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College football notebook: Week 1

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Some thoughts from around the college football landscape.

I’m introducing my College Football Notebook, which, hopefully, I’ll be able to write each week during the season. For now, let’s call it a time-permitting series.

This is just a conglomeration of my thoughts from the past week in college football with some analysis that relates to the Bills and the draft.

  • Christian McCaffrey is going to be one of the most intriguing and polarizing draft prospects in a long time. He’s an ultra-elusive, super-fast, insanely-productive white running back. He was absolutely scintillating against Kansas State, especially on the punt-return TD that was called back for clipping. His long TD run exemplified his vision, burst and ridiculous jump-cutting capability. I started with a mention of his race because I think it’ll play a significant role in how he’s viewed by the scouting community and #DraftTwitter. Don’t be stunned when McCaffrey receives similar treatment to what black quarterback prospects get each draft season. I’m not insinuating NFL Draft analysis is inherently racist. Not at all. But we haven’t seen a white running back like McCaffrey in a long time, so naturally, some people will assume he simply won’t succeed in the NFL... because he’s unique. Heck, one pro scout already discussed his potential as a slot receiver. SMH. White slot receivers. Yea, we’ve seen the produce recently. White running backs? Not so much. On the other side of this, thankfully there are an assortment of good-to-great black quarterbacks currently in the NFL, so we’re moving further away from black signal-caller prospects getting dinged due to race at the outset of their time as a prospect.
  • Deshaun Watson was workmanlike in Clemson’s closer-than-expected game against Auburn, as he completed 19-of-34 passes for 248 yards with a TD and a pick. A year ago, he was well ahead of where most true sophomore quarterbacks are, and it’ll be fun to monitor if he takes a step in the accuracy department at the intermediate level of the field this season.
  • Staying with Clemson, Mike Williams will likely be one of the top receiver prospects in the 2017 class. He’s 6’4”, 225 pounds and flashed his unreal body control and reliable hands last night on a few downfield connections against Auburn. His 2015 was cut short due to injury, but he played as a true freshman in 2013 with Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and caught 20 passes for 316 yards and three scores. The Tigers’ recent reputation for sending freak WRs to the NFL will certainly help Williams’ cause during the draft process.
  • Though Hawaii is not a juggernaut of a season-opener, we saw the grand vision of Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan program. His offense, which obviously isn’t very different from what Greg Roman runs in Buffalo, is as old-school power as it gets, and that’s not a bad thing with defenses tailored to stop spread, up-tempo offenses in college and the NFL. The Wolverines had 11 players carry the football en route to 306 yards on the ground at a 7.8 yards-per-rush clip. Michigan and Stanford will deploy the two best retro, power-running offenses in the country.
  • The RB class might actually be better than advertised. Seriously. OK, so there’s Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook — who plays Monday — Nick Chubb — who has feature back written all over him — McCaffrey and Samaje Perine. But then there’s Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, who’s almost unfathomably big at 6’4” and 240 pounds, Oregon’s Arian Foster-like runner Royce Freeman, San Diego State’s lightning rod Donnell Pumphrey, North Carolina’s underrated Elijah Hood, Clemson’s do-it-all weapon Wayne Gallman and a few other intriguing ball-carriers. Return of the running back? Roman would love that.
  • I won’t be surprised if Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph is ultimately considered a cleaner quarterback prospect than his in-state rival Baker Mayfield, and I’m not just piling on the Sooners after their loss to upstart Houston. Rudolph was impressively poised in the pocket last season and was a strong downfield passer. Mayfield had gaudy numbers in 2015 but seems to hold onto the ball far too long too often.
  • On Houston... Tom Herman, the offensive coordinator Cardale Jones thrived with in 2014, looks to be building a monster with the Cougars. Greg Ward Jr. has some Tyrod Taylor to him... he’s unafraid to take deep shots and is a slippery runner. On defense, Houston’s front won’t be thrown around by any traditional power. It more than proved that against Oklahoma. Segueing from Greg Ward Jr., Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is a special athlete at quarterback. He accounted for 405 yards and eight, yes, eight TDs in the Cardinals win over Charlotte.
  • Alabama’s defensive front seven is loaded...again. Jonathan Allen, who’s a nimble yet powerful defensive tackle, dominated the interior of USC’s offensive line and Tim Williams, a rocked up speed-to-power edge-rusher pressured the Trojans’ quarterbacks all evening. By the way, Juju Smith-Schuster, the 6’2”, 220-pound star of the USC wideout group had one catch for nine yards against the Crimson Tide’s suffocating defense.
  • What was up with Gus Malzahn switching quarterbacks basically every series — and sometimes during drives — against Clemson? Auburn’s defense kept them in the game against the No. 2 team in the country but the lack of rhythm on offense was their ultimate downfall. Such a weird coaching decision that fell flat on its face.
  • Speaking of that... Brian Kelly did something similar with his quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s loss to Texas. Weird. By the way, is Texas back? I really think the Longhorns could be.
  • Deoandre Francois was the the most impressive quarterback I watched during college football’s opening weekend. Super poised, accurate, mobile... he showed it all.
  • After his 4.5-sack outing, the 6’4”, 280-pound DeMarcus Walker of FSU should garner a lot of early draft notoriety that most weren’t exactly expecting. Walker was non-existent in the first half but lived in Ole Miss’ backfield in the second half and got there by using a variety of moves to beat offensive linemen. At his size, he can play end or kick inside to tackle.
  • As for Chad Kelly, who’ll likely have many WNY football fans intently watching him this season, I thought he was good, not great against the Seminoles. Seems like a lot of what led to an on-fire first half was Ole Miss’ uptempo offense that got Florida State out of position on the back end. Later in the game, Kelly had trouble avoiding pressure. He did throw a handful dimes throughout though.