We’ve officially passed the halfway point of the 2018 College Football season, which is crazy to think about. We cover who helped themselves the most so far this week on the Journey to the Draft podcast, but it’s time now to look ahead. Here’s who you should be watching this weekend!
Game Ball: Michigan State WR Felton Davis
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his stock because of it.
If Davis played against Penn State every week, he’d be a lock for the top five of this upcoming NFL Draft. When the Spartans upended Penn State in 2017, the 6-4, 200-pound wideout caught 12 passes for 181 yards and a score. Davis followed that up last week with eight catches, 100 yards, and two touchdowns as Michigan State went into Happy Valley and upset the Nits. The Virginia native is known for his ability to go up and win at the catch point. He’s someone who has continued to help himself this year in a senior class starving for more outside receivers.
Prediction: Michigan State thrives as a home underdog, just ask our buddy Ike Reese, a proud Sparty alum. They went into the Big House and beat the Wolverines last year, but this is a tough one for the green and white. Both teams are coming off big wins, but I think Michigan has hit its stride. Jim Harbaugh had to start Jon O’Korn at quarterback in this matchup last year. The Wolverines have an upgrade under center this year and have hit their stride offensively. Whether running or throwing, Michigan is beating people up. Michigan has put up at least 38 points in every game since its Week 1 loss at Notre Dame, outside of a near slip up on the road at Northwestern. I like Michigan in this game by two scores.
Draft Buzz: Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat
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.
Dane Brugler from The Athletic posted his updated Top-32 Big Board, and the top senior on the list was Mississippi State edge rusher Montez Sweat, a guy who has been discussed numerous times on the Journey to the Draft podcast – including in this week’s Saturday Scouting segment with Ben Fennell. Sweat is long, has a quick first step, and is constantly working his hands to win at the top of his rush. Dane had Sweat check in at No. 8 overall on his Big Board, which is probably the highest I’ve seen him listed anywhere. Keep an eye out on the senior’s stock moving forward, as I’d say he’s helped himself this year as much anyone in the country.
Prediction: I do think there’s a chance that this game is closer than the experts think, but LSU wins this game at home at night in Death Valley. Sweat and the rest of the Bulldogs' defensive line can certainly get after this LSU offensive line, but I find it hard to believe that the team that just crushed Georgia last week will lose in this situation to a rollercoaster MSU squad. College Football is chaotic this time of year ... but I like the Tigers here.
Best Pro Comparison: Clemson DT Christian Wilkins
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.
Speaking of Big Boards, Christian Wilkins was the guy at the top of my Senior Board entering the season. One of the leaders of that Clemson defense, Wilkins is athletic, competes at a high level, and can defend the run and get after the quarterback equally well. Watching him this summer, one player who struck me immediately as a comparison is Titans star defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. This is high praise because Casey is one of the best interior linemen in the NFL, but it speaks to the player I think Wilkins can be in the NFL.
Prediction: The Tigers take on N.C. State this week in a battle of undefeateds in the ACC, and both teams have had an extra week to prep for the matchup. I expect this to be a tight game, much closer than people think. The Wolfpack always play Clemson well, and while they haven’t been able to eke out a win over the Tigers, I do expect this to finish within a score. However, Clemson will come out on top.
Small-School Standout: New Mexico State LB Terrill Hanks
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
A four-year starter at linebacker for NMSU, Terrill Hanks is an athletic kid with position versatility who can make plays from sideline to sideline. He can line up in the box or out in space against athletic backs and tight ends. Built for today’s league, the Miami native needs refinement with his technique, both downhill in the run game and moving in reverse in coverage, but the tools are there for him to play on passing downs in the NFL. Keep an eye on him as a potential riser throughout the process.
Prediction: Hanks has missed the last three games with an ankle injury that he suffered in practice, but the hope is that he will return to the field to help the Aggies when they take on Georgia Southern this weekend. One of the top teams in the conference, Georgia Southern will look to take advantage of a defense that simply has not been able to stop the run in Hanks’ absence. Even if he returns to the field, I think New Mexico State falls in this one.
Philly Connection: Alabama RB Damien Harris
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 love what Damien Harris brings to the field. A do-everything runner who may not be to the level of a Saquon Barkley or even a Derrius Guice as a prospect, Harris is my favorite back in the country. He’ll enter the league as a three-year starter for the Tide but won’t have a ton of carries on his résumé, so there’s reason to think he’ll last longer in the league than most seniors coming out of the SEC. The connection to the Eagles? Harris’ running backs coach is Joe Pannunzio, who spent two years here in Philadelphia as the director of personnel operations in 2015 and '16.
Prediction: Not much needs to be said here, I like the Tide to win on Saturday. This week’s victim? The Tennessee Volunteers.
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 State LT Andre Dillard vs. Oregon DE Jalen Jelks
Martin Stadium, Pullman, Washington – 7:30 p.m. – FOX
Ben Fennell raved about Andre Dillard a few weeks ago on the Journey to the Draft podcast after seeing him in person. Ben highlighted Dillard’s balance, awareness as a blocker, quick feet, and grip strength in the run game. One of the top senior linemen in the country, he’s in for one of his biggest matchups of the season on Saturday against Oregon.
One of Ben’s favorite players in the country takes on one of mine this week, as Dillard will see plenty of Oregon defensive end Jalen Jelks, who lines up tight to the left tackle and out wide off the edge at times for the Ducks. A high-upside player with plus length, a quick first step, and the ability to win in multiple ways, Jelks only has 2.5 sacks so far this season. A strong performance against Dillard and Washington State, who will try to throw the football, will go a long way.
Prediction: College Gameday travels to Pullman, Washington for the first time ever. The environment will be raucous. Both teams are ranked and coming off wins against the other’s cross-state rival. Many people like the Cougars here ... but I’m going the other way. I like Oregon on the road as the Ducks continue to raise their national profile. It may be too little, too late for the Ducks as they try and make a playoff run, but I think they’ll win the conference and look like a playoff contender in 2019, especially if star quarterback Justin Herbert goes back to school.
2. Washington RB Myles Gaskin vs. Colorado LB Drew Lewis
Husky Stadium, Seattle – 3:30 p.m. – FOX
Myles Gaskin is nursing an injury after the team’s overtime loss to Oregon last week, but reports out of Seattle are that the coaching staff hopes he can give it a go against a tough Colorado squad. Gaskin is an undersized jitterbug with the quickness to make people miss and hands to make an impact in the passing game. His frame will be a concern for most, but I think Gaskin, one of the most highly regarded senior ballcarriers in the country, will find a role in the NFL.
The Huskies take on a Colorado team this week that can put up points in bunches. Colorado is coming off a down week against USC, but the Buffaloes got off to a 5-0 start for a reason. Defensively, this group flies around the field, and senior linebacker Drew Lewis is a guy to watch. A great athlete for the position, Lewis has been a spark plug this year after leading the team in tackles a year ago. He, along with the rest of this talented linebacking corps, will be charged with trying to keep Gaskin contained.
Prediction: I like Washington to win this game at home but it will be much closer than the experts predict. Colorado keeps it within two scores.
3. USC TE Tyler Petite vs. Utah S Marquise Blair_
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City – 8 p.m. – Pac-12 Network_
One of the big-name senior tight ends in the country entering the year after being one of Sam Darnold’s top targets in 2017, Petite has been relatively quiet in his final season from a pass catching standpoint, but he’s a player to watch in this game. Petite is competitive in the trenches, has pretty soft hands, and is athletic enough to warrant consideration as a backup tight end in the NFL.
Last week, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy came on the Journey to the Draft podcast in an interview you don’t want to miss, and I asked him about which senior safeties got him excited from around the country. The final name he brought up was that of Utah’s Marquise Blair, who he coined as a "violent player." I’ll be sure to watch him when I get eyes on this matchup, as he’s a player I have not studied to this point.
Prediction: I like Utah to win a tight one here. The Trojans got a big win last week over a tough Colorado team, so maybe they are turning the corner, but the Utes are well-coached, have a more veteran-laden roster, and are at home.
What fun is making predictions if we’re not keeping score?
Last Week: 5-3
Season Record: 35-16
Two of the big upsets got me last week with LSU taking down Georgia and Michigan State stunning Penn State at home. I got stung as well by the Delaware Blue Hens ... I have to stop picking these FCS games!
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.