It's rivalry week in college football, and historic grudges like Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn get their yearly settlement today. You can't go wrong watching football today, so who will you be watching? In terms of prospect density, the best games for today might be Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, and Penn State-Michigan State, but you'll find three or more prospects highlighted in any game you watch today, even contests like Southern Miss-LA Tech or Maryland-Rutgers. If nothing else, it should be some enjoyable football unencumbered by the stresses of an AFC playoff race.
Game of the week
(4) Notre Dame at (13) Stanford
7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Notre Dame has a strong resume, with a close loss to #1 Clemson its only blemish. There are several great prospects on the roster, although some may return for another season in college. Ronnie Stanley is the top talent, and he's a top ten player in this draft class. The left tackle is a superb talent, with great pass blocking technique and a solid core for anchoring and playing the run. He sometimes has lapses in blocking when he fails to recognize that a pass rusher is setting him up for a counter move, but by and large he flashes the talent to be an early starter in the NFL. Another lineman to watch is the center, Nick Martin. The Stanford OL has an effective line of its own. Left guard Joshua Garnett is considered by some to be the best guard prospect in the draft. Right guard Johnny Caspers, center Graham Shuler, and left tackle Kyle Murphy are all fourth year students starting on the line.
Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller has speed and size and uses those to his advantage, but his inconsistent hands need to get better, and he'll be returning for his senior season. Their workhorse back is CJ Prosise, who reminds me of Dion Lewis even though he's about three inches and 30 pounds larger than the Patriots back. He has very nimble feet, understands blocking concepts, and can read levels of a defense very effectively to set up big plays. Unfortunately, a high ankle sprain has him doubtful for today's game. On Stanford's offense, Christian McCaffery is the workhorse. The sophomore isn't draft-eligible, but he has put up Heisman-type numbers as an all-purpose back who even returns kicks for the team. Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has size, arm talent, and puts up solid numbers in a pro-style offense, but his inconsistent play has NFL evaluators split on where he belongs. He may find himself in a similar situation as former Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion come draft season, drafted fairly early as a project for a team that likes his traits.
The top defensive prospect in the game is Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. He has the athleticism to cover passes, break up plays in the backfield, and be a dangerous blitzer. Senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day is a disruptive force in the middle of the line, with 14.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 13 quarterback hurries this season. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell is the top defender in the secondary, but has played inconsistently this season after taking a year off from an academic suspension, and after a tibia fracture that ended his season, he may elect to return for another year. Other seniors to watch include defensive lineman Romeo Okwara, who leads the Irish in sacks, and linebacker Joe Schmidt, who is a solid starter alongside Smith.
The Stanford defense is strong, but mostly lacking in NFL-ready talent. Linebacker Blake Martinez is the most notable player they have. Cornerback Ronnie Harris is a little undersized, but does well to get his hands on passes. Another player to watch is safety Kodi Whitfield.
Discussion topic for the week
The regular season is almost over and bowls will begin soon. At this point, who are the four teams you think should be playing in the College Football Playoff at the end of the year? Does Iowa deserve a spot? Which other one-loss teams should be in play alongside Clemson? Personally, Alabama is a lock, and I think Michigan State and Notre Dame have strong cases this year, but I haven't seen enough of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to decide if they are worthy of jumping up into the list.