Who to watch in conference championship games

By | December 4, 2019

#6 OKLAHOMA (11-1) at #7 BAYLOR (11-1); NOON ET; Arlington; ABC … Before they take the field early Saturday afternoon for the BIG XII conference final, both teams are likely to be glued to their TVs on Friday evening watching the PAC-12 title game. Bottom line is that if Oregon knocks off Utah, the winner of the BIG XII championship would appear to be next in line for the 4th CFP playoff position. Of course, its no big surprise that Oklahoma is in the conference’s championship game. The Sooners are led by QB Jalen Hurts (#1, 6-2, 220), who still has an outside chance of making it three Heisman’s in a row for OU QBs. Indeed, Hurts put up Tebow-like numbers this fall, as he threw for over 3,300 yards and 31 scores while rushing for another 1,200-plus yards and 18 TDs on the ground. Its not clear, though, where Hurts will fit into the draft landscape, although it is hard to see him dropping more than a few picks into the second round. In fact, the Sooners’ best prospect for the upcoming draft is junior WR CeeDee Lamb (#2, 6-1, 190), an explosive big-play threat who has averaged almost 21 yards per catch this fall with 14 TD receptions and should be one of the first receivers off the board, possibly as early as the top 5-10 picks this coming April, if he opts to turn pro this winter. Rising redshirt sophomore C Creed Humphrey (#56, 6-5, 320) is another OU underclassman to watch. Like Lamb, he is now considered to be an opening round prospect and may have eclipsed Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz as the top candidate at the position this year. Meanwhile, junior MLB Kenneth Murray (#9, 6-2, 235) is also a good one and could get some late second-day consideration, along with rising NT Neville Gallimore (#90, 6-2, 310).

Hands up everyone that had Baylor as a conference finalist and a post-season contender for a CFP playoff spot back in the summer. Certainly, its unlikely that the Bears will have anywhere near the impact that the Sooners do at the upcoming draft. However, the Bears do feature one of the most productive players in the country in emerging junior DE James Lynch (#93, 6-4, 295), who is among the top ten sackers in the country with 10.5. Lynch is a prototype 3-4 5-tech DE who is going to be attractive to NFL teams because of his ability to slide inside and rush the pocket on passing downs. Also, keep an eye on fellow DE James Lockhart (#9, 6-2, 265), OLB Jordan Williams (#38, 6-0, 225), and WR Denzel Mims (#5, 6-2, 215), who led the team with 61 catches for 945 yards and 11 TDs.

#4 GEORGIA (11-1) vs #2 LSU (12-0); 4 PM ET; Atlanta; CBS … In a perfect world, the SEC championship game between #2 LSU and #4 Georgia would actually be a CFP playoff game. However, the one word that has never been associated with the world of college football is perfect! In fact, it is entirely possible that if Georgia is able to upset LSU on Saturday afternoon, that both teams could still make it into the 4-team CFP playoff. Certainly, Saturday’s SEC final could be one more opportunity for LSU QB Joe Burrow (#9, 6-3, 220), arguably the best story in college football this season who went from career journeyman game manager to a legit Heisman candidate and likely top 2-3 pick at the 2020 draft. Along the way, Burrow has completed a ridiculous 78% of his pass attempts, good for almost 4,400 yards and 44 TDs against just 6 picks. The LSU offense also features two of the most explosive WRs in the country in sophomore Ja’Marr Chase (#1, 6-1, 200) who has 70 receptions for almost 1,500 yards and 17 TDs, and junior Justin Jefferson (#2, 6-2, 195) who has 81 catches for almost 1,100 yards and 13 scores. For the record, Jefferson is considered to be a second-day prospect for the upcoming draft, while Chase has top 5-10 potential for 2021. If the Tigers’ Burrow does ultimately end up in this year’s opening round, he should have plenty of LSU company as junior FS Grant Delpit (#7, 6-2, 205), senior CB Kristian Fulton (#1, 5-11, 200) and sophomore OLB K’Lavon Chaisson (#18, 6-3, 250) each have first-round potential. Delpit, the star of the group, is considered to be a top 10-15 candidate, although he hasn’t had the impact so far this fall as he had in 2019 when he had 5 picks along with 5 sacks. Meanwhile, wide-body 5T DE Rashard Lawrence (#90, 6-2, 310) should get some second-day consideration, along with rising junior LT Saahdiq Charles (#77, 6-4, 295) who isn’t all that big or physical, but is very quick and athletic, and junior MLB Jacob Phillips (#6, 6-3, 235). Also keep an eye on rugged OG Damien Lewis (#68, 6-3, 335).

Whether Georgia can hold off LSU on Saturday, the Bulldawgs should have a major impact early at the 2020 draft. Junior OT Andrew Thomas (#71, 6-5, 320), for example, is a rising star in this year’s draft class with top 5-10 potential, while junior QB Jake Fromm (#11, 6-2, 220) also looks to have legit first-round possibilities, although pro scouts would like to see a little more consistency. Georgia has a third possible first-round candidate for 2020 in junior RB D’Andre Swift (#7, 5-9, 215), an explosive slasher who ran for over 1,200 yards this fall. At the same time, veteran safety J.R. Reed (#20, 6-1, 195) could give the Dawgs yet another possible top 100 candidate. Meanwhile, other Georgia seniors who could get later round or free agent interest include WR Tyler Simmons (#87, 6-0, 200), who is also a good return artist, TE Charlie Woerner (#89, 6-5, 245), DE Tyler Clark (#52, 6-3, 300), NT Michael Barnett (#94, 6-3, 305), DE David Marshall (#51, 6-3, 275) and MLB Tae Crowder (#30, 6-2, 235).

#2 CLEMSON (12-0) vs #23 VIRGINIA (9-3); 7:30 PM ET; Charlotte; ABC … For the most part, one would expect the other conference championship games to be relatively competitive with an underdog that has, at least, a chance to pull an upset. However, the ACC title game between defending national champion Clemson and Virginia may be the exception as the 3 loss Cavs looked to be under-matched from the get-go. It also doesn’t help that Virginia’s only potential top 100 pro prospect – CB Bryce Hall – hasn’t played since mid-season because of an ankle injury. The Cavs, though, do have several players with later-round potential including OLBs Jordan Mack (#4, 6-2, 230) and Charles Snowden (#11, 6-6, 235), DT Eli Hanback (#58, 6-3, 300) and WRs Joe Reed (#2, 6-1, 215) and Hasise Dubois (#8, 6-2, 215). Of those, the rangy Snowden, a WR in high school, may be the most intriguing, although Mack, who had 7.5 sacks this fall, actually put up the better numbers. Meanwhile, veteran QB Bryce Perkins (#3, 6-2, 215) is a terrific college QB who threw for 3,000 yards this fall, while running for almost 700 and 11 TDs, although he’s more a marginal draft prospect.

Third-ranked Clemson, in contrast, is likely to have as much impact on this year’s early rounds as any program in the country with at least a half dozen players with top 100 potential including LB Isaiah Simmons (#11, 6-4, 225), WR Tee Higgins (#5, 6-4, 205), RB Travis Etienne (#9, 5-10, 215), CB AJ Terrell (#8, 6-2, 190) and OGs John Simpson (#74, 6-4, 330) and Tremayne Anchrum (#73, 6-2, 310). Simmons, a potential top 10 pick this year with the athletic skills to blow up the combine, is the star of the group, although of course, the Clemson Tiger just about every NFL team wants to get their hands on is sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence (#16, 6-5, 220), but he won’t be draft eligible until 2021 when he is the early betting favorite to be the #1 pick overall.

#8 WISCONSIN (10-2) vs #1 OHIO STATE (12-0); 8 PM ET; Indianapolis; FOX … One of the best truisms in sports is that it is hard to beat a good team twice. And that will be the challenge for top-rated Ohio State in the BIG TEN championship when the unbeaten Buckeyes play Wisconsin after crushing the Badgers 38-7 early last month. That game turned out to be a breakout game for OSU’s star junior DE Chase Young (#2, 6-5, 265), arguably the top non-QB prospect for the upcoming draft, who had 4 sacks against the usually stingy Badgers’ OL. Young, who led the country with 16.5 sacks despite missing a couple of games for a minor disciplinary infraction, isn’t quite as polished as either of the Bosa brothers – Joey and Nick – who were drafted 3rd and 2nd overall respectively in 2016 and 2019, and pro scouts would also like to see his motor run hot all the time, but he is as explosive off the snap as they come with a rare combination of size and athleticism, not to mention a ton of upside. Meanwhile, junior CB Jeff Okudah (#1, 6-0, 200) has quietly emerged as a second OSU top 5 prospect for the upcoming draft, while redshirt soph CB Shaun Wade (#24, 6-0, 195) is only a step or so behind and could also go in the first half of the opening round if he opts to leave school this winter. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have several other solid second-day prospects including junior RB J.K. Dobbins (#2, 5-9, 220), junior MLB Tuf Borland (#32, 6-1, 235), senior safety Jordan Fuller (#4, 6-2, 205) and senior CB Damon Arnette (#3, 6-0, 195), while OLB Malik Harrison (#39, 6-3, 245), DT Davon Hamilton (#53, 6-4, 310) and OGs Jonah Jackson (#73, 6-3, 305) and Brandon Bowen (#76, 6-6, 315) are mid-to-late round candidates.

For its part, Wisconsin also has a couple of solid first-round prospects as junior RB Jonathan Taylor (#23, 5-10, 220) and junior C Tyler Biadasz (#61, 6-5, 325) are both generally considered to be the best prospects at their respective positions for the upcoming draft. Taylor, in fact, likely will go down as one of the most productive backs in college football history as he has averaged over 2,000 yards per year in his three seasons at UW. And while Wisconsin will always be known for its punishing ground game, the defense has been outstanding so far this fall with 4 shutouts to date. Leading the way on that side of the ball are veteran MLBs Zack Baun (#56, 6-2, 235) and Chris Orr (#54, 6-0, 225) who each had 11.5 sacks this fall. The Badgers could also have an interesting prospect in junior WR Quintez Cephus (#87, 6-1, 210), a big-play threat who didn’t play at all in 2018 after being charged with domestic violence and was only re-instated just prior to the season when a grand jury failed to return an indictment.