Who to watch in college football: September 14

By | September 11, 2019

Pitt (1-1) at #13 Penn State (2-0); Noon ET, ABC … Former Eastern football rivals Pitt and Penn State play for the 100th time early Saturday afternoon in a renewal of their storied instate rivalry. Despite losing as many as 5 underclassmen to the 2019 draft, Penn State looks to have the edge over the Panthers, especially playing at home. However, neither team is exactly loaded with talent for the 2020 draft. Penn State, though, does have an emerging edge rusher who is starting to get some buzz around the NFL in junior DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#99, 6-5, 265) who has 3.5 sacks in the Lions first two games. Pitt’s top prospects are also on defense including CB Dane Jackson (#11, 6-0, 190) and FS Damar Hamlin (#3, 6-0, 195).

#2 Alabama (2-0) at South Carolina (1-1); 3:30 PM ET; CBS … Okay so South Carolina gets second-ranked Alabama at home and stranger things have been known to happen, but its just hard to see the Gamecocks staying with the Tide for 60 minutes, especially after losing starting QB Jake Bentley for the year. In fact, there is a huge disparity in talent between the two programs. Alabama, for example, has as many as 8 players getting at least some first-round consideration for the 2020 draft – more on that later in the year – while South Carolina has none, although veteran OG Donell Stanley (#72, 6-3, 325), a mauling interior offensive lineman who should get some second-day interest. Meanwhile, WR Bryan Edwards (#89, 6-2, 215), RB Rico Dowdle (#5, 5-11, 215), DT Javon Kinlaw (#3, 6-4, 310) and LB TJ Brunson (#6, 6-1, 230) are solid veterans who should figure in the later rounds.

Stanford (1-1) at #17 Central Florida (2-0); 3:30 PM ET; ESPN … Here we go again! After back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons, UCF felt it had a case to be included in the national playoff picture in each of the past two seasons, but were told by the people who run the game to come back once they had played a tougher schedule. Enter Stanford. The added benefit of playing a prominent Power 5 program for UCF is that it gets on national TV in prime football time. That should give folks a chance to check out UCF junior SS Richie Grant (#27, 6-0, 195) arguably the most dynamic player in the country nobody has seen after he rang up over 100 tackles in 2018, while picking off 6 passes. Grant is a little undersized, but should get some second-day consideration if he opts to enter the upcoming draft. Meanwhile, other solid UCF veterans with third-day potential include C Jordan Johnson (#72, 6-2, 320), RT Jake Brown (#77, 6-3, 305), WLB Nate Evans (#44, 6-0, 245) and CB Nevelle Clarke (#14, 6-0, 190).

Arizona State (2-0) at #18 Michigan State (2-0); 4 PM ET; FOX … Interesting intersectional battle between Arizona State of the PAC-12 and the Big TEN’s Michigan State. Of course, the Spartans will get plenty of prime time national exposure this fall. Not so for the Sun Devils who are buried out of the west coast playing games at all hours. And that’s too bad because ASU has a number of really good prospects starting with junior RB Eno Benjamin (#3, 5-9, 205), a slasher who ran for over 1,600 yards last fall. Pro scouts will also be checking out veteran C Cohl Cabral (#73, 6-5, 305), who will actually swing over to LT this fall, along with emerging OLB Khaylan Kearse-Thomas (#20, 6-1, 225), who has 3.5 sacks in the Sun Devils first two games, and explosive WR Brandon Aiyuk (#2, 6-1, 210).

#19 Iowa (2-0) at Iowa State (1-0); 4 PM ET; FS1 … In what may be the best reflection of what a weak week is coming up on the college football schedule, that ESPN is sending its game day team to ISU for the first time ever to preview a game that is only available on cable. And that’s too bad because this game offers the opportunity to check out some top prospects for the 2020 draft that don’t play on national TV every week. Indeed, Iowa junior DE A.J. Epenesa (#94, 6-5, 280) is one of this year’s draft’s most intriguing wild cards after leading the Big TEN with 10.5 sacks last fall, despite not being a full-time starter. Epenesa has a rare combination of size, quickness and intensity and could ultimately go as high as the top 10 this coming April.  Same story for emerging junior OT Tristan Wirfs (#74, 6-5, 320), an athletic pass blocker who can move the pile when blocking for the run who currently has top 15-20 potential. At the same time, the Hawkeyes are led by senior QB Nathan Stanley (#4, 6-4, 245), who returned to school this fall after toying with the idea of entering the 2019 draft; Stanley, a strong-armed pocket passer who should be one of the top second-tier prospects for the upcoming draft. Meanwhile, ISU is something of a darkhorse in the Big XII this year despite losing RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler to the NFL this past spring. The cupboard isn’t bare at ISU, though, which returns emerging DE JaQuan Bailey (#3, 6-2, 255), an explosive ER who had 8 sacks and 6.5 other tackles for loss last fall. At the same time, junior FS Greg Eisworth (#12, 6-0, 205) is another dynamic defender, while LT Julian Good-Jones (#51, 6-5, 310), a versatile veteran who has started games at all 5 OL spots in his ISU career, and rugged DT Ray Lima (#58, 6-2, 305) are solid seniors with mid-to-late round potential.

#1 Clemson (2-0) at Syracuse (1-1); 7:30 PM ET; ABC … The real ‘Orange’ Bowl was supposed to have been this weekend’s feature national game, but that thought became a cropper when Syracuse lost by over 40 points at Maryland last Saturday. Still, the Orange have given Clemson all they could handle in each of the past couple of seasons – they even knocked off the Tigers in a 2017 upset – and no doubt will be loaded for bear when the two teams kick off Saturday evening. Of course, Clemson is another team that will be on national TV all fall, while SU won’t; however, the Orange do have several very interesting candidates for the upcoming draft including DEs Alton Robinson (#94, 6-4, 260) and Kendall Coleman (#55, 6-3, 255), both of whom registered 10 sacks last fall. The Orange also feature one of the best non-draft eligible sophomores in the country in FS Andre Cisco (#7, 6-0, 205) and redshirt sophomore PK Andre Szmyt (#91, 6-1, 195), last year’s Groza winner. Meanwhile, other SU players to watch include SS Evan Foster (#9, 6-0, 215), CB Chris Fredrick (#3, 5-10, 200), MLB Lakiem Williams (#46, 6-0, 225), OG Evan Adams (#63, 6-5, 355) and RB Moe Neal (#21, 5-10, 195).