CFT Previews: Top NFL prospects playing in the National Championship Game

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As the excitement builds for the first national championship decided by a playoff system, NFL scouts will be even more giddy about the available talent on the rosters of the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Both squads are loaded with players that will eventually make the transition from student-athlete to the professional ranks.

Two potential No. 1 overall picks could play in the contest with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota facing off against Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. However, Bosa is only a true sophomore, therefore he is not eligible for the 2015 NFL draft class.

Here are the Top 10 draft-eligible talents in the contest as they project to the NFL:

1. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon
The National Championship Game will be Mariota’s next opportunity to make his case to be selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April’s NFL draft.

The Oregon quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner has all the physical tools a team searches for in a franchise quarterback. He stands 6-4 and weighs 219 pounds. His arm is above average. And Oregon coaches claim the quarterback is one of the fastest players on the team with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

But the most impressive aspect of Mariota’s play is his decision-making. Questions will continue about Oregon’s system and the type of throws Mariota is usually asked to make. However, the quarterback owns an astounding touchdown-to-interception ratio over his career. Entering Monday’s contest, Mariota has thrown 101 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. It’s an amazing number that isn’t dependent purely on system.

The National Championship Game should be the proper platform to highlight the skills of the best player in college football and arguably the top talent preparing to enter the NFL.

2. Michael Bennett, defensive tackle, Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ late season surge was helped by the resurgence of its veteran leader along the defensive line. Bennett didn’t perform to expectations during the first half of the season even though the defensive tackle was considered a first-round talent.

Ohio State’s coaching staff then decided to only play Bennett as the team’s 3-technique (defensive tackle that lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard). The senior admitted an increased comfort level, and his play reflected as such.

Bennett is an explosive up-field disruptive force that is nearly as adept at taking on double-teams and properly splitting those blocks. The defensive lineman absolutely dominated the Wisconsin Badgers’ offensive line in the Big Ten Championship Game, and he turned up the heat on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims during the second half of the Sugar Bowl.

Due to Bennett’s strong second-half performance, he will once again be considered a top talent as the draft nears.

3. Arik Armstead, defensive end, Oregon
California v OregonVery few players on the field will present Armstead’s combination of raw talent and athleticism.

The 6-8, 290-pound junior chose Oregon, because the Ducks allowed him to play both football and basketball. Armstead wasn’t great on the hardwood, but he can be very difficult to block when he’s on the gridiron.

Due to Armstead’s size and strength in his hands, he projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme — it’s an easy projection since the Ducks employ a three-man front. The concerns this year, though, were from a lack of production and nagging injuries that slowed the talented defensive lineman.

4. DeForest Buckner, defensive end, Oregon
These Oregon defensive ends could easily be flipped based on system fit. Buckner is better at penetrating and making plays in the backfield than Armstead, who is more stout at the point of attack.

The 6-7, 290-pound junior led the Ducks with 13 tackles for loss. He also finished fourth on the team with four sacks.

As a tall and angular defensive lineman, though, Buckner’s ability to play with leverage is inconsistent, and he can be driven off the ball by more physical offensive linemen.

5. Hroniss Grasu, center, Oregon
Grasu is arguably the best center in college football. However, he is yet another system fit. Teams that employ a heavy zone-blocking scheme will value Grasu more highly than traditional power blocking systems. His lateral movement is as good as any interior blocker in the nation. As such, Grasu’s value will range from the early to mid rounds.

The Los Angles native already proved to be an iron man in the middle of the Ducks offensive line. He started 40 straight games before finally getting dinged as a senior. Still, Grasu maintained his status as one of the team’s leaders and his toughness was never questioned.

The center’s ability to prevent penetration against Ohio State’s talented defensive front will be a major indicator as to how well the Ducks perform on offense.

6. Jeff Heuerman, tight end, Ohio State

Jeff Heuerman, Antonio Allen
Jeff Heuerman, Antonio Allen

A quick peek at the tight end’s stats doesn’t indicate a top pro prospect. Yet, Heuerman could easily be one of the first players off the board at his position.

Heuerman only caught 17 passes for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Despite the poor production, the senior presents two key qualities. First, Heuerman is a very good athlete, and he can serve as a vertical threat in any passing game. He may not be used often in Urban Meyer‘s offense, but his potential as a receiver is readily apparent. Also, the tight end is a competent blocker.

As the age of the receiving tight end continues, a prospect that can do well in both areas is extremely valuable.

7. Devin Smith, wide receiver, Ohio State
The best deep threat in college football resides in Columbus, Ohio. Smith leads the NCAA with an average of 27.7 yards per catch. The senior receiver hauled in a catch of over 30 yards in all but two games this season. Smith’s overall route running may be limited, but his ability to take the top off a defense at any time is rare.

8. Taylor Decker, left tackle, Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ rock along their offensive line has a decision to make after this season. The junior may be leaning toward entering the NFL draft, but his value may not be as high as he suspects. After moving to left tackle in 2014, Decker proved he was a competent collegiate blind-side protector. However, he may be better suited at right tackle.

9. Doran Grant, cornerback, Ohio State
The senior cornerback proved to be a physical presence on the edge as Ohio State’s sixth-leading tackler as well as one of the team’s top ball hawks. Grant finished second on the team with five interceptions. When he was challenged by quarterbacks, he continually displayed good ball skills. The cornerback deflected a team high 14 passes, too.

10. Cardale Jones, quarterback, Ohio State
Cardale JonesThe wildcard in both Monday’s game and the NFL draft is Ohio State’s third-string quarterback.

Jones, a redshirt sophomore, is eligible to declare for the draft. It will be an extremely difficult decision after only three career starts, but Jones has played lights out in the biggest games so far. No quarterback in this year’s draft class presents the same size (6-5, 250) nor the arm strength as Jones.

Both teams possesses even more talent, particularly among the underclassmen. Ohio State is absolutely littered with freshmen and sophomores that will one day be in the NFL. One of Oregon’s top players, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, won’t even play in the contest due to a knee injury.

These two programs aren’t simply built for one title run. Both will be legitimate contenders in the foreseeable future due to the NFL-caliber talent found on each roster.

This weekend, a Notre Dame home game won’t be sold out for first time since 1973

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All good things, streaks in this particular case, must come to an end.

Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Notre Dame will play host to Navy in the 93rd renewal of their football rivalry.  And, according to the South Bend Tribune, the game won’t be played in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium (capacity: 77,622), which is actually a startling development.

This weekend, you see, will mark the first time since Thanksgiving Day 1973 (vs. Air Force) that the Fighting Irish haven’t sold out a home football game, snapping a streak of 273 straight sellouts.  Ahead of that streak being snapped, the Irish’s athletic director for the past dozen years, Jack Swarbrick, attempted to downplay the development.

From the Tribune:

It was never sort of important to me to keep it alive, but I understand why other people thought so. It’s a point of distinction to a lot of people and our fans.

“For me it’s always been: What’s the stadium environment like? Are we creating a great environment for our team and for our student-athletes? That you can say it’s also sold out is sort of a byproduct of that.

“But if my choice is (77,622) people in an environment that’s not really good versus 75,000 in a raucous environment, I’ll take the latter every time.

Notre Dame’s 237-game streak had been the second-longest active streak in college football behind Nebraska’s 373, which will move to 374 when Big Red hosts Wisconsin this weekend. The last time the Cornhuskers failed to sellout Memorial Stadium was during the 1962 season.

Four finalists named for 2019 Paul Hornung Award

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The field for the award that fetes the nation’s most versatile college football player has been whittled down significantly.

Earlier Thursday, the Louisville Sports Commission announced the four finalists for the 2019 Paul Hornung Award that have been chosen by the 17-member selection committee.  And (surprise!), all four of the finalists come from Power Five conferences: Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU), Joe Reed (Virginia) and Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska).

All four of the finalists come from the offensive side of the ball and have spent time as return specialists as well.  Because of injuries at the position, Bowden, listed as a wide receiver to start the season, has started the last three games at quarterback for UK, with the Wildcats going 2-1 in that span.

Reed is primarily a wide receiver and Edwards-Helaire a running back, while Robinson has split his time between both positions.

The 2018 winner of the Hornung Award was Purdue’s Rondale Moore, who likely would’ve been given serious finalist consideration again this year if not for his season essentially being derailed by a lingering hamstring injury.

For all of the statistical particulars for each candidate, click HERE the award’s press release:

 

Texas’ Jalen Green apologizes for vicious hit that angered K-State

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It appears Kansas State will have to settle for a mea culpa.

In the second half of last Saturday’s game, Texas cornerback Jalen Green (pictured) leveled K-State wide receiver Wykeen Gill (not pictured) on a play away from the ball and was ejected from the contest after (eventually) being flagged for targeting.  The play will cost Green the first half of UT’s game this Saturday against Iowa State per NCAA targeting rules, but will likely cost Gill at least one full game as he will be sidelined for the Week 12 matchup with West Virginia as the receiver is currently in concussion protocol.

That disparity didn’t sit well with K-State’s head coach.

“It’s unfortunate because it was away from the play, didn’t have anything to do with the play, and Wykeen is probably going to miss a game,” Chris Klieman stated at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “When you have a hit like that and somebody only misses a half, I don’t think that’s very fair.”

Wednesday afternoon, Green issued an apology in which he stated, in part, that he “realize[s] how it may have looked” but “I do want everyone to know I was not trying to take a cheap shot.”

As for “not trying to take a cheap shot,” you be the judge.

Heisman favorite Joe Burrow headlines Davey O’Brien Award semifinalists

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When it comes to the semifinalists for one of the most prestigious quarterbacking awards in college football, they are who you thought they’d be (for the most part).

Wednesday afternoon, the Davey O’Brien Award released its list of 16 semifinalists for a trophy named in honor of the former TCU College Football Hall of Famer.  Headlining this year’s group is LSU’s Joe Burrow, who enters Week 12 of the regular season as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy.

One finalist from a year ago, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, is a semifinalist this year as well.  Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is the only two-time semifinalist again in the mix, although this is his first time as a Sooner as the first two came while he was a member of the Crimson Tide.

Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence are also former semifinalists who are up for this year’s award.

The Big 12 leads all conferences with four semifinalists, followed by three apiece from the AAC, Pac-12 and SEC.  The Big Ten accounted for two while the ACC had one.

The 2018 winner of the Davey O’Brien Award was Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.  Below is the complete list of semifinalists for the 2019 award.

  • Charlie Brewer (Baylor)
  • Shane Buechele (SMU)
  • Joe Burrow (LSU)
  • Sam Ehlinger (Texas)
  • Justin Fields (Ohio State)
  • Jake Fromm (Georgia)
  • Anthony Gordon (Washington State)
  • Justin Herbert (Oregon)
  • Tyler Huntley (Utah)
  • Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
  • Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
  • Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
  • Malcolm Perry (Navy)
  • Brock Purdy (Iowa State)
  • Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
  • Brady White (Memphis)