We’re fast approaching the midway point of the college football season. Four weeks through the 2023 season, some schools are hitting their “open” bye weeks. Five ranked teams have the week off. Still, there are three more ranked matchups this week after No. 19 Oregon State handled No. 10 Utah on Friday night. We’re fully entrenched into conference play which, of course, adds to the intrigue.
This week brings a key quarterback showcase, a return of a star running back from injury, and an unsuspecting PAC-12 matchup between two top seniors in the trenches. Feel free to chime in the comments on what you’re tuned into this week. Let’s dive in to what we’re watching for in Week 5.
Duke QB Riley Leonard In Another Showcase Spot Against Notre Dame
One of the 2024 NFL Draft’s top quarterbacks is Duke signal caller Riley Leonard. While USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye are sitting on a pedestal of their own right now, Leonard has an opportunity to swipe the QB3 title with big performances in some of Duke’s marquee games. Earlier this year, Duke’s upset of Clemson came via Leonard using his legs and ability to make things happen as a runner.
Leonard has another opportunity this week to show off his abilities against a very strong Fighting Irish defense. Duke, from a talent standpoint, is outmatched but they do have a quarterback with the ability to neutralize the overall talent deficit. As a whole, it would be nice to see Leonard creating more with his arm for draft prospectus.
Arkansas RB Rocket Sanders Set To Return To the Field In Key SEC Contest
The Razorbacks will be looking for a big spark when running back Rocket Sanders makes his return in Week 5 after sitting out with injury each of the past three games. A weak running class means an opportunity still exists for RB1 bragging rights to be seized, and Sanders could be up to the task with him now healthy. Sanders’ return comes at a great time for the Hogs as they face a strong Texas A&M squad.
Sanders is a player who runs with explosive power and long speed. Over the summer, I thought he had a real chance to be the top running back in the 2024 NFL Draft class. We’ll see if he’s able to put a stamp on that billing this week.
Riley Leonard vs. Barrett Carter, advantage Riley Leonard pic.twitter.com/iR8y8c20FX— Bryce Dial (@sidelinescout1) September 29, 2023
A Battle Between PAC-12 Seniors In The Trenches — Arizona OT Jordan Morgan vs. Washington EDGE Bralen Trice
Two of the best senior trench players in the country will get the opportunity to do battle this week as Arizona’s star left tackle Jordan Morgan faces off against Washington edge rusher Bralen Trice. The Huskies haven’t played in many close games this year and this game may not change that. But Morgan and Trice are both legit. Trice doesn’t yet have a sack in 2023 after racking up 10 last season.
Morgan is a player returning from a torn ACL in 2022 who has performed very well this season. There’s not much PAC-12 After Dark left in the lifespan, but this is definitely a matchup worth tabbing late on Saturday night.
Start talking about Bralen Trice (Washington #8). You’ll thank me later. pic.twitter.com/9f9Soll0nV— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) October 6, 2022
Game of the Week
No. 11 Notre Dame @ No. 17 Duke
7:30 p.m. EDT
We hinted at the matchup earlier with Duke quarterback Riley Leonard’s opportunity against the Irish, but this is set to be a serious measuring-stick game for both of these teams. Duke has a big win under its belt, having knocked off Clemson at home — while Notre Dame is coming off a heartbreaking buzzer-beater loss to Ohio State just a week ago in South Bend.
When Notre Dame is on offense, it’s the QB Sam Hartman, OT Joe Alt, and RB Audric Estime show as far as what to watch from an NFL Draft perspective. Right tackle Blake Fisher is another to tab as a potential draft prospect either in 2024 or down the road. Alt has seriously elevated his game and could be peaking into the top half of the first round territory. This is a run-first football team and they’ll be looking to impose their will on Duke.
For Duke, Texas A&M defensive back transfer Myles Jones draws some intrigue due to his massive size (6’4”, 195 pounds). He has two interceptions for the Blue Devils in a starting role in 2023. Another fascinating note — he’s played seven years of college football. Yes, seven.
When Duke is on offense, you surely need to watch Leonard and how he operates the Duke offense first and foremost. Blue Devils left tackle Graham Barton is another talented player to watch on the offense who could go high in this coming draft.
Notre Dame’s defense is littered with NFL Draft talent here and now. The Irish don’t have a true sack artist on their team but Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste continues to make huge impacts on football games. Behind him, JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau are a good tandem. The latter has the higher ceiling and plays with his hair on fire, which is his blessing and curse. Liufau could afford to settle some and play within himself.
The Irish are also very good on the back end. Underclassman Benjamin Morrison may be the best of the secondary, but Cam Hart is the draft-eligible player who is quite good in his own right.
This game will likely come down to how well Leonard processes and plays as a passer. I’m not sure that Duke’s defensive line will be able to do enough to effectively get stops against the Irish’s strong offensive line unit. But Leonard’s play could have a lot to say in direction this game sways.