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, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on this weekend.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Arizona State RBs Kalen Ballage/Demario Richard vs. Washington LBs Keishawn Berreria/Azeem Victor
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona - 10:45 p.m. - ESPN
Coming into the year, one could argue that there was no better senior duo at the running back position on any team in the country than Arizona State's. With two talented players who have split carries throughout their careers in Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, hopes were high for the Sun Devils' offensive attack. Things haven't exactly panned out that way, as the uber-talented Ballage has yet to crack 80 yards in a single game, while Richard has been able to produce at a higher rate his physical upside is nowhere near as high as Ballage's.
At 6-2, 223 pounds, Ballage has shades of David Johnson to his game. He's big, strong, shockingly explosive downhill, and he can be a factor in the passing game. I question his overall vision between the tackles but I see a player who can be a factor in an NFL offense. It just hasn't panned out for him so far this year. Richard, on the other hand, is a bit more slippery than Ballage and more decisive downhill. He doesn't have the size or speed of his teammate, but I believe he can find a role in an NFL backfield as well. When it comes to stopping Arizona State's offense, I'd start with that pairing.
For Washington, the Huskies have a very talented defensive tackle in Vita Vea, but the players I want to focus on are senior linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor. Victor is probably more of a household name. He's got the look of a high-upside, sideline-to-sideline-type of linebacker with his combination of natural athleticism and long arms. Victor is a "diamond in the rough" type of prospect who needs to see things quicker and finish more consistently as a tackler before being counted on as a difference-maker at the next level. Bierria isn't as explosive as Victor, but I think he sees things a little bit quicker and may be a better overall football player right now, though he lacks the ceiling of his teammate. It's going to be interesting watching these duos face off because they are plenty of similarities between the two.
Prediction: Arizona State has really struggled and I expect that to continue against the Huskies in one of the later games of the day. Washington wins by three touchdowns in a high-scoring affair. Ballage put up a dud against Washington last year with just 9 yards rushing. I don't think it'll be that bad, but I think Richard sees more of the workload and more of the yardage to go with it.
2. Ohio State WR Parris Campbell vs. Nebraska DBs Christopher Jones and Josh Kalu
Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska - 7:30 p.m. - FS1
Parris Campbell is one of the most explosive receivers in the country and will immediately bring a vertical element to the NFL. While he may not transition to a traditional starting role on the outside, I can see the Ohio native serving a similar role as Taylor Gabriel with his movement skills. He's not a polished route runner. He's inexperienced against press coverage. Campbell's never really been a full-time player up until this year, but he has two catches of 60-plus yards on the season and is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the football.
Nebraska has a pair of experienced corners on the back end who have the ability to keep Campbell out of the end zone. Senior Josh Kalu missed some time with an injury this year, but posted 10 tackles and a pair of pass breakups last week. He is ready to roll against the Buckeyes. Standing at over 6-feet tall with very good length and make-up speed, Kalu has been used as both a corner and a safety throughout his career and could play either spot in the NFL. The Huskers were also recently blessed with the return of senior Chris Jones, who had surgery this summer to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He recorded two tackles in his return last week against Wisconsin. Count on both Kalu and Jones to be involved with trying to keep Campbell under wraps.
Prediction: Ohio State wins this matchup and I don't think it's close, but I think Nebraska keeps Campbell out of the end zone. He's limited to three catches for 56 yards and two rushes for an additional 17 yards.
3. Oregon RB Royce Freeman vs. Stanford's Front Seven
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California - 11 p.m.
Considered by many to be one of the top senior running backs in the country entering the season, Royce Freeman has hit a bit of a dry spell of late and is looking to get back on track. Since the Ducks have transitioned to conference play, Freeman has yet to crack 100 yards rushing and has only reached the end zone once in the last three games. Freeman is a four-year starter who takes care of the football and has the strength to run through initial contact. He isn't going to be considered a great athlete as he transitions to the NFL, and he has left some yards on the field throughout his career due to some indecisiveness as a ball carrier. But Freeman is a big back with the ability to find a role in any offense in the NFL.
Stanford has consistently churned out NFL talent in the front seven, and this year is no different. Senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips is a problem inside and has proven to be tough to block for Pac-12 opponents, boasting 18 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in the last three games. Senior linebacker Peter Kalambayi racked up four tackles and a sack last week against Utah. He displays quality toughness at the point of attack. The Cardinal is a gap-sound unit that plays disciplined football year in and year out. Stanford will present Oregon with a challenge in the run game.
Prediction: I like Stanford to come away with the win at home against the Ducks, who are missing their talented underclassman quarterback Justin Herbert. The Cardinal holds Freeman to fewer than 100 yards rushing and win the game by two touchdowns.
4. Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli vs. Purdue LB Ja'Whaun Bentley
*Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin - 3:30 p.m. - Big Ten Network *
In last year's star-studded tight end class, one name that was surprisingly left off the list was that of Wisconsin's Troy Fumagalli, who decided to go back to Madison for his senior season. I like the decision because the senior now has the ability to be one of the first names off the board at his position. A former walk-on who has only nine fingers but still manages to reel in nearly every pass thrown in his direction, Fumagalli is a tough son of a gun who can fit into any NFL offense because of his competitiveness, ball skills, and improved route running ability. I'd count on this kid to succeed in the NFL, even if he doesn't become a star.
Purdue has made waves with its early-season success, and while most of the attention is on their offense, I want to focus on two senior linebackers for this piece. Ja'Whaun Bentley is a Maryland native (who went to Brian Westbrook and Rodney McLeod's alma mater of DeMatha Catholic High School) has been a four-year starter for the Boilermakers. He isn't a great athlete for the position, but he's a big kid and a strong, physical tackler. Purdue defensive coordinator Nick Holt likes to put Bentley over the tight end in both the base and nickel subpackages, so I expect to see him matched up with Fumagalli often.
Prediction: I think this game is closer than people think, and Wisconsin squeaks one out by a touchdown or less. I think this will be a fun, high-scoring affair, and Fumagalli reaches the end zone twice.
5. Miami TE Chris Herndon vs. Georgia Tech S Corey Griffin
*Hard Rock Stadium, Miami - 3:30 p.m. - ABC *
Miami had a tight end drafted in the first round last year in David Njoku (Cleveland Browns). I remember watching Njoku for the draft and thinking, "Man, they've got another guy ready to go for next year too." Chris Herndon started 12 games last year for the Canes (who play a lot of two-tight end sets under coach Mark Richt), and Herndon is similar in a lot of ways to Njoku. A long, explosive athlete who is great after the catch, Herndon will be viewed as a high-upside receiving threat at the tight end spot this spring. He doesn't have great size. He's a willing blocker, but he's not overly effective in that role at this point. However, he's capable of making plays in the passing game, which he put on display with a 37-yard grab in the win over Florida State last week. Miami will need more plays from Herndon in the passing game with star running back Mark Walton on the sidelines.
Senior safety Corey Griffin has NFL size at 6-2, 199 pounds, and has a good feel for playing in zone coverage. I saw a fairly smooth athlete who was quick in and out of breaks watching him earlier this season against Tennessee. He won't be viewed as a pure single-high player in the NFL, but I think he can handle a role underneath. Herndon will stress Griffin down the seam if the Hurricanes go that route, so it will be interesting to see how the Ramblin Wreck decide to defend the athletic tight end.
Prediction: Herndon catches four passes for 50-plus yards and a touchdown in a win for the still-undefeated Hurricanes in what I think will be a double-digit victory.
Our friend Tony Pauline ranked Ohio State center Billy Price as a "riser" this week and a potential top-25 pick, and I couldn't agree more. In fact, I can make the case that Price is one of the top 15 players in the country regardless of position, but it's doubtful he'll go that high. Price has a thick build with shorter arms than you'd ideally want in an NFL starter, but he's smart, tough, and a bulldozer at the point of attack. Those qualities will carry him a long way in the NFL, whether it's at his current position of center or at guard, where he began his career with the Buckeyes.
A four-year starter at the FCS level, Fordham running back Chase Edmonds isn't built like a prototypical NFL running back but he's got the traits to stick in the league for a long time. Edmonds makes defenders miss at a high rate at a lower level of competition. He should be able to create yards for himself in the NFL with his combination of quickness and competitiveness as a runner, though just not as a full-time back. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native is a pretty good pass protector and competent receiver out of the backfield to boot. I had flashbacks to former Wisconsin running back and current Super Bowl champion James White while watching Edmonds.
A "sleeper" at the tight end position in this class could be senior Adam Breneman from UMass, and while he comes from a smaller school, he is no small fish. A former five-star recruit out of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Breneman grew up about two hours west of Philadelphia and went to Penn State as a prized recruit. He could never get things going with the Nittany Lions due to myriad injuries. He ended up retiring, only to return to the game he loves with one of his best friends with the Minutemen. Breneman has NFL speed down the seam and is reliable at the catch point. His knees will certainly have to be triple checked as the draft approaches. If he checks out, he'll likely be viewed a quality day three option or even a surprise selection on day two.
My game ball this week won't go to anyone who played last Saturday. Memphis' Anthony Miller caught four of quarterback Riley Ferguson's seven touchdowns last Friday against UConn on national TV. It's the second time the senior slot receiver has stood out on a big stage (he caught nine passes for 185 yards and two scores in the Tigers' upset over UCLA in September). I don't see a dynamic threat in the open field watching Miller and he's not going to be viewed as a "contested catch" weapon in the NFL. He is a crafty route runner, though, who knows how to create separation at the top of his stem and he's very reliable at the catch point. Miller can make catches in traffic and through contact, and is one of the more competitive receivers I've watched in this senior class. Keep an eye on Miller and Ferguson as they host nationally ranked Navy on Saturday.
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.