Who to watch in college football’s big games (September 23-24)

September 22, 2022

It’s another week on the college football schedule without a true marque match-up of top ten teams, but once again this week there are a number of really interesting games featuring intriguing prospects for the 2023 draft. Here are the games – and – players we’ll be focused on this weekend.

FLORIDA (2-1) at #11 TENNESSEE (3-0); 3:30 PM ET; CBS … Perhaps no 2023 prospect will be under more pressure to produce this weekend than Florida QB Anthony Richardson (#15, 6-3, 235) who literally just a couple of weeks was THE hot QB prospect for the upcoming draft. However, while he’s made plays with his legs scoring 3 rushing TDs in the Gators’ first three games of the year, Richardson is in danger of almost dropping off the draft radar altogether as he has been abysmal throwing the ball. Indeed, Richardson has completed just 53% of his pass attempts so far this year with no TD passes and 4 picks as he sits 14th among SEC passers in QB-efficiency. On the other hand, Saturday’s game with the Gators could give rising Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker (#5, 6-3, 220) an opportunity to climb into the 5 ranking at the position, as he leads the conference in passing with 69% completion percentage which includes 6 TD passes against 0 interceptions.

In fact, this week’s game gives the Vols the chance to creep that much closer back toward college football relevance after years in the proverbial desert. And while Hooker is the star attraction, the Vols have several other interesting pro prospects including mammoth RT Darnell Wright (#58, 6-6, 335), WR Cedric Tillman (#4, 6-3, 215) and DE Bryan Young (#6, 6-3, 245) each of whom has at least some late-second day potential. Meanwhile, other Gators to watch include OG O’Cyrus Torrence (#54, 6-5, 345), DT Gervon Dexter (#9, 6-6, 315), OLBs Brenton Cox (#1, 6-3, 255) and Ventrell Miller (#51, 6-0, 225) and safety Trey Dean (#0, 6-2, 210).

#10 ARKANSAS (3-0) at #23 TEXAS A&M (2-1); 7 PM ET; ESPN … And speaking of SEC program’s looking for a return to relevance – with arising QB prospect to boot – 10th ranked Arkansas gets its chance when the Razorbacks play at Texas A&M on Saturday evening. Arkansas is led by junior QB K.J. Jefferson (#1, 6-3, 245), an outstanding dual-threat type who is closing in on 1.000 career rushing yards with the Hogs, while he has a completion percentage over 70% with 6 TD passes against just one pick. That comes after a breakout year in 2021 when Jefferson threw for 2,700 yards and 21 TDs versus only 4 interceptions as he completed 67% of his pass attempts while also running for close to 700 yards. Jefferson isn’t quite considered to be a top-tier prospect – yet – but he has the tools and is clearly getting closer. Arkansas also likely would have had a second second-day prospect in FS Jalen Catalon, but unfortunately he’ll miss the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. That said, the Razorbacks do have a number of other good prospects, though, including OLB Drew Sanders (#42, 6-4, 235), an alabama transfer who already has 5.5 sacks this season, C Ricky Stromberg (#51, 6-3, 315), WR Jadon Haselwood (#9, 6-3, 215), TE Trey Knox (#7, 6-5, 245), S Latavius Brini (#7, 6-2, 215) and LB/S Bumper Pool (#10, 6-2, 232) who if nothing else has one of the coolest names in college football!

For its part, Texas A&M looks to be still maybe a year or two from getting back to national prominence as they have a very young team that starts as many as 13 freshmen and sophomores. However, the Aggies had what was considered to be the top recruiting class in the country in 2022 which included 8 5-star recruits including DE Walter Nolen, arguably the #1 recruit overall, as well as QB Connor Weigman who could start to see meaningful playing time sooner rather than later. And while the Aggies don’t necessarily have a lot of veteran talent they do have the consensus top safety in the 2023 draft class in Antonio Johnson (#27, 6-2, 195). At the same time, scatback Devone Achane (#6, 5-9, 185), who is one of the fastest people on the planet with 10.14 100M PB, is something of a rising star at the position, while WR Ainias Smith (#0, 5-10, 190) is a big-play threat averaging 18.5 yards per reception this fear. Both are very fast and could get some late second, early third day interest.

#5 CLEMSON (3-0) at #21 WAKE FOREST (3-0); NOON ET; ABC … Interesting game in the ACC where Clemson puts its national championship hopes on the line with an early season test at #21 Wake Forest. An what could make it a challenge for the Tigers is the return of Wake QB Sam Hartman (#10, 6-1, 210) who missed the early part of the season with a non-football medical issue. Hartman, a 5th year starter, probably isn’t much more than a fringe draft prospect, but he’s a terrific college QB who threw for over 4,300 yards and 39 scores last fall; he’s also a just good athlete to make plays with his legs. And probably no one is happier than he’s back is WR A.T. Perry (#9, 6-5, 205) a rangy big-play receiver who had 71 receptions for almost 1,300 yards and 15 TDs last fall. He’s a legit second-day prospect for the upcoming draft.

However, if Hartman and company are going to really test the Tigers they are going to have to take care of the Clemson defensive front which just may be the best in college football, at least outside Georgia. Indeed, the Tigers feature a pair of top 10 prospects for 2023 in DT Brian Bresee (#11, 6-4, 305), who returns to the lineup after not playing last week because of the death of a younger sister, and DE Myles Murphy (#98, 6-5, 275). Clemson also has one of the top pure LBs in college football in Trent Simpson (#22, 6-3, 240) who’ll get some first-round consideration of his own. Whether the Tigers get back to the CFP playoff this year will depend on how well QB D.J. Uiagalelei (#5, 6-4, 235) plays this fall. So far, he’s been better than last year, but still has Clemson fans calling for freshman QB Cade Klubnik (#2, 6-2, 195) one of the top recruits in the country at the position this year.

WISCONSIN (2-1) at #3 OHIO STATE (3-0); 7:30 PM ET; ABC … The Badgers and Buckeyes kickoff the Big Ten conference regular schedule in what has the potential to be an old-time slugfest. That’s because the two teams feature arguably the two best RB prospects in the country in Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen (#0, 6-2, 235) and OSU’s Treveyon Henderson (#32, 5-10, 215). However, neither will be draft eligible until 2024. They both also run behind big physical offensive lines most of whom ARE draft eligible this year. In fact, the Buckeyes have arguably the top OT combination in the country in LT Paris Johnson (#77, 6-5, 310), a third OSU top ten prospect, and massive RT Dawand Jones (#79, 6-7, 350), while the Badgers OL includes LT Jack Nelson (#79, 6-6, 310), OGs Tyler Beach (#65, 6-5, 320) and Mike Furtney (#74, 6-5, 315) and C Joe Tippmann (#6-5, 320).

The difference here, though, is that Ohio State is talented right across the board, while the Badgers aren’t. In fact, Ohio State has a legit candidate to be the #1 pick this year in QB C.J. Stroud (#7, 6-3, 215), while WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (#11, 6-0, 200) is a better prospect that either of former teammates Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave, the 10th and 11th players selected respectively at the 2022 draft, while the defense is lead by DE Zach Harrison (#9, 6-6, 270), safety Ronnie Hickman (#14, 6-1, 205), and CBs Cameron Brown (#26, 6-0, 190) and CB Denzel Burke (#5, 6-0, 195), although the latter also isn’t draft eligible this year. Meanwhile, the Badgers best prospects this year look to be disruptive WLB Nick Herbig (#19, 6-2, 230) who already has 4 sacks this fall, and rugged NT Keeanu Benton (#95, 6-3, 315).

Bonus coverage: And speaking of intriguing QB prospects, we are intrigued to see Washington State’s Cameron Ward (#1, 6-2, 220), the record setting former FCS passer at Incarnate Word, who transferred to the Cougars this off-season and leads against conference power Oregon this weekend with KO set for 4 PM ET on FOX.