It's time to preview Week 5 of the 2018 College Football season and react to another outstanding weekend of action. We had some instant classics involving some of the top prospects from coast to coast, and we touched on a lot of it on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast. Here's who you should be watching this week!
Game Ball: Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu
This is a player who had a strong performance a week ago and helped his draft stock because of it.
For a program largely in flux this offseason, the team needed leadership from their upperclassmen to take them through the start of a new regime, and they've gotten that with quarterback Jordan Ta'amu. At 6-2, 210 pounds, the Hawaiian signal-caller has led one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC through the first month of the year. While the Rebels got their doors blown off two weeks ago against Alabama, they've started 3-1 on the year and have a big in-conference matchup this Saturday night against LSU. Last week against Kent State, Ta'amu completed 74 percent of his passes for 442 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He's got a very talented receiving corps that includes senior Damarkus Lodge and a pair of underclassmen in A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, but Ta'amu deserves some recognition as well. Keep an eye on him as Ole Miss enters the meat of its conference schedule.
Prediction: This game, dubbed the "Magnolia Bowl," is a big one on the SEC schedule every year. LSU is 4-0, has looked impressive doing it, and is 6-2 in the last eight matchups vs Mississippi. I like the Tigers to win this game, but I do think it will be close. Keep an eye on LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, a talented underclassman, against this trio of Ole Miss receivers, namely Metcalf. Ta'amu throws for 250-plus yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
Draft Buzz: Georgia CB Deandre Baker
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.
Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks released their most recent dual Big Board, and the top-rated senior on the list was Georgia corner Deandre Baker. The pair of analysts cite his "junkyard dog" mentality on the perimeter, and that competitiveness certainly does show up. Baker, listed 5-11, 185 pounds, doesn't have elite physical tools, but he's an instinctive corner who continues to be productive for a great Bulldogs defense. I'm not quite sure that he has the size and speed that typical first-round corners have, and he can be a bit inconsistent finding the football downfield, but there's a lot to like about his game, especially in a zone-heavy scheme like the Eagles'. He's one of the top senior corners in the country.
Prediction: Georgia takes on a disappointing Tennessee squad this weekend in a battle of former Nick Saban defensive coordinators who are at opposite ends of the rebuilding phase. The Vols lost by 26 points to Florida last week and are undergoing an overhaul on both sides of the ball in coach Jeremy Pruitt's first year. Kirby Smart, on the other hand, boasts one of the best teams in college football that is both churning out NFL talent every year and recruiting the top high school players in the country better than pretty much everyone. Georgia wins big.
Best Pro Comparison: Ohio State WR Parris Campbell
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.
Parris Campbell is a very intriguing player, especially if you are a team looking for an injection of speed on offense. The senior, who graduated from the same high school in Akron, Ohio as LeBron James, is an explosive athlete who can stretch the field both vertically in the passing game and horizontally in the run game. He's not a polished route runner at this stage of his development, and I want to continue to see him develop his ability to work over the middle as a slot receiver, but he projects well as a vertical threat who can impact the game as a returner.
At first, I thought Campbell may remind me of a Taylor Gabriel-like slot weapon in the NFL, but he's not as savvy without the ball as Gabriel is. Then I thought he reminded me a lot of former Eagle Josh Huff with his body type and raw speed, but I think Campbell is more explosive. The more I pondered this topic, however, the more I thought Campbell could reach the same career arc of former Buckeye wideout Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn never quite lived up to his draft slot as a top-10 pick of the Miami Dolphins, but he's carved out quite a career as a starting receiver on the outside. It would be great to see Campbell live up to that type of potential.
Prediction: Ohio State and Penn State battle in the most critical Big Ten bout of the still-young college season on Saturday night. The two top-10 teams meet in Happy Valley, and the last time they played in that stadium with the Lions as underdogs was in 2016, when coach James Franklin earned the biggest win of his career in blue and white. Ohio State has steamrolled opponents so far this season, however, and it's tough to pick against the Buckeyes. I think OSU takes this one on the road by more than a touchdown.
Small-School Standout: North Dakota State QB Easton Stick
This is a player who comes from a lower level of competition but has a very bright future in the NFL.
This week on the Journey to the Draft podcast, I asked quarterback Carson Wentz about the "Dakota Marker Game," a bout between North Dakota State and South Dakota State that takes place on Saturday. Wentz was effusive in his praise of his successor with the Bison, quarterback Easton Stick. The senior runs a pro-style offense and definitely has command of the scheme, just like Wentz did during his time in Fargo. Wentz says Stick "has a ton of potential ... he brings a ton of athleticism, a ton of knowledge at the quarterback position that I think we'll see transition to the NFL level in due time." Keep an eye on Stick, and his counterpart on the other sideline in Taryn Christion.
Prediction: Wentz and rookie tight end Dallas Goedert have a friendly side bet going in this game between their two alma maters, and this is a huge battle at the FCS level. South Dakota State is No. 3 in the nation and North Dakota State is ranked No. 1. Both teams have extremely productive offenses and stout defenses. They're both led by senior quarterbacks in Stick and Christion. I'm going to go with the Bison in this matchup, though, not just because they're in the Fargo Dome, but they're also coming off a week of rest. Goedert, who seemed pretty confident on the podcast about his team coming up with a "W," may be stuck wearing NDSU colors next week at the NovaCare Complex.
Philly Connection: Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat
This is a player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on.
Sweat is a player I spotlighted on this week's Journey to the Draft podcast as one of the top senior pass rushers in the country. He has an intriguing skill set, boasting long arms, a good first step, and the willingness to use his hands at the top of the rush to beat opposing tackles. He has a motor to make plays from sideline to sideline and he competes against the run as well. Sweat doesn't appear to be the most flexible pass rusher turning the corner, which is why his ability to use his hands is so important, but he also doesn't have that extra reliable, go-to move when he's trying to win off the edge yet either. When he gets that move, he'll need to not only hone in on that one, but he'll also need to develop a counter rush off of it. So there is work to be done, but I like the tools he has to work with from the jump.
So what is Sweat's connection to the Eagles? If you think he's related to rookie Josh Sweat, you're wrong. They are not related. It is true that Sweat goes to the same school that Fletcher Cox went to, but that's not my intended connection either. Instead, I'll look at the scheme, where Sweat plays the same exact role in defensive coordinator Bob Shoops' 4-3 scheme that Derek Barnett did back in 2016, his final season at Tennessee, where Shoops was the coordinator.
Prediction: Mississippi State disappointed me last week in its loss to Kentucky, and while Florida hasn't beaten anyone of consequence yet this season, Gators head coach Dan Mullen knows this MSU roster inside and out. I like Florida to come into Starkville and get the win. Sweat does his part though with 1.5 sacks off the edge.
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. Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. Notre Dame LB Te'Von Coney
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana - 7:30 p.m. - NBC
I have spent plenty of time this year talking about Bryce Love, the Heisman Trophy finalist from a year ago, who ran all over opposing defenses in his first year as the starter taking over for Christian McCaffrey. It's been tougher sledding for the senior this year, however, as he's gone for over 100 yards just once in the first four weeks, with 22 of his 89 yards coming on a touchdown run last week in the win over Oregon. Love is on the smaller side at 5-10, 202 pounds, but he is quick, competitive, and can make plays in space. This will be one of his last big tests of the 2018 season.
This Notre Dame front seven has loads of talent, with three seniors really catching most of the spotlight. Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is an athletic, violent interior disruptor up front. One senior linebacker, Drue Tranquill, is a former safety with outstanding special teams potential, while the other, Te'Von Coney, has looked like the best player on that unit. He's an instinctive sideline-to-sideline player who will be charged with keeping Love under the century mark yet again.
Prediction: I think this will be closer than people think, but I like Notre Dame's defensive front against Stanford's offensive line, which is still finding its footing here in 2018. Tillery and Coney fly around the field and steal the show in a three-point victory.
2. South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel vs. Kentucky CB Derrick Baity
Kroger Field, Lexington, Kentucky - 7:30 p.m. - SEC Network
Samuel is one of my favorite skill players in the country. He's not the biggest and isn't as explosive as a DeSean Jackson or a Tyreek Hill, but he's quick, physical, great after the catch, and is versatile enough to make plays at all three levels of the field. The senior has racked up at least six catches in every game this year, and don't be fooled by just one touchdown. Samuel is a game-breaker. My guess is when it's all said and done he will be a Day 2 selection in next April's draft.
Samuel and his talented teammates get tested every week in the SEC, and they'll have another tough matchup this weekend against the surprising Wildcats, who have gone on the road to beat both Florida and Mississippi State this year in their undefeated start. Kentucky's front seven has received a lot of attention, as has its run game, but the Wildcats have a senior-laden secondary with a couple of potential NFL starters lining up in blue and white. I like free safety Mike Edwards, who is a bit on the smaller side but plays big. The guy to watch in this matchup, however, is Derrick Baity. At 6-3, 188 pounds, the lanky senior has three pass breakups and no interceptions through four games and the tools are there for him to be a long-time NFL player. His size is rare, obviously, but he also is surprisingly quick at the top of routes and always has his eyes on the football. Check out this matchup throughout the game.
Prediction: I think Samuel gets the better of this matchup and reaches the end zone for the first time since Week 1, but it's tough to pick against the Wildcats here. I think they go to 5-0 despite SC's best efforts.
3. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson vs. Michigan Defense
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois - 4:30 p.m. - FOX
Northwestern allowed Akron to get its first Big Ten win in decades a couple of weeks ago, and the Wildcats received some bad news this week with their starting running back being forced to retire due to a medical issue, but quarterback Clayton Thorson is a guy to watch. The senior has NFL size at 6-4, 225 pounds, has a quick release, a pro arm, and athleticism to match. Bouts of inaccuracy and bad decisions have hurt him in the past (including in that upset loss to the Zips), but Thorson is an NFL prospect who will likely go in the mid-stages of Day 3 next April.
Michigan's defense is led by that talented line, with potential superstar pass rusher Rashan Gary on one side and savvy senior Chase Winovich on the other. Winovich has a high motor, uses his hands really well, and is able to win at the top of the rush to the point that he's able to mask some of his athletic limitations. Senior safety Tyree Kinnel is a guy to watch as well on the back end.
Prediction: After a disappointing opener against Notre Dame, the Wolverines have looked good, scrubbing two Group of Five teams before winning their first conference matchup in convincing fashion last week against Nebraska. They appear to have figured things out on offense, and I expect them to roll on Northwestern in Evanston this week.
What fun is making predictions if we're not keeping score?
Last Week: 4-4
Season Record: 17-10
I was hot for a couple of weeks and got spoiled last week. Old Dominion shocked the world with their win over Virginia Tech, and I was SO conflicted in picking Mississippi State over Kentucky (the game went the other way). I hope to get back on the winning side this weekend.