Here are our picks for the best college football games to watch this week. Share your comments below!
#4 Oklahoma at Tulsa
12:00 p.m. ET
ESPN2 and WatchESPN
Depending on where in the country you're watching, the game on this channel will either be this one or Penn State versus Akron. If you're interested in seeing sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who already has several scouts and pundits on close watch, or you live outside the northeast US, tune in for that one, while Oklahoma will play Tulsa in most of the rest of the country.
The earliest game on Saturday was a bunch of mostly one-sided matchups, so my choice to get you started is a team with lots of interesting talents who will probably be competing for a playoff spot all season long. The Sooners stepped into the spotlight last season with an easy defeat of the usual front-runner Alabama squad in a bowl game.
The prospect list starts with junior Erik Striker; the 6'0", 220-pound linebacker is tiny for NFL standards, but has lots of game speed and is always around the ball. If he bulks up and improves his fundamentals this year, he might draw teams' interest in the way Ryan Shazier did last season. There are three redshirt seniors on the offensive line: bookend tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, and guard Adam Shead, who aren't all likely to be drafted very highly, but should be noted during the game. Blake Bell, also known as the Belldozer, is a 6'5", 252-pound former option package quarterback who is converting to tight end full-time this season. The reason Bell is switching positions has to do with the emergence of redshirt sophomore Trevor Knight, who played an outstanding bowl game last season. Knight is technically draft eligible this season, but has yet to start a full season for the Sooners, and will probably use this season to figure out what he needs to improve before declaring for the 2016 draft.
Tulsa had a rough season last year, with their worst record in over a decade. They hope to improve this year, and to help, they'll be getting back safety Demarco Nelson, who started 39 straight games before being ruled academically ineligible for the 2013 season. His counterpart in the team's safety tandem, Michael Mudoh, was a tackling machine last season, putting up 133 total and 60 solo tackles. One sleeper to watch is 6'4", 220-pound receiver Keyarris Garrett, who put up a 67/845/9 season in 2012, then suffered a broken leg in the second game of the 2013 season. Fully recovered, he should re-emerge as the team's best receiving option.
#14 USC at #13 Stanford
3:30 p.m. ET
ABC and ESPN3
Following the Oklahoma game, I recommend you switch over to ABC to watch a classic Pac-12 battle. Both teams have several talented players who will be entering the draft, and it will be interesting to see how new coach Steve Sarkisian prepares USC for its first big opponent.
USC has the usual crop of top prospects for teams to scout. The headliner is junior Leonard Williams, a 6'4", 290-pound defensive lineman with plenty of athletic talent and rare movement abilities for someone his size. The challenge for him will be mastering his technical movements and finding a spot on the line where his 'tweener stature won't be an issue. Nelson Agholor had a great season catching passes across from Marqise Lee, and should become the new top target at USC. Tre Madden and Javorious Allen will be an interesting pair of running backs to keep an eye on this season.
Stanford is right there with USC in terms of prospect density. Start with Andrus Peat, the 6'6", 310-pound offensive tackle who has surprising athleticism for being a Stanford lineman (in other words, it's really good). He's considered an early top ten prospect for the draft. Kevin Hogan will be considered one of the top quarterback prospects this season, passing the eye test at 6'4", 230 pounds, with enough arm strength and accuracy to make most any throw. He will get praise for playing in a pro style offense, but like most passers, needs to be a complete package in all facets of the game to earn the "franchise" label. Ty Montgomery is an electric receiver who would be a high round pick if he can improve his catch rate. Henry Anderson had a knee injury last season, but being recovered now, should be a good five-technique prospect on the defensive line. A sleeper is outside linebacker James Vaughters, who some scouts are considering a breakout candidate for this season.
#7 Michigan State at #3 Oregon
6:30 p.m. ET
This is my pick for game of the week. While Michigan State's defense might not be the smothering top-tier unit it was last season, the team still measures up very well to this Oregon squad. The game features a head-to-head matchup of two top quarterback prospects: the incredibly efficient Marcus Mariota, and the productive Connor Cook. Both are 6'4" and 215 pounds, and both have NFL-quality arms. Both have things they need to improve upon, though; Mariota needs to expand his reads and settle down in the pocket against pressure, and Cook has also shown nerves under pressure which affected his game, and could stand to improve his accuracy. If either quarterback improves this year, he'll be a top ten pick.
Michigan State has a few good names to pay attention to. Redshirt junior Shilique Calhoun is a 6'4", 250-pound end with Round 1 potential. Trae Waynes is the new guy replacing Darqueze Dennard as the top corner, and Kurtis Drummond is a senior safety who might be one of the first safeties drafted this year. There are even more players worth watching on Michigan State, but this is a list just to get you started.
Oregon also has plenty of talent it brings to the table. Tyler Johnstone is a 6'6", 285-pound tackle who is still growing into his build, but looks pretty good blocking on the outside. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of my favorite cornerback prospects in this draft, although he only measures in at 5'9". Hroniss Grasu may be one of the first centers taken in the draft, Arik Armstead is a towering 6'7", 295-pound defensive lineman with heaps of athletic talent, and Tony Washington is an edge rush candidate worth watching.
This game should be an exciting one to watch, with the great quarterbacks playing and talent on both defenses. It's a tape many scouts will go back to again and again.
Virginia Tech at #8 Ohio State
8:00 p.m. ET
ESPN and WatchESPN
Unfortunately there isn't a game neatly placed at the end of the 6:30 Michigan State-Oregon matchup, so your choice is either to stop watching that game, DVR the start of this one, or tune in here starting at halftime.
Virginia Tech's most exciting player may be true sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller, whose brother Kyle was drafted in the first round this season. Kendall may end up a better prospect than Kyle, though he isn't draft eligible yet. Luther Maddy, a pass-rushing defensive tackle, is probably the biggest name to watch for this year's draft. Safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner are worth keeping an eye on, and my personal favorite Hokie (tongue firmly in cheek) would be center David Wang. Yes, that's the younger brother of Ed Wang, he of the ill-fated Bills draft selection. Wang's in the same boat as his brother - he doesn't have elite size or athleticism, and is a very smart guy. Maybe that works better for him being a center than it did for Ed at tackle. Who knows.
Ohio State is loaded as usual, although they'll be playing without their quarterback, Braxton Miller, who injured his shoulder and is already done for the year and committing to coming back after a medical redshirt. One name to follow for future drafts is Joey Bosa, a 6'5", 280-pound sophomore edge rusher with all kinds of ability. Michael Bennett is a strong interior rusher on the defense, Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman are a receiver and tight end, respectively, to watch, and Doran Grant is the new top corner on the team and worth paying attention to.
Ohio State is probably coming out on top with this one, but with both defenses being strong and Miller out of the equation, it could end up anyone's game. For those who like defense, it's a good way to finish the night.