Wondering what to watch as the college football season gets started? Here are our picks. Enjoy!
#7 UCLA vs. Virginia
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UCLA is going to be a fun team to watch in the next couple years as some of their blue chip talent comes to fruition. Their biggest name right now is dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt junior threw for 3000 yards and nearly ran for a thousand last season, and his athletic talent and arm have plenty of scouts dreaming big on the possibilities. That being said, there's a lot to his game that needs refining right now. One prospect who will have teams waiting at least one more year is two-way player Myles Jack. He's made a huge impact at both running back and linebacker for the Bruins, and should be in line for an exciting season. Another name to keep an eye on is Owa Odighizuwa. The 6'3" 270 pound defensive end is a former five star recruit who lost his 2013 season to a hip injury. If he comes on strong in his senior season, he should find his way to the draft.
Virginia went 2-10 last season, and so things can only get better for this team. Luckily, there are a couple interesting names to watch here. Start with safety Anthony Harris, who grabbed 8 interceptions last season. Senior RB Kevin Parks is a 5'8" 205 pound do it all back who starts the season ranked 8th on Virginia's all-time rushing list. Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson is returning from a season ending injury, but he has shown aptitude for pass breakups and flashed good coverage ability in the past.
West Virginia vs. #2 Alabama
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Another year, another dominant Alabama team. At this point it's pretty much mandatory to check on Nick Saban's team just to see the latest group of players who would be stars if they played for any other team, instead of being parts of the Big Crimson Machine. The name that most draftniks are interested in right now is safety Landon Collins, who paired with first round pick Haha Clinton-Dix last season. Receiver Amari Cooper has been an amazing playmaker since he stepped onto the field at Alabama, when he wasn't being bothered by injuries. The 6'1" 200 pound junior has all the savvy and route-running ability you'd like in a receiver, but he could improve the reliability of his catching and unfortunately he'll never be able to match the size of the last great Alabama receiver, Julio Jones. TJ Yeldon is a very talented running back with a lot of natural ability, but a serious fumbling problem. Arie Kouandjio's brother now plays for the Bills, and his game is very much the same on the interior of the line - huge, strong, a little slow footed, and a history of knee problems. There are several other prospects that I don't have space to mention (this is Bama, after all), but the last name I'll mention is inside linebacker Trey DePriest, who teams are hoping could turn into a Brandon Spikes-esque throwback run defending linebacker.
West Virginia, unfortunately (and following the usual theme of opening weekend), doesn't measure up nearly as well to Alabama's troves of talent. Their top prospect is actually an FCS transfer, the 6'6" 240 pound DE Shaquille Riddick. He's a long, lean, end with lots of natural athleticism and a great motor, but will have to make a major adjustment to the higher level of play. Dreamius Smith is the running back replacing Charles Sims, and if he keeps improving in this season he will find his way into the draft. Lastly, Karl Joseph is a safety worth watching on an otherwise forgettable defense.
#16 Clemson vs. #12 Georgia
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This is probably my favorite game of Saturday, and given the choice, I'd probably DVR the beginning of the next game on this list to make sure I could catch the end of this one with no interruptions. These are two strong teams, both with blue chip prospects, and there should be some great individual battles taking place.
On Clemson's side, it's no longer about the explosive offense after the departure of Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, and Tajh Boyd. Instead, it's a trio of front-seven players in Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Corey Crawford. Beasley especially looked outright dominant at times last year, and though his size isn't ideal for a defensive end, he looks like he has the potential to be the next Von Miller. There may be some new pieces who emerge on the offensive side, but right now Clemson is all about the defense.
Georgia will be an interesting team this year after coming back from injury purgatory. The team's identity begins with star running back Todd Gurley, possibly the best running back prospect in the nation and the running back considered most likely to be drafted in the first round this year. There is a pair of interesting tight ends in Quayvon Hicks and Jay Rome, as well as a few veteran receivers worth watching. On the defensive side of the ball, there's a great array of starting linebackers in Jordan Jenkins, Ramik Wilson, Amarlo Herrera, and Leonard Floyd.
This game should be a back and forth affair with plenty of bruises on both sides. It's a great way to kick off the college football season.
#1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
ABC and ESPN3
Let's be honest: while there's a great matchup an hour later between #14 Wisconsin and #13 LSU, I'm here to see the latest crop of outstanding talent coming from last year's national championship winner. The star is redshirt sophomore Jameis Winston, who has looked like an NFL ready QB since his first game. Off-field concerns aside, Winston has been a joy to watch on film and it will be interesting to see how his second season goes. It helps that he's surrounded by tons of talent. Left tackle Cameron Erving likely would've been a first round pick if he entered the draft last year. Rashad Greene, Karlos Williams, and Nick O'Leary provide a trio of talented senior skill position players, and the defense is equally talent packed, thanks to names like pass rusher Mario Edwards, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and PJ Williams, and defensive lineman Eddie Goldman. I didn't even name every notable FSU prospect here; that is how talent-packed this team is.
Oklahoma State is nowhere near as talented, but they have a few names to pay attention to. Kevin Peterson is the cornerback next up to replace first round pick Justin Gilbert. Defensive linemen James Castleman and Jimmy Bean might end up drafted this year. Jhajuan Seales is a raw receiver who isn't likely to enter the draft this year but is a talent worth paying attention to for the future.
Really, though, this game is all about FSU's prospect showcase. Enjoy.