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. Let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on in this weekend's action.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Auburn G Braden Smith vs. Alabama MLB Rashaan Evans
*Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama - 3:30 p.m. - CBS *
If Auburn is going to win this game, the catalyst is going to be its defense. The Tigers need to protect the football and be able to get chunks of yardage on the ground. The second aspect of that is where senior guard Braden Smith comes into play. The three-year starter for the Tigers has played some tackle throughout his career, but he's been the right guard for most of it and he wins with a great combination of technique and toughness in the trenches. He will need both against a young and hungry Alabama defensive front. Smith needs to get a lot stronger in his core before entering the NFL. His body type will worry some people at 6-6, 300 pounds with short arms, but he is a good player and one of the leaders of Gus Malzahn's offense.
Alabama's defensive line is always full of young stalwarts. Right now, the junior defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne is certainly a force to be reckoned with, but I think it may be more important for the Auburn O-line to account for linebacker Rashaan Evans in this game. The "Alpha Dog" for Nick Saban in the middle of that defense, Evans has NFL size at 6-2, 230 pounds. He's one of the most physical players at his position in this class. The senior uses his hands well at the point of attack and is able to be a downhill thumper. He also possesses the speed and improved instincts to play sideline to sideline as well.
Prediction: Auburn's offense is all about misdirection and making it difficult for the linebackers to key and diagnose the play quickly and - more importantly - correctly. Evans is in just his second season on the inside after being a pass rusher for the first three years of his Alabama. His eye discipline will be put to the test in this game.
Auburn has the formula to beat Alabama in this game ... just follow the script that was executed against Georgia when they upset the No. 1 team in the country. If Auburn can stop the run effectively on defense and limit turnovers on offense, the Tigers will win this game. The difference between Alabama and Georgia? Quarterback Jalen Hurts, who can run away from pressure and make plays with his legs. I like Alabama to win this game, and I think it'll be within a touchdown. Evans finishes with eight tackles and a sack.
2. Ohio State C Billy Price vs. Michigan DT Maurice Hurst
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan - Noon - FOX
At 6-4, 308 pounds, Ohio State center Billy Price is the best senior interior offensive lineman in the country. Price is a smart, tough blocker who lacks top-end athleticism and length for the position. He makes up for it with a strong base, heavy hands, and the ability to finish defenders consistently at the point of attack. Price was a three-year starter at guard before sliding inside to center this season. He doesn't come with a lot of fanfare, but Price is one of the best players in the country regardless of position in this senior class.
One player who Price and the rest of the Ohio State offensive line will make a point to lock down this week is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. The senior 3-technique in Michigan's 4-3 scheme, Hurst is undersized on the inside but wins with a quick first step and a high motor. Hurst isn't powerful but he can drive blockers backwards because of how fast he gets out of his stance then using his natural leverage to get inside an opponent's pads and change the line of scrimmage. The senior has five sacks in the last five games. He'll certainly be one of the top prospects to watch in this rivalry game.
Prediction: I expect Ohio State to win this game by at least two scores, but Hurst gets a sack and helps force a J.T. Barrett interception in the game. The Buckeyes stole this game a year ago in overtime, but I don't know if the Wolverines have enough horses to keep up with OSU this year.
3. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb/ Sony Michel vs. Georgia Tech SS Corey Griffin
Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta - Noon - ABC
It'd be tough to argue that any team in the country has a better one-two punch at running back than Georgia with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both backs have pretty good size and vision to work between the tackles effectively. I'm a big fan of Chubb's skill set as a player who can be a primary ballcarrier in an NFL offense. He reminds me a bit of Frank Gore because of how quickly he's able to find a small crease and get north in the run game. Chubb isn't a plus athlete. There are questions about his explosiveness after the knee injury he suffered in 2015, but I'm still very high on him moving forward to the NFL.
A two-year starter at strong safety at Georgia Tech, Corey Griffin isn't a great athlete but he's a very willing run defender who will come downhill and thump an opponent in the alley. I'd like to see him get more consistent as a tackler, but his willingness stands out on film and I think he reads things fairly well on the back end.
Prediction: Georgia wins this game easily. Watch for Tech to try and control the clock with its Triple Option run game, but Georgia will be too much for the Yellow Jackets in the end. Chubb runs for 110 yards and Michel adds 85 in a 17-point win for the Bulldogs.
4. Florida TE DeAndre Goolsby vs. Florida State LBs Matt Thomas/Jacob Pugh
*Ben Hill Griffin Field, Gainesville, Florida - Noon - ESPN *
The Gators won their first game in nearly two months a week ago when they upended UAB 36-7, and their tight ends were very active for them in the game. Junior C'yontai Lewis caught two passes for 22 yards and a score, while senior DeAndre Goolsby reeled in his only pass for a 13-yard score. At 6-4, 249 pounds, Goolsby lines up in a number of spots for Florida. He won't be known for his blocking at the next level but he does give good effort in the run game. Goolsby, along with Lewis, was relied on quite a bit in that area this year. Goolsby projects as more of a backup or role player at the next level due to his pass-catching prowess, and I think he has a chance to be a better pro than collegiate player.
Safety Derwin James will certainly be a factor against the tight end in this game, but look for the two senior linebackers Matt Thomas and Jacob Pugh to play a big part as well. Pugh, a former defensive end, plays a number of roles for the Seminoles and projects as a strongside linebacker at the next level. Thomas, who led the team in tackles as a junior in 2016, projects more to the weak side and is more impressive with his speed in the open field. Thomas had 11 tackles two weeks ago against Clemson, and I expect him to be very active in this game as well.
Prediction: No one on this Gators roster has actually beaten Florida State. If it's going to happen, now is the time with both teams on the downslope this year. However, I think Florida State's young talent overwhelms the Gators, and the Seminoles win the game. Goolsby gets two catches for 19 yards in the loss.
5. Cincinnati WR Devin Gray vs. UConn DB Jamar Summers
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati - Noon - ESPNEWS
In a senior class lacking real depth at the wide receiver position (at least from what I've seen so far), Devin Gray from Cincinnati is flying a bit under the radar. The senior is undersized at 6-0 and just 177 pounds, but he does have speed to burn as he's averaging 16.3 yards per catch this season. The senior has had catches of 20-plus yards in eight of the team's 11 games this year. Keep an eye on him down the field in this game.
At 6-1, 190 pounds, UConn defensive back Jamar Summers, who is from North Jersey, has played both safety and corner throughout his career for the Huskies, who have struggled this year. Due to a lack of top-end speed, he'll probably be more of the former in the NFL, but keep an eye on him in this game with Ward getting downfield vertically. This will be one final test for Summers and the UConn secondary before the season ends for them this weekend.
Prediction: Gray pulls in three catches for 58 yards on the day but doesn't reach the end zone in what results in a Cincinnati win by 13 points.
I've written about him before, but we're starting to see more and more buzz about Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport, who will attend the Senior Bowl in January.
Davenport only has one sack in the last month, but at 6-7, 255 pounds the three-year starter has piqued a lot of people's interest this year. He made it to analyst Dane Brugler's first-round mock draft this week. Davenport is a big, powerful kid who can defend the run and collapse the pocket off the edge. He has scheme versatility (currently lining up at SAM linebacker in the 3-4 scheme) and if he can put it all together he has very high upside.
I'll be shocked if he performs well at the Combine. He's not a true technician right now with his hands, but I think he's a better player right now than former Villanova defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon was a year ago. Kpassagnon went in the second round with a similar body type and skill set. Keep an eye on Davenport as the process moves along, because I think the hype train is going to be leaving the station around the time of the Senior Bowl.
It's probably a sin that I've gone this long without talking about South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard in this space. I could have easily written about him back in Week 1 entering the year. A four-year starter for the Bulldogs in their 4-3 scheme, Leonard looks the part of an NFL linebacker with extremely long arms and an athletic build. Leonard sees things pretty quickly in the run game and presses the line of scrimmage in a hurry. At that level of competition, he has the ability to stack and shed at the point of attack and make plays on the football. I think Leonard has the physical tools to be a starter at the NFL level, and while he needs to get a little bit better from a technical standpoint as a tackler, I believe he will make it in the NFL.
Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda has been a stalwart for the Penn State defense over the last couple of years. At 6-0, 239 pounds, he's got NFL size and in a senior class that lacks true star power at the linebacker position; he will be in the discussion around the middle rounds. Cabinda, who grew up about an hour north of Philadelphia in Flemington, New Jersey, has 18 tackles in the last two games and closes out the regular season at Maryland on Saturday.
It was mostly a lackluster week across the country, but one player stood out above the rest. Senior running back Rashaad Penny, former teammate of Eagles running back Donnel Pumphrey, lit up the stat sheet once again for the Aztecs. Playing with a heavy heart on Saturday night against Nevada as his grandfather passed away the morning of the game, Penny posted 429 total yards of offense, breaking Marshall Faulk's school record of 422. He scored four touchdowns, two on offense and two on special teams, and cemented himself as one of the top stories of the 2017 season. Penny leads the country in rushing and all-purpose yardage and is second in the country in touchdowns. Earlier this afternoon, he became the first rusher to eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau. Keep an eye on him throughout the rest of the process.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. 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.