Friday’s Conference Championship Games
MAC Championship; Detroit: BUFFALO (10-2) vs NORTHERN ILLINOIS (7-5); 7:00 PM ET; ESPN2 … The MAC championship usually doesn’t rate as must-see TV for pro scouts, but this year’s match-up between Buffalo and Northern Illinois is a little different as both teams have multiple legitimate players with at least some second-day potential for the 2019 draft.
Buffalo, in particular, has at least one player who could conceivably sneak into the latter part of the opening round in senior WR Anthony Johnson (#83, 6-1, 210), a physical receiver with big-play ability who averaged over 18 yards per catch this fall, although his overall numbers were down somewhat this fall. At the same time, it’s hard for scouts to miss junior QB Tyree Jackson (#3, 6-7, 245), arguably the most imposing quarterback in this year’s class who has drawn some comps to Cam Newton. Jackson also has the arm strength to throw the ball through a brick wall; however, his mechanics and touch are still very much works in progress. On the other side of the ball, the Bulls are led by veteran MLB Khalil Hodge (#4, 6-0, 235), a tackling machine who had 130 stops this fall, twice the number as any other UB defender.
For its part, Northern Illinois isn’t quite as talented as Buffalo, but does feature one of the most productive pass rushers in college football in junior DE/OLB Sutton (#15, 6-1, 240). Smith isn’t all that big and won’t break the bank running the 40, but is quick, instinctive and relentless. Indeed, Smith made several All-America teams last year when he led the country with 30 tackles for loss, including 14 sacks, and followed that up with 13 more sacks this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies roster also includes one of the more experienced offensive linemen in the 2019 draft class in LT Max Scharping (#73, 6-6, 315), who has 51 straight starts and played every offensive snap this past season.
PAC-12 Championship; #10 WASHINGTON (9-3) vs #17 UTAH (9-3); Santa Clara; 8 PM ET; FOX … What if they held a conference championship game in a Power-5 conference and nobody cared? Well, you’d get this year’s PAC-12 title game between Washington and Utah. The winner does get to go to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, but this game means diddly squat to the CFP playoff which is all anybody really cares about. The game is also something of a ‘Tale of Two Teams’ when it comes to talent for the 2019 draft. On the one hand, Washington is loaded with prospects for the upcoming draft, whereas the pickings will be pretty thin for the Utes.
Washington, in fact, could have a top 10 prospect if redshirt sophomore CB Byron Murphy (#1, 5-10, 185) who figures to be one of the first 2-3 cover corners off the board this coming April. Meanwhile, SS Taylor Rapp (#7, 5-11, 200) has late first-round potential, while RB Myles Gaskin (#9, 5-10, 195), OT Kaleb McGary (#58, 6-6, 320), DT Greg Gaines (#99, 6-2, 330), and MLB Ben Burr-Kirven (#25, 6-0, 225) each some mid-round possibilities. Then there’s veteran QB Jake Browning (#3, 6-2, 200) who seems to have played at UDub forever. Browning has been a good college QB, but there are questions whether he has the arm strength to be more than a career back-up at the next level.
While the Huskies are likely to be very busy at the 2019 draft, Utah will just be hoping that someone gets selected, especially in the early to mid-rounds. Indeed, LB Chase Hansen (#22, 6-2, 230), who leads the team with 101 tackles and has been invited to this year’s Senior Bowl, is probably the only Ute who is a lock to be drafted. However, the Utes so have several other solid veterans who should at least get some late-round or free agent interest including LT Jackson Barton (#70, 6-6, 315), OG Jordan Agasivo (#79, 6-2, 320), MLB Cody Barton (#30, 6-1, 230), and safeties Corrion Ballard (#15, 6-2, 200) and Marquis Blair (#6-1, 195).