Idaho vs. Bowling Green
Today, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Keys to watch for:
• Idaho offensive guard Mike Iupati is clearly the top NFL prospect playing in this one and might end up being the first offensive guard drafted in April. Iupati has absolutely dominated his competition all year and possesses a rare combination of size (6-5, 330), power and overall athleticism for the position. He’s consistently able to overwhelm opponents on contact in the run game while also showcasing impressive fluidity and change-of-direction skills in pass protection. Iupati is still a bit raw and can get away with some of his technique shortcomings because of his pure physical skill set, but he looks like he could quickly mature into a good starting guard in the NFL.
• Bowling Green has an intriguing prospect on the offensive side of the ball who might have had the most dominating season of any player in the NCAA not named Ndamukong Suh. Wide receiver Freddie Barnes currently ranks first in the nation in receptions (138), first in receiving touchdowns (16) and third in receiving yards (1,551). He isn’t the most explosive straight-line athlete and lacks the wheels to consistently threaten NFL defenses vertically, but he showcases a real feel for the pass game, has good balance as an underneath route runner and knows how to adjust to the ball. Barnes isn’t a guy with the athleticism needed to start on the outside in the NFL, but he certainly has the talent to fill out an NFL receiving corps.
• Finally, Idaho junior quarterback Nathan Enderle is definitely a guy to keep an eye on going into next year. He’s a big kid at 6-5, 227 pounds and has really taken some major strides this season as a passer who could warrant consideration as a draftable prospect heading into 2010.
Nebraska vs. Arizona
Tonight, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Keys to watch for:
• The Nebraska defense starts and ends with the dominating play of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh up front. It’s rare to find a defensive lineman with his blend of size, power, athleticism and hand quickness inside. He does such a great job controlling blocks at the point and is so long and powerful that he’s easily able to disengage on contact. Expect the Arizona offensive line to devote a ton of attention inside to Suh in order to slow down the big fellow.
• What makes the Nebraska front four so hard to block is that there’s plenty of talent around Suh that can also beat one-on-one blocks in the run and pass game. One guy in particular who’s done a great job is DT Jared Crick, a tall, long-armed kid with a strong lower half and a deceiving first step. He does a great job stacking and shedding on contact and makes it difficult for opposing offensive coordinators to draw up effective protection schemes inside.
• Arizona has its own talented front four that knows how to beat blocks and create negative plays in both the run and pass game. However, it starts with the play of DT Earl Mitchell inside. Mitchell lacks ideal power in the run game but showcases good lateral quickness and knows how to disengage on contact and make his way toward the ball. His ability to generate pressure up the gut is the key for the Arizona defense.
• The Wildcats also have a pair of defensive ends in Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed who can press the edge and collapse the pocket in the pass game. Nebraska QB Zac Lee needs to once again manage the game and take care of the football because he will be under some major pressure at times.
• Finally, there are two intriguing defensive backs I want to mention, Nebraska strong safety Larry Asante and Arizona cornerback Devin Ross. Asante is a thick, well-built athlete who displays impressive instincts and click-and-close ability in the underneath pass game. He’s not the most gifted straight-line athlete, but he has a nose for the ball, good footwork and is a consistent tackler in space. Ross, on the other hand, is a gifted athlete who showcases great straight-line speed and impressive toughness as a tackler. He’s still raw with his footwork, has a tendency to lose balance and will give up some plays in man coverage, but he possesses the type of range needed to hold his own at the next level and looks like a guy who could develop into a starting-caliber corner with time.
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