Pack your bags: A scout's fall football itinerary
Pack your bags: A scout's fall football itinerary
By Chad Reuter
NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
Aug. 25, 2011
NFL general managers would love to see every one of the top 100 prospects in person during a college football season.
Watching tape is helpful. It gives an evaluator the ability to watch plays repeatedly. But seeing a player "on the hoof" during the game and in practice affords a far better indicator of the player from his physique and interaction with teammates and coaches.
But general managers obviously can't be in two places at once.
That forces all decision-makers to carefully craft a fall schedule that is assembled with matchups that not only allow them to see the best players, but also against the best competition possible, in mind.
Teams looking at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the top overall pick, for example, are more interested in seeing his performances on the road against tough defenses -- Southern Cal or Arizona -- than what's likely to be a huge stat day against San Jose State opening weekend.
The following potential weekly schedule for a general manager during the 2011 college football season includes many of the year's top games, but also tries to minimize duplication in order to see as many of the top prospects as possible.
It's like a big puzzle which, when complete, presents the best possible picture of the 2012 draft class.
Boise State vs. Georgia (Atlanta), Sept. 3
Since this West vs. Southeast matchup kicks off at the same time as the other big interregional contest to be held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (Oregon vs. LSU), scouts have a tough decision.
Watching undersized but accurate and productive Boise quarterback Kellen Moore take on an SEC defense might be too interesting to ignore. Georgia's excellent offensive line includes top prospects at left tackle (Cordy Glenn) and center (Ben Jones), while the Broncos bring active Billy Winn and up-and-comer Tyrone Crawford to the party.
Arizona at Oklahoma State, Sept. 8
Oklahoma State, particularly with soon-to-be 28 year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden trying to find talented junior receiver Justin Blackmon using the strong arm he honed during his days in baseball's minor leagues, should put up plenty of points again.
The Wildcats lost three defensive ends to the draft last year, so OSU right tackle Levy Adcock should have an advantage, but Weeden must be wary of experienced Arizona corners Trevin Wade and Robert Golden. The Wildcats also have a potentially formidable combination of quarterback Nick Foles to receiver Juron Criner; Cowboys safeties Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas must make plays for the team to succeed.
Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17
This game turned out to be a laugher in Norman last year, with the Sooners winning 47-17. New FSU quarterback, the athletic junior E.J. Manuel, got a chance to play against Bob Stoops' defense last year, however, so he'll have a fair chance to succeed if his receivers and offensive line (including top tackle prospects LT Andrew Datko and RT Zebrie Sanders) do their jobs.
Oklahoma's prototypically-sized pocket passer, junior Landry Jones, also gets another shot at ripping past the Seminoles' defense, though junior defensive end Brandon Jenkins will test an unproven Sooners' offensive line. Look for Jones to unload quickly, therefore, to the ultra-productive Ryan Broyles and other talented receivers.
Arkansas at Alabama, September 24th
Ryan Mallett left for the NFL, affording Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson his chance against a star-studded, Nick Saban-coached Alabama defense. Losing junior running back Knile Davis to a season-ending left ankle injury makes Wilson's life more difficult, he still has one of the deepest receiving corps in the country at his disposal. Greg Childs returns from a knee injury, and Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and junior Cobi Hamilton will force the Tide's top corner Dre Kirkpatrick (junior) and safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester (junior) to make plays in the secondary.
The Hogs' defense is not quite as talented as 'Bama's, but one match-up to watch is when the Tide has the ball is defensive end Jake Bequette taking on either junior left tackle Barrett Jones or sophomore right tackle D.J. Fluker -- both potential future first round picks. Arkansas defenders linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas are also on NFL scouts' radars.
Nebraska at Wisconsin, October 1
This game already feels like a long-time rivalry even though the Cornhuskers will be playing their first Big Ten schedule in 2011 and the two teams haven't played since 1974. But GMs are less interested in the program similarities and the Saturday Night atmosphere at Camp Randall than they are the intriguing prospect match-ups -- especially when the Badgers have the ball.
The Huskers' defensive line includes the high-motor, underrated athletic Jared Crick and juniors Baker Steinkuhler -- yes, another one -- and Cameron Meredith -- but Wisconsin's line includes future NFL players at all five spots including seniors guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Josh Oglesby on the right side. All-American linebacker Lavonte David will track down UW's stable of running backs, while undersized press corner Alfonzo Dennard will earn his first round grade against Badgers receiver Nick Toon, as long as the son of former long-time NFL receiver Al Toon has made connections with N.C. State transfer quarterback Russell Wilson.
Boston College at Clemson, October 8
The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma might be the "sexy" matchup of the weekend in terms of the national college football radar. But scouts should make the effort to see the stacked Clemson front four taking on an annually solid BC O-line. Junior tackles John Wetzel (taking over for first round pick Anthony Castonzo on the left side) and Emmett Cleary will have their hands full with seniors Andre Branch and Kourtnei Brown, as well as junior Malliciah Goodman. Tigers tackle Brandon Thompson has the strength, hands, and agility to be a first round pick, so BC guard Nathan Richman and center Mark Spinney must be stout to make room for running back Montel Harris (assuming his scoped left knee is healthy by then).
Boston College's top defenders, tackle Kaleb Ramsey, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (junior) and corner/safety prospect Donnie Fletcher also draw tough assignments in slowing down Clemson's junior duo of speedy running back Andre Ellington and top tight end prospect Dwayne Allen.
Miami (Fla.) at North Carolina, October 15th
These programs have provided the worst off-field stories the past two years, but their talent level is strong enough to still earn the respect of NFL scouts. The Tar Heels' defensive line is loaded again, with top five overall prospect Quinton Coples and up-and-coming Donte Paige-Moss taking on young but huge (they average 6-6, 324 lbs) 'Canes tackles. Tackle Tydreke Powell also has a chance to prove himself against massive junior All-ACC guard Brandon Washington. Miami running backs Lamar Miller (redshirt sophomore) and Mike James (junior) must keep an eye out for speedy UNC linebackers Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick (junior).
Miami also has plenty of talent on the defensive line, with Micanor Regis joining juniors Marcus Forston, Oliver Vernon and Adewale Ojomo as potential impact playmakers. Active linebacker Sean Spence and junior strong safety Ray Ray Armstrong will also try to stop Carolina backs Ryan Houston and fullback Davon Ramsay from getting loose.
Southern Cal at Notre Dame, October 22
The game might have lost luster in recent years, but there is still quite a bit of talent on the field when the Irish host the Trojans -- especially at the skill positions. USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley and Notre Dame's junior passer, Dayne Crist, both have futures in the NFL. Barkley's left tackle, Matt Kalil, also should be a high pick if he declares this year. Scouts will have to wait at least another year before super sophomore Trojans receiver Robert Woods is available to them, but Notre Dame's big-bodied pass-catcher Michael Floyd needs to build on his Sun Bowl MVP performance to make scouts forget his alcohol-related offenses.
Both defenses have fair prospects, as well. Notre Dame senior defensive backs Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton and Gary Gray joining junior linebacker Manti Te'o will try to make plays against Barkley for the Irish, while USC junior defensive ends Wes Horton and Nick Perry, tackle Christian Tupou, and junior free safety T.J. McDonald will be tracking Crist in this nationally-televised match-up.
Michigan State at Nebraska, October 29
College quarterbacks face few tougher tests than the Bo Pelini-coached Blackshirts. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is one of the top senior prospects at the position, and he'll need to prove his accuracy, mobility and poise against Crick, Dennard, and the rest of the squad noted in Nebraska's earlier match-up against Wisconsin.
Cousins has two solid seniors receivers to throw to, however, in all-purpose threat Keshawn Martin and strong B.J. Cunningham, as well as receiving tight ends in Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek. The Spartans also have a potential star on defense in junior tackle Jerel Worthy, who faces an inexperienced NU interior offensive line.
LSU at Alabama, November 5
The Tigers and Tide lead one of the strongest weekly schedules of the season, with Texas A&M also travelling to Oklahoma and Arkansas hosting South Carolina. But the two top teams of the SEC West have literally dozens of future NFL players on their rosters, so scouts will flock to Tuscaloosa for this one.
Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson, the top prospect in this game, must avoid a talented but young LSU front seven led by linebackers Stefoin Francois, Karnell Hatcher (who is switching from safety), and Ryan Baker. No matter who is throwing the ball for Alabama, there will be great battles on the outside between lanky LSU junior corner Morris Claiborne, his smallish but tough sophomore teammate Tyrann Mathieu and Tide's solid senior receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.
Oregon at Stanford, November 12
Oregon's offense may be a bigger opponent for everyone's number one prospect, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, than the Ducks' defense. He may need to lead his team to 50 or more points, as the Cardinal defense failed to stop the Ducks in a 52-31 loss -- their only defeat of the season. He'll need his possible first round value offensive lineman, juniors left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, receiver Chris Owusu and tight ends Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz (sophomore) to all make plays. Among those defending all those weapons for Oregon will be junior playmaking corner Cliff Harris and linebackers Josh Kaddu and Eddie Pleasant.
Of course, Oregon juniors quarterback Darron Thomas and small-but-explosive running back LaMichael James will once again test the Cardinal's defensive leaders, junior linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas. Thomas makes plays with his arm to big receiver Lavasier Tuinei and tight end David Paulson, as well as on the run.
Penn State at Ohio State, November 19
The Buckeyes won't have most of their top players until the sixth game of the year, and they need to give them a couple of games to get back into a playing mentality. Running back Dan "Boom" Herron, left tackle Mike Adams, and receiver DeVier Posey should all have their "game legs" by the time they host the Nittany Lions.
Adams and highly-rated center Mike Brewster attempt to move PSU's Jack Crawford and Devon Still, respectively, so Herron can make hay when the Buckeyes have the ball. Posey, on the other hand, takes on an underrated corner with NFL size, D'Anton Lynn, on the outside.
Texas at Texas A&M, November 24 (Thurs)
This could be the first time in a couple of decades that scouts will be paying significantly more attention to prospects wearing maroon in this fierce in-state rivalry than those wearing burnt orange. A&M's offensive triple threat of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Jeff Fuller should get a lot of attention this season.
Texas' inexperienced corner group will be less green by the time they face Fuller, and Gray will have to avoid a Longhorns front seven with potential breakout players tackle Kheeston Randall and junior end Alex Okafor and solid linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. Scouts can't hit the restroom when the Aggies' defense is on the field, however, as corners Coryell Judie (also a good returner) and Terrence Frederick, defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie have pro talent. Super soph linebacker Damontre Moore is also a potential star filling in for 2011 number two overall pick Von Miller.
SEC Championship Game, December 3
The Big Ten holds its first conference championship in Indianapolis on this day, the winner of the ACC will be determined in Charlotte, and Bedlam reigns when Oklahoma travels to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. But whether it's LSU or Alabama making it out of the SEC West or South Carolina or Georgia coming out of the East, scouts will likely head to Atlanta to check out the top teams in the country's most talented conference.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks haven't been included anywhere on this schedule, but GMs would love to see quarterback Stephen Garcia throwing to 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior receiver Alshon Jeffery against a top defense for the conference championship. South Carolina also has top front seven defenders in Devin Taylor (junior), Travian Robertson, and Melvin Ingram, as well as secondary prospects Stephon Gilmore (junior), Akeem Auguste and Antonio Allen.
Re: Pack your bags: A scout's fall football itinerary
he has Texas, Oklahoma, but no Red River between them lol.