Who to watch in college football: October 2

By | September 30, 2021

#7 CINCINNATI (3-0) at #9 NOTRE DAME (4-0); 2:30 PM ET; NBC … What was that old ad on TV featuring the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’? Something like that. Well this could very well be THE most interesting game on the 2021 schedule. Certainly it has a chance to be the most impactful. Here’s the deal: IF 7th ranked Cincinnati can come in and defeat the Irish on their home turf. And IF the Bearcats can run the rest of the table, the folks that run the CFP largely for the benefit of the Power 5 conferences would have a very difficult time explaining keeping the Bearcats, who play in the non-Power 5 AAC, out of this year’s playoff (not that they won’t try). Of course, those are still big IFs and there is a lot of football to be played, but you can see why a lot of those CFP folks will be sweating out Saturday’s game.

And the Bearcats, which was 9-1 in 2020 with their only loss a 3-pointer to Georgia in the Peach Bowl in January, are full value for where they’re at these days. Indeed, Cincinnati looks to have more first-round prospects for the 2022 draft than their Notre Dame counterparts. In fact, the Bearcats have at least 3 players with at least some opening round potential including athletic QB Desmond Ridder (#9, 6-3, 215) who figures to get some late opening round consideration this coming April. The Bearcats best pro prospect is CB Ahmad Gardner (#1, 6-1, 200), a rangy cover corner with a chance to be the second CB off the board this year after LSU’s Derek Stingley. The Bearcats defense also features one of the more disruptive edge rushers in the country in DE Myjai Sanders (#21, 6-0, 255), who is something of an odd size, but is very explosive off the snap.

For good measure, Cincinnati also has a lot of depth with a small army of players who could get some later-round consideration including RB Jerome Ford (#24, 5-10, 215), who has averaged just over 100 yards per game so far this season; WR Alec Pierce (#12, 6-2, 210); TE Josh Whyle (#81, 6-5, 235); OG Vince McConnell (#77, 6-4, 300); DTs Curtis Brooks (#92, 6-2, 295) and Marcus Brown (#98, 6-2, 295); CB Coby Bryant (#7, 6-0, 200); and safety Ja’von Hicks (#3, 6-1, 205).

However, the best prospect in this game is Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (#14, 6-3, 220), who is built more like a LB, but still has sideline-to-sideline range. Indeed, he is considered to be one of the top half dozen or so prospects overall for the upcoming draft period! The Irish also feature a pair of exciting, big-play skill position sophomores in RB Kyren Williams (#23, 5-9, 200) and TE Michael Mayer (#87, 6-4, 240). The Irish also feature a couple of solid third-day OL prospects in OG Cain Madden (#62, 6-2, 310), the former Marshall All-American, and veteran C Jarret Patterson (#55, 6-4, 310), while MLB Drew White (#40, 6-0, 230) anchors the defensive front seven.

Bonus coverage: While the Cincinnati-Notre Dame is the only game that really matters in college football this weekend, there are in fact several other games that also matter. Pro scouts, in particular, can’t wait to see Mississippi QB Matt Corral (#2, 6-1, 205) when 3-0 and 12th ranked Ole Miss plays at #1 Alabama (3:30 PM ET; CBS). While most of the other top-rated passers coming into the season have struggled, Corral has been the one who picked up where he left off last season; indeed, he’s emerged as the early season leader for the Heisman and also has NFL teams starting to think about him as the top QB on their board. For the record, Corral has completed 69% of his passes so far this fall as he has averaged over 330 yards per game with 9 TD passes, with no picks, through his first three games. In fact, it’s kind of prove-it weekend on the docket in college football. In addition to Cincinnati and Mississippi, for example, surprising Michigan, which is 4-0, has a tough road date at Wisconsin (Noon ET; Fox). The player to watch in this game is Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson (#97, 6-5, 270), who has been almost unblockable so far this fall, posting 5.5 sacks through the Wolverines first 4 games.