Who to watch in college football’s big game: September 9th

September 7, 2023

#11 Texas at #4 Alabama; 7 PM ET; ESPN … College football fans can only hope that Saturday’s return match-up between Alabama and Texas is as good a game as last year’s meeting in Austin when when the Tide pulled out a dramatic one-point win thanks to some late heroics by QB Bryce Young, who of course went on to become the first player selected at the 2023 NFL draft. In fact, Alabama had the first and third players selected this past April as star DE Will Anderson was the third pick overall. And there is every chance in the world that Alabama is back in the top ten again this coming spring as they have at least a couple of prospects with top 10 potential in ER Dallas Turner (#15, 6-4, 245) and CB Kool-Aid McKinstry (#1, 6-0, 195), both of whom are currently considered to be the top prospects at their respective positions. And that should pretty much guarantee that Alabama adds to its record streak of having at least one player selected in the opening round for a 16th straight year. The Tide also has at least one more player with first-round potential in rising OT JC Latham (#65, 6-5, 360), while DE Justin Eboigbe (#92, 6-4, 295), TE CJ Dippre (#81, 6-5, 260), RB Jase McClellan (#2, 5-11, 215), WR Jermaine Burton (#3, 6-0, 195), CB Terrion Arnold (#3, 6-0, 195), and LB Chris Braswell (#41, 6-2, 255), and and DB Malachi Moore (#13, 6-0, 200) are all later round candidates, although truth be told, the Alabama draft class won’t necessarily have the same kind of depth it has had in recent years. As well, with Young off to the NFL, Alabama is yet another top-ranked team which has moved on at QB this fall as they will start redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe (#4, 6-2, 220), an athletic dual-threat type, but no one is talking about him in anywhere near the same class as his predecessors like Young and Tua Tagovailoa.

What kind of impact the Longhorns will have on the 2024 draft will depend to a large degree on the football fortunes of QB Quinn Ewers (#3, 6-2, 195) this fall. The former #1 recruit in the country originally signed with Ohio State, but ended up transferring to Texas prior to the 2022 season. No question he has elite tools including prototype size, a big arm and enough athleticism to at least keep opposing defences honest. However, he was inconsistent too often last fall and isn’t necessarily a lock to even keep the job with a couple of other A-list young QBs, including Arch Manning, also looking for playing time. Ewers, though, will have the advantage of throwing to several outstanding receivers in WR Xavier Worth (#1, 6-0, 170) and TE J’Tavion Sanders (#0, 6-4, 245), both of whom are considered to be among the top 2-3 prospects at their respective positions, along with WR Adonai Mitchell (#5, 6-3, 200), a Georgia transfer who some scouts think could also end up in the mix at the top of the positional board. Meanwhile,  sophomore LT Kelvin Banks (#78, 6-4, 330) who has all the look of a potential top 5 prospect for 2025, anchors the Longhorns’ offensive front, along with massive RT Christian Jones (#52, 6-5, 345), although Banks may ultimately end up kicking inside at the next level because of the lack of prototype OT length. The Longhorns also have a rising star at LB in Jaylen Ford (#41, 6-2, 245), a really good athlete with excellent range, while they also have some decent depth including wide-body DT T’Vondre Sweat (#93, 8-3, 360), CB Jahdae Barron (#23, 5-11, 190), and S Jalen Catalon (#11, 5-10, 210).  Catalon, in particular, could be something of a sleeper; he’s a transfer from Arkansas who had a breakout year in 2020, but barely played the last two years because of injuries.

#23 Texas A&M at Miami; 3:30 PM ET; ABC … It will also be Texas versus the world when the A&M Aggies visit #22 Miami Saturday afternoon in a match-up of two programs looking for redemption. Indeed, both the Aggies and ‘Canes are coming off very disappointing 5-7 campaigns last fall. In fact, its been a tough go for the Miami program the past several seasons and that has clearly shown up at the draft. Indeed, the team that dominated the early rounds of the draft in the early part of the century had a total of just 4 players selected the past two years, only one of which came of the board prior to the 5th round; the ‘Canes also had just 4 players taken in the first round in the past 8 drafts, none higher than 18th overall. However, times may be changing at Miami. DT Leonard Taylor (#56, 6-2, 305), one of the top 2-3 prospects at the position this year, for example, has a chance to be the highest Cane selected since 2015. At the same time, S Kamryn Kinchens (#5, 6-0, 205) is also considered to be one of the top prospects for that position, although he is still more a second-day type candidate, while OG Javion Cohen (#70, 6-3, 305) and DE Ahkeem Mesidor (#3, 6-3, 280) are more early third-day candidates. Same for QB Tyler Van Dyke (#9, 6-4, 230) who at this time last year was thought to be a top 10 possibility, but struggled through a very pedestrian 2022 season, although he certainly has to the tools to be much better.

The opening night of the draft has also been pretty quiet for Texas A&M in recent years as the Aggies have only had one player selected in the first round in the 6 years since DE Myles Garrett was the #1 pick overall in 2017 which capped a 7-year streak in which A&M had at least one player taken in the first round. And that trend isn’t likely to change in 2024, although Texas A&M does have several interesting second-day prospects including OG Layden Robinson (#64, 6-4, 315), S Demani Richardson (#26, 6-1, 215), WR/PR Ainias Smith (#0, 5-10, 200), and WR Moose Muhammad (#7, 6-1, 205), while DT McKinley Jackson (#3, 6-2, 315) and CB Josh DeBerry (#28, 6-1, 180) are 3rd day types. However, things could be turning around for the Aggies as they have some intriguing young talent including sophomore WR Evan Stewart (#1, 6-0, 170), one of the best receivers in the country, while A&M is hoping that sophomore defensive linemen Walter Nolen (#0, 6-4, 290), Shemar Stewart (#4, 6-5, 285) and LT Overton (#18, 6-5, 265), top recruits in 2022, continue to develop into stud defenders. A&M will also be turning to a sophomore at QB Connor Weigman (#15, 6-3, 215).

Nebraska at #22 Colorado; Noon ET; FOX … Under normal circumstances the renewal of this old Big 8 rivalry wouldn’t merit much more than a passing mention. However, these are not normal times and this may actually be the most anticipated game of the weekend nation-wide because of the presence of new Colorado head coach Deion Sanders. And while no one really expects the Buffs to be all that serious contenders this fall, they at least started to make some believers with last week’s stunning upset of TCU. Sanders has managed to transform the culture, not to mention the talent base, by bring several top players along with him from Jackson, while attracting a number of quality transfers from other programs. Most prominent, at least in the short term, of the newcomers to the team is QB Shedeur Sanders (#2, 6-2, 215), Deion’s younger son, who burned TCU for over 500 yards through the air last fall after tearing up the FCS ranks the previous couple of years when he threw for a total of over 7,000 yards and 70 TDs versus just 14 picks, along the way completing 68% of his pass attempts. The JSU transfer that pro teams really want to get their hands is true sophomore CB/WR Travis Hunter (12, 6-1, 185) who figures to be a pro prospect for the 2025 draft. NFL teams, though, will have to figure out where to play him as he had over 100 receiving yards against TCU last week, while also making a key interception on the other side of the ball.

Nebraska is also embarking on a new era as Matt Rhule takes over the program. However, Rhule has his work cut out for him as the Huskers don’t have much in the way of veteran talent. They do have an experienced QB in Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims (#7, 6-4, 220). although he’s probably a better runner than passer. Meanwhile, the Huskers will battle on a defence which is lead by LB Luke Reimer (#4, 6-1, 225), CB Quinton Newsome (#6, (6-0, 185) and S Omar Brown (#12, 6-1, 200).