point in the process.

Senior corner Tyler Horton, at 5-11, 190 pounds, manned up on Johnson one-on-one for a large majority of the game when these teams last met four weeks ago, so I expect to see that again. I studied Horton back in the summer, and I saw a highly competitive corner with solid athletic traits and plus instincts. He has some limitations, and tackling is a bit of a concern, but he is a fun player and a draftable prospect to watch on this Broncos defense.

Prediction: Johnson put up eight catches for 95 yards and a touchdown against Horton back on November 9 in a Boise State victory. This rematch in the Mountain West Conference title game, where the two squads also met a year ago, should result in a similar outcome. I think Johnson puts up big numbers but Boise comes up with another win, giving them 12 victories in the last 14 games against the Bulldogs.

Keeping Score

What fun is making predictions if we’re not keeping score?

Last Week: 6-2

Season Record: 72-25

My two losses were two of the biggest games of the week, with Washington upending Wazzu in the Apple Cup (that’s what I get for betting against Chris Peterson, who stays undefeated against Mike Leach in this matchup) and Michigan losing to Ohio State (the Wolverines were extremely disappointing).

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.

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