Senior Bowl announcements are beginning to roll in with just a couple of weeks remaining in the college football regular season. As the NFL Draft starts to get more into focus, there are still a lot of matchups with postseason implications. Here's who you should be watching in all of the key games!
Game Ball: Temple RB Ryquell Armstead
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
After jumping out to an 0-2 start with home losses to Villanova and Buffalo, Temple has come on strong lately with wins in four of their last five with the lone defeat coming in a tightly-fought battle on the road against undefeated UCF. Ryquell Armstead has been a big part of the Owls success, and he had a huge game last week in their win on the road in Houston. After getting just 14 carries a piece in those two losses to open the year, the senior runner has carried the ball at least 20 times in every appearance since then. Last week over Houston, he ran 30 times for 210 yards and six (6!!!!) touchdowns, and when healthy he's the engine that drives this Temple train. He's a draftable prospect that you should be keeping tabs on in the postseason.
Prediction: Temple faces off against USF this week, and ironically this was the game that really catapulted Armstead onto the national stage a couple of years ago at Lincoln Financial Field, where he also ran for 210 yards and a couple of scores on a Thursday night battle. I like Armstead and the Owls to oust the Bulls at home this weekend by double digits.
Draft Buzz: Texas DE Charles Omenihu
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.
There was definitely more buzz for Omenihu's teammate, Bryce Hager, for the Longhorns coming into the year, but I've always liked Omenihu a bit more. He's got NFL size at over 6-5 and 270 pounds. He's got freakishly long arms and has the strength to hold the point of attack while also displaying the power to collapse the pocket. I like him best as a defensive end at the next level, and he'll be able to help his stock at the Senior Bowl in January, where he has been officially announced as one of the first confirmed acceptances for the All-Star game.
Prediction: Texas hosts Iowa State in one of the best games of the week in a matchup of #15 vs. #16. I like the Longhorns at home, although the Cyclones will put up a heck of a fight. The fact that ISU has to begin the game without star running back David Montgomery does not help matters. Give me Texas here by a couple of scores.
Best Pro Comparison: Houston DT Ed Oliver
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.
Oliver is in the news for the wrong reasons this weekend, and he hasn't had the year he probably would have hoped, but he still figures to be one of the first selections of the 2019 NFL Draft. Oliver, who declared for the draft this spring in a near-unprecedented move, has elite athleticism for the position but has a rare lack of size. Generously listed at 6-2, 290 pounds (many believe he plays closer to 280 and is closer to 6-0 than 6-2), Oliver's ability to handle the physical rigors of the NFL will be a big projection.
That being said, his ability to win with quickness, a strong core, violent hand-use and a truly non-stop motor will all have evaluators drooling. I'd be shocked if he were not a Top Ten pick. When thinking of a player comparison, many have been quick to point to Aaron Donald coming out of Pitt, but I think the player that he reminds me more of is Sheldon Rankins. The New Orleans Saints star has played both defensive end and defensive tackle in the NFL, playing over the center as a nose tackle in subpackages and as a three-technique in their base defense. I envision a similar type of role for Oliver, who is prone to being moved at times by double teams in the run game.
Prediction: The Cougars played on Thursday night, so no prediction here, but with the player comparison I just HAD to include him in this piece considering the Eagles opponent this weekend.
Small-School Standout: Charleston (WV) DL John Cominsky
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
Cominsky, one of the Senior Bowl acceptances announced this week, has been a dominant force along the defensive line at the Division II level. The senior, who arrived on campus as a 218-pound option quarterback out of high school, proceeded to put on almost 70 pounds in his transition to being a defensive lineman. Cominsky won with strength and power at a lower level of competition, lining up everywhere along the defensive line. Will he be able to do that in the NFL? That's the question scouts want answered, and that's one of the big reasons why he stands to earn so much in Mobile.
Prediction: Cominsky won't take the field again until the Senior Bowl in January, so no game to predict here either.
Philly Connection: Virginia WR Olamide Zaccheaus
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.
With a 7-3 record, Virginia has surprised some people this year as they currently sit second in the ACC Coastal Division and are in play for a very respectable bowl game. Over the summer, I only studied two Wahoos. One of them was safety Juan Thornhill, one of my favorites at that position in the country, and the other was athlete Olamide Zaccheaus. I call him 'athlete' because he was listed as a running back but was utilized mostly as a slot receiver by UVA a year ago. I liked what I saw from Zaccheaus as a junior, where he displayed the speed and quickness to stand out in the NFL while also flashing soft hands at the catch point and ability to make plays after the catch. Zaccheaus is very undersized, and that will affect his draft stock, but I like his potential as a slot receiver and return man in the NFL. Zacchaeus is a Philly kid who went to St. Joe's Prep in high school and, ironically, broke former Eagles wide receiver Billy McMullen's college record for catches in a single season (85) as a junior in 2017.
Prediction: Virginia goes on the road to take on Georgia Tech this week in a game that most like the Yellow Jackets, but I'm going to go against the grain here. I think Bronco Mendenhall's team goes to Atlanta and comes away with a win.
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. UMass WR Andy Isabella vs. Georgia CB Deandre Baker
Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia – 4 p.m. – SEC Network
While many fans may be turned off by "Cupcake Saturday" as big-time programs around the country take on smaller teams as a bit of a tune-up for the postseason and conference title weekend, the angle I always take is to find the best players on the underdogs as they prepare for their biggest battle of the season. This week that player is Minutemen wide receiver Andy Isabella, who Tony Pauline discussed on last week's Journey To The Draft Podcast. The senior, who has been invited to the Senior Bowl, leads the entire FBS with 87 receptions and 1479 yards. He doesn't need to post a big day numbers-wise against the stout Georgia defense (though that will help), but if he can prove to separate and compete against SEC competition it will go a long way towards his draft stock. Keep an eye on him in this game.
Deandre Baker may not travel with Isabella across the field, in fact the two may only see each other in pure man coverage a handful of times in the game, but this is the kind of guy Baker needs to prove he can erase in coverage. Baker, not known for his size and speed, wins with quickness and instincts as a coverage player. I'm very interested to see how he does in this matchup when he faces off against Isabella one-on-one.
Prediction: Not going out on much of a limb here but I'll take the Bulldogs.
2. Ohio State OT Isaiah Prince vs. Maryland EP Jesse Aniebonam
Maryland Stadium, College Park, Maryland – Noon – ESPN
As always, Ohio State has a couple of talented draft-eligible offensive linemen, and Isaiah Prince is the senior right tackle we'll focus on today. Standing at 6-7 with a freakish wingspan, the three-year starter for the Buckeyes had scouts buzzing this preseason as he appears to have started putting it all together. I'm not as high on him as others, but this guy can smash a defensive tackle in the run game with the best of them, and with that body type he will almost surely hear his name called in this year's draft.
Maryland has obviously been a bit of a mess this year, but they have a handful of players that I think will go on the third day of the draft. One of them is senior defensive end Jesse Aniebonam, who returned from a 2017 injury and has played in almost every game this season, his final at College Park. At 6-3, 260 pounds, Aniebonam has intriguing athletic upside with a pretty quick first step. He hasn't recorded a sack since late September, but I think he has a shot in this game as long as Maryland can keep it close early.
Prediction: Both of these programs have gone through some turmoil this season, for slightly different reasons, but I think the Buckeyes come out on top here on the road. OSU hasn't quite hit it's stride this year, but I think they win relatively easily on Saturday.
3. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey vs. Notre Dame Defense
Yankee Stadium, New York, NY – 2:30 p.m. – NBC
The plucky Syracuse Orange have won four straight games and are scoring points in bunches, and the captain of that ship is senior quarterback Eric Dungey. At 6-4, 226 pounds, Dungey does what he's asked in coach Dino Baber's shotgun spread offense, distributing the ball and making good decisions as both a passer and as a runner (keep an eye on him with the ball in his hands in this game). If the Orange can pull off the upset, Dungey will be a big reason why.
This Notre Dame defense is chock-full of talent. I love defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, a disruptive interior player with violent hands in the run game and the quick-twitch athleticism to impact the game as a pass rusher. Fellow senior linebacker Te'Von Coney is instinctive and physical. Drue Tranquill, a former safety who converted to linebacker has unique physical tools to work with. That secondary, as well, has plenty of pro talent. This will be a big test for Dungey and Syracuse. The guys to watch closest are Tillery and Coney.
Prediction: This has been a trendy upset pick in favor of the Orange, and everyone is just sitting and waiting for the Irish to stub their toe before the College Football Playoff, but I don't see it happening. I think Cuse makes it close, but Notre Dame wins in double-digit fashion.
What fun is making predictions if we're not keeping score?
Last Week: 7-1
Season Record: 61-22
The only loss last week came with Miami falling short against Georgia Tech, which may be one of the reasons why I'm rooting for Virginia this week. I need the Cavaliers to come through with a revenge game!
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.