Championship week marks the last weekend of regular season college football, and although there were a couple of blowouts, it was generally a good send-off for the 2017 NCAA football regular season. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold had arguably their best games of the season, Clemson and Georgia had dominant defensive performances, and the game of the week, surprisingly, was UCF-Memphis, which went into double overtime thanks to the clutch play of both teams’ quarterbacks. Below are the prospects that stood out in week 14:
Sam Darnold, quarterback (USC)
If Darnold ultimately chooses to leave school for this year’s NFL draft, he’ll be leaving the college game on a high note thanks to this game. He was surgical in the short and intermediate area and managed to stand in the pocket to deliver some deep balls, as well. The highlight of the night for Darnold came in the first quarter of the game: flushed immediately by Harrison Phillips, Darnold calmly rolled to his right and lofted a perfect throw to his tight end over a linebacker. He finished the day going 17-of-24 for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Ryan Carter, cornerback (Clemson)
Clemson’s defense dominated Miami’s offense in all three levels, and Carter provided lockdown coverage for the secondary. Although he’s short for a corner at only 5’9”, he displayed the toughness to play outside. Watching his backpedal, it looks like he could play in the slot, as well. His hips show no sign of stiffness whatsoever. On one of the few catches he allowed, he managed to force a fumble. Then, on the very next drive, he caught a tipped ball for an interception. There hasn’t been much draft buzz for the senior corner, but he may be able to rise up the boards after this performance.
Lorenzo Carter, outside linebacker (Georgia)
Lorenzo Carter’s teammate, Roquan Smith, had a dominant game against Auburn, but Carter’s work containing the edge and occasionally pressuring the quarterback also deserves recognition. Carter’s role in the Georgia defense is to be a Swiss army knife. One play he’ll be rushing from the edge like a 3-4 outside linebacker, and the next he’ll be defending the run like a traditional inside linebacker. I was particularly impressed with his ability to defend screen passes; Auburn likes to throw several of them a game, and Carter was always there to minimize the gain.
Jerome Baker, linebacker (Ohio State)
Baker has been a draft faller this year. Great things were expected for the 6’1”, 225- pound junior, but he has just never made much of an impact in games this season. His hesitancy was apparent. He was a completely different player, however, against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game. He was shooting through gaps, running down plays form the backside, and most importantly, he was decisive. He was looked like the player many in the draft community thought he would become at the start of the season, ending with 16 tackles, a sack and 2 tackles for loss.
Ray-Ray McCloud, wide receiver (Clemson)
McCloud muffed a punt early on and had a fumble that was luckily recovered by a teammate, but by the end of the game he was Clemson’s offensive MVP, having caught 6 passes for 100 yards. He’s a small, fast wide receiver who has massive amounts of versatility. Against Miami, he lined up as both a split end and as a slot receiver. Clemson used him on a few jet sweeps and screens, and he even came up with a decent punt return.
Ronald Jones, running back (USC)
This game was never going to be easy for Jones, as he’d be facing down Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Philips, one of the best run defenders in the country. It was largely due to Phillips that Jones spent most of the day grinding out tough yardage on interior runs. When the game was on the line, though, and USC needed first downs to close out the game, Jones always came through with his mixture of speed, toughness, and patience. His stat line for the day was 30 carries for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns.