This is the most exciting time of year for college football fans, as it’s Conference Championship week and Bowl Season is upon us. Automatic BCS bids are on the line in the Big Ten, Big East, ACC, PAC-12, and SEC (though the Big East is just a regular game not a title game). The MAC and Conference USA titles are also on the line, and though neither are automatic qualifiers for the BCS, the highest ranked non-automatic qualifier ranked in the top 16 will get a bid to one of the BCS bowls as an “At-large” team.
The SEC title game has the biggest implications, with the winner between Georgia and Alabama going to the BCS Championship game against undefeated Notre Dame. While there aren’t many games being played this week, there are still going to be solid NFL Draft prospects on display. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s ”Prospects To Watch” with an eye towards the draft:
Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills
Oklahoma came into this season with BCS Championship aspirations, as they had 15 returning starters, including a potential Heisman contender with tons of starting experience in senior QB Landry Jones. Add a top notch coach in Bob Stoops and you have a recipe for BCS success. Then the Sooners lost an early season game against Kansas State and got steamrolled by undefeated Notre Dame later in the year, and now they will be featured in one of the BCS Bowl games, which isn’t a bad thing- it’s just not the BCS Championship.This week, the Sooners face a TCU team that isn’t what it’s been in recent years, but still has a solid defense to combat the Sooners’ high scoring spread offense led by Landry and WR Kenny Stills.
Stills (6’1, 190 lbs.) was highly recruited coming out of high school, and when he chose Oklahoma, many thought he was in line for stardom. He hasn’t put up the gaudy, eye popping numbers one would expect given his talent, but he has been very consistent this season catching less than six passes per game in only two contests, and has shown enough potential to warrant consideration as a second day draft pick. He has solid size and has shown that he has the body control and leaping ability to be an effective red zone target, as he is tied for sixth in the nation with 11 touchdown receptions.
Through 11 games this season, Stills has 73 receptions for 881 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Cincinnati @ UConn
UConn DE Trevardo Williams
UConn has been a very inconsistent team this year, as the defense has played well, but the offense has been unimpressive and unable to score many points. They are in desperation mode this week, as they have only five wins and need to beat Cincinnati if they want to be Bowl eligible. They are riding a two game win streak, and have to hope their defense can shut down a Bearcats team that has averaged over 30 points per game. UConn defensive end Trevardo Williams is one of the Huskies’ best players on that side of the ball, and they will need a big game from him if they are to have a chance in this one.
Williams (6’2, 233 lbs.) is very undersized for the position, but makes up for it with speed and quickness off the edge. He has made a living in opponent’s backfields this year, but he is looking like a third day pick at this point because of how small he is. He most likely will have to move to outside linebacker and be used as an edge rusher on obvious passing downs, but with the way the NFL passing games are these days, that may not be a bad thing for him. He is among the leaders in the nation in sacks and tackles for loss this year.
Through 11 games this year, Williams has 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
Texas @ Kansas State
Kansas State LB Arthur Brown
Kansas State was on their way to an undefeated season topped off with a BCS National title appearance…until Baylor had to go and ruin the dream season for the Wildcats. Kansas State is still in line to make a BCS bowl game if they can win this game against a talented Longhorns team that has averaged over 37 points per game. While the Wildcats’ offense shouldn’t have any problems scoring against a defense that has allowed teams to score an average of over 28 points per game, the defense will have its hands full. A big game by the defense, led by MLB Arthur Brown will be required in this one if Kansas State is to come away with the win.
Brown (6’1, 231 lbs.) was a third team All-American after a great year last year, and he has routinely comes up with timely tackles- leading the team in that category. He has been all over the field this year, and has done a good job in coverage, which is what NFL teams are looking for with all the passing that offenses are doing these days. His Draft stock at this time stands as a third round pick, and he could move up with a solid post season.
Through 11 games this season, Brown has 80 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, three passes broken up, and two interceptions with one touchdown.
Nebraska vs Wisconsin
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball
After Montee Ball led the nation in rushing with over 1,900 yards, tied Barry Sanders’ record with 39 total touchdowns, and finished as a Heisman finalist last season, everyone thought he would follow teammates Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Peter Konz, and Kevin Keitler to the NFL. He opted to returned to school, and as soon as he did, many criticized him for it.
For the first half of this season, it looked as though maybe the critics were right, as he struggled behind an inconsistent offensive line and had to deal with eight and nine man boxes as teams were geared up not be beat by the run. Once October came along, however, the Montee Ball of old was back, and he hasn’t looked back. In the first five games, he had averaged 3.65 yards per carry on 124 carries with six touchdowns; since then he has exploded for 187 carries, is averaging 5.75 yards per carry, and has scored 12 touchdowns. He owns several NCAA records already, and now you can add the most career touchdowns in FBS history with 79 and counting.
Ball (5’11, 215 lbs.) has a nice combination of size, balance, and vision. He is the classic bell-cow back- a tailback who can handle 25 carries a game and gets better as the game goes along. While Ball isn’t getting the production through the air that he did last season, he has shown to be a nice outlet option and can pick up the blitz adequately. All these things point to him being a complete back, but how he tests at the Scouting Combine and how teams feel about his college workload will ultimately dictate where he will be drafted. As of now, he is considered a late second or early third day pick, but with a lack of top tier talent in this year’s runningback crop, he could easily move up.
Ball has 311 carries for 1,528 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games this year.
UCLA @ Stanford
UCLA LB Anthony Barr
This season couldn’t have gone better for first year head coach Jim Mora Jr. and the Bruins: they beat bitter rival USC for the first time since 2006, they beat Arizona for the first time since 2006, and they can win their conference for the first time since 1998 with a win over Stanford this week. A very good ground game and effective play action passing attack has helped UCLA average 36 points per game, but this turnaround has been helped greatly by the Bruins’ aggressive and opportunistic 3-4 defense, which is tied for seventh in the nation in takeaways, led by OLB Anthony Barr.
Barr (6’4, 235 lbs.) has been a huge surprise this year, and has turned out to be one of the best pass rushers in the country. He literally came out of nowhere; this time last year he was a fullback, and not only did he have to change positions, but he wasn’t even projected to be in the starting lineup before the season began. Barr has been consistent with his production all year, and is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles. He has good size, but it’s his explosiveness off the edge that stands out. He is raw, but he clearly has natural ability and tons of athleticism.
Barr’s standout play this year has sent his Draft stock soaring to the point where he could go from undrafted, to possibly getting picked in the first two days of the draft. His best move would be to go back to school for another year of development since he is in just his first year of playing linebacker, but if he were to declare after the season, he could be in high demand, as pass rushers are always popular come Draft day.
So far on the year, Barr has 65 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, five passes broken up, four forced fumbles, and one blocked kick.
Game of the Week: Alabama vs Georgia
Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
Not only is this the game of the week, the game that will decide who will win the SEC, and one helluva matchup between two evenly matched teams, but it will also decide who will play Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship. This is as close to the ”Big Stage” as it gets, and all eyes will be on the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs this week. Both teams score a lot of points, with the Crimson Tide averaging 39 points per game and the Bulldogs averaging 38 points per, but the winner of this contest will be decided by which defense is better.’Bama has been downright stifling on defense, and while Georgia isn’t on that elite level, they are still very good, and the Dawgs just so happen to have one of the best players in the country: OLB Jarvis Jones.
Jones (6’3, 241 lbs.) is a future lock for the top five in the NFL Draft, and he has been a true playmaker for Georgia. Not only has he been a force as a pass rusher, but he constantly makes game changing plays when the team needs it- he is tied for the most forced fumbles in the country this year. Jones is always in opposing quarterback’s faces and he makes running to his side very difficult with his speed/strength combo and his ability to shed blocks. He has shown the ability to take over a game, and his dominant performance against Florida- 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles- is proof of that.
After posting 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks last season, he is back at it this year, as he is sixth in sacks and third in tackles for loss in the nation. What’s even more impressive is that Jones has put up these stats despite missing two games. This will be a good test for him, as Alabama has three starters on their offensive line that will be first or second round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft in offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, guard Chance Warmack and center Barrett Jones, and it will be interesting to see how the ‘Bama coaching staff will shift their protections to contain Jarvis Jones. This is truly a marquee matchup, and an awesome way to ring in Bowl Season.
Through 10 games this season, Jones has 71 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and one interception.