After a month of college football, we are still trying to piece together the top teams in the country. Clemson has two losses. Oklahoma has been less than impressive. Texas A&M, Iowa State, and North Carolina were all upset last week, and Iowa, Michigan, and Auburn barely squeaked by. Meanwhile, Alabama, Georgia, and Oregon keep rolling, while Arkansas, Notre Dame and Coastal Carolina are moving up the rankings. It’s been a crazy start to the year to say the least.
Let’s take a look at the top college football games for Week 5 to watch in order to see some of the top NFL Draft prospects in the country.
Game of the Week: Cincinnati at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana, Saturday, October 2, 1:30 p.m. (CT) on NBC
The Bearcats had three players make the Preseason Top 50 Big Board, and all are off to strong starts to the year. Quarterback Desmond Ridder, defensive end Myjai Sanders and cornerback Ahmad Gardner lead a Cincinnati team that has built on an incredible 2020 campaign.
It starts with Ridder. A week ago, he got off to a less-than-impressive start against Indiana but stepped up down the stretch to put the Hoosiers away. Ridder is a dual-threat quarterback who has to be careful when he chooses to run, thanks to his slender build. He has plenty of arm strength and natural zip on his passes, but timing and accuracy have been an issue for him over the years. The Notre Dame defense is fast and aggressive, and this will be his best chance to show improvement.
Sanders and Gardner won’t impress many on the stat sheets through the first three games, but it’s the way teams are avoiding them that shows just how special they are. Sanders is getting plenty of attention in the blocking scheme to keep him from wreaking havoc with his burst off the line and combination of long arms and flexibility to turn the corner. It took two snaps against Indiana for the Hoosiers to realize they needed to start chipping or double-teaming him. However, Notre Dame may be more confident in their ability to handle him one-on-one.
Most teams have avoided Garner’s side of the field, even if it meant neglecting their top receiver as Indiana did with Ty Fryfogle. He’s a long, athletic player with tons of confidence, and I’ll be interested in seeing how Notre Dame approaches the challenge.
I’ll also be keeping my eye on running back Jerome Ford. He’s a powerful runner with terrific contact balance that pairs with Ridder well.
Notre Dame Football:
The Fighting Irish have a roster loaded with NFL talent. It starts with safety Kyle Hamilton, who is one of the best draft-eligible prospects in the nation. He’s a tall, instinctive safety that shows outstanding range in every aspect of the game. With a dual-threat player like Ridder, Hamilton will lead the charge corralling him on Saturday.
Helping in that effort will be pass rusher, Isaiah Foskey. Foskey plays a versatile position that asks him to play on the edge or line up as a more traditional linebacker. He’s explosive and powerful, with a knack for making plays in the backfield.
Across the ball, Kyren Williams is one of the top running back prospects in the country. He’s not quite as powerful as Ford, but he’s still got a sturdy build. However, Williams combines his strength with well-above-average short-area quickness and acceleration. It makes him a big-play threat with the ball in his hands, and he’s also an added weapon in the passing game.
Helping to pave the way for Williams is center Jarrett Patterson. He’s big for a center at nearly 6’5” and 307 pounds. He shows excellent strength and adequate mobility and is the leader of that unit upfront, which will be vital in keeping this Cincinnati defense off balance.
I’m also keeping my eye out for wide receiver Kevin Austin. He’s one of Notre Dame’s most dangerous offensive weapons at receiver, averaging 16.4 yards a reception. He’s got terrific speed and above-average size at 6’2”, 215 pounds.
My Two Cents on the game:
This is basically a College Football Playoff game for these two teams. Several teams that entered the season ranked ahead of Cincinnati and Notre Dame have already been upset. Also, at this rate, it’s going to be tough to keep Alabama and Georgia out of the playoff if they both reach the SEC Championship Game undefeated.
The bottom line is I’m not sure there is room in the College Football Playoff for a one-loss Notre Dame or Cincinnati. So, someone’s goal of being in the playoff will end this Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Matchup of the Week: Auburn’s Owen Pappoe against LSU’s Mike Jones
Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Saturday, October 2, 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn, Third-year Junior, 6’1″, 226:
Owen Pappoe has been a starter ever since coming to Auburn as a five-star recruit out of Georgia. He has a top-heavy build with above-average instincts that allow him to be active against the run. The LSU offense is a balanced attack, with Tyrion Davis-Price and Corey Kiner offering a versatile rushing attack. Not only can Pappoe be a factor in stopping their more traditional downhill rushing attack, but he has adequate range to help chase down plays to the sideline. However, I want to see him help shut down the Tigers’ passing attack.
LSU is a much different college football team when they can’t throw the ball effectively, considering Kayshon Boutte is their top playmaker. Pappoe has to prove adequate in coverage, whether it’s dropping into zone or matching up against running backs and tight ends.
Three-down linebackers are starting to become the standard in the NFL, and he has to prove capable of bringing something to the table on passing downs. If he can help make life challenging for Max Johnson, it helps Auburn’s chances immensely.
Mike Jones, LB, LSU, Fourth-Year Junior, 6’2”, 234:
Mike Jones is a Clemson transfer with nearly the polar opposite skillset of Pappoe. He’s a highly athletic player who had a similar role to Isaiah Simmons when he was at Clemson. He’s often an overhang player that plays outside the box, and it fits his current strengths.
The junior isn’t as instinctual or physical as he needs to be against the run at this time and is much more competent in the passing game. Still, Auburn will play with balance, forcing Jones to be a complete player when he’s in the lineup. That means college football scouts should get a good look at how he is developing with some of his shortcomings, which will make or break his draft stock. Jones’ athletic traits are a plus at the position, but they are the only driving his draft stock at this time.
An active game harassing Tank Bigsby and Bo Nix (or T.J. Finley) will go a long way for proving he is rounding into a complete linebacker.
Player of the Week: Matt Corral vs. Alabama
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Saturday, October 2, 2:30 p.m. (CT) on CBS
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss, Fourth-Year Junior, 6’2”, 205:
Perhaps no draft-eligible college football quarterback has seen their draft stock rise more in the first month of the season. Matt Corral entered the year outside of the top 50, but the upside was always apparent. He has a terrific arm and mobility, and awareness of how to alter his touch and velocity to make accurate throws is outstanding. Corral anticipates well and displays a good understanding of coverages and how to fit throws into windows.
It’s the decision-making that has to improve with this junior signal-caller, and thus far, the Rebels haven’t had much of a test against Louisville, Austin Peay, and Tulane. Still, the Crimson Tide is another animal.
This defense is swarming with NFL talent that turns poor decisions into game-altering mistakes on a regular basis. If Corral’s reckless style of play shows up in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama defense is going to feast. However, if Corral has truly learned to play with more discipline, he’s got a chance to give the Crimson Tide a ton of problems, just like Ole Miss did a year ago. No quarterback is playing better than the fourth-year junior at this time, and it’s got his name firmly in the conversation of the top-draft eligible signal-caller.