Who to watch on Conference Championship Weekend

December 1, 2022

PAC-12 Championship: #4 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (11-1) vs #12 UTAH (9-3); 8 PM ET FRIDAY; Las Vegas; ABC … Southern Cal continues its somewhat improbable run to a berth in the 4-team CFP when the Trojans play Utah in the Pac-12 title in Las Vegas on Friday night. Win and it appears that USC, which has risen to #4 in the CFP rankings, is almost assuredly into the college post-season that people actually care about. This game also gives those in other parts of the country that haven’t the Trojans much this year to see what all the fuss is about USC sophomore QB Caleb Williams (#13, 6-1, 215) who has emerged as the presumptive favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy as he has accounted for 44 TDs this fall including 34 through the air and ten on the ground against just three picks. Of course, as a true soph, Williams won’t be draft eligible until 2024, but for some team the wait will be worth it as Williams looks a lot like the second coming of Patrick Mahomes with his ability to escape trouble and make off-angle throws that mere mortal QBs just can’t.  However, while NFL teams will have to wait on Williams, the Trojans could still have a couple of players selected in this year’s opening round. In fact, WR Jordan Addison (#3, 6-0, 175), who transferred from Pittsburgh last winter after a dominating season catching passes from the Panthers’ Kenny Pickett, is a legitimate top ten prospect, while DT Tuli Tuipulotu (#49, 6-4, 290), a high energy interior pass rusher who is among the leaders in college football this fall with 11.5 sacks, has some later opening round potential. Meanwhile, veteran OG Andrew Vorhees (#72, 6-5, 325) could be the first interior offensive lineman off the board this coming April, while other Trojans to watch include LB Shane Lee (#53, 6-0, 245), FS Max Williams (#4, 5-9, 180), and C Brett Neilon (#62, 6-2, 295).

Utah, though, likely isn’t going to go quietly against USC. Indeed, the Utes were the only team to defeat the Trojans this fall when Utah scored a two-point conversion with less than a minute to play to secure a dramatic 43-42 win that at the time appeared to knock USC out of the national playoff picture. And Utah features its own star dual-threat QB in Cameron Rising (#7, 6-2, 220), a 4th year junior who also has a 66% completion mark this fall when he threw for 22 scores versus 7 picks, while rushing for almost 400 yards. There are concerns in the Utah program, though, that Rising may be dinged up heading into the game. Same for emerging TE Dalton Kincaid (#86, 6-4, 240), the #2 guys at the position on the GBN positional ranking who had a remarkable 16 catches for 234 yards in the Utes win over USC, but has been limited by a shoulder problem pretty much since. In fact, Utah;s best prospect figures to be CB Clark Phillips (#1, 5-10, 185), a mid-to-late opening round candidate who pro scouts want to see go up against USC’s Addison. Meanwhile, rangy LB Mohamoud Diabate (#3, 6-3, 230) anchors the very young Utah defense.

Big XII Championship: #3 TCU (12-0) vs #13 KANSAS STATE (9-3); Arlington, NOON, ET; FOX … TCU is one of just three still unbeaten programs in major college football along with Georgia and Michigan and by all accounts will be in the 4-team CFP playoff if they can knock off K-State in Saturday’s Big XII title game. However, there is nothing cheap about TCU’s undefeated record as the Frogs feature one of the top offenses in the country led by QB Max Duggan (#15, 6-2, 210), a dual-threat type who is also quite simply having a Heisman type season in which he has thrown for 29 TDs against just 3 picks. And that he lifted Duggan literally all the way from being a draft afterthought to a legit late second-day candidate. However, the Frog that pro scouts really want to see is WR Quentin Johnston (#1, 6-3, 215), a rangy, big-play threat who has started to draw some top ten buzz despite the fact that he has been banged up a lot this fall. Johnston pairs with fellow WR Taye Barber (#4, 5-10, 190) to give TCU one of the better 1-2 WR punches in college football. At the same time, CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (#1, 5-9, 180) is a likely second round pick this year, while OG Steve Avila (#79, 6-3, 330), DE Dylan Horton (#98, 6-3, 275), LB Dee Winters (#13, 6-1, 230), and CBs Josh Newton (#24, 6-0, 195) and Noah Daniels (#21, 6-0, 210) are all later round candidates.

Kansas State likely won’t have anyone selected in this year’s opening round, but do have several solid second-day types including DE Felix Anudike Uzomah (#91, 6-4, 255), who has 7.5 sacks this fall, rangy CB Julius Brents (#23, 6-3, 205) and RB Deuce Vaughn (#5-6, 175), who plays way bigger than his size as he scooted for almost 1,300 rushing yards this fall. Pro scouts are also eager to check out (at least for 2024) QB Will Howard (#18, 6-5, 235) a big pocket passer who has been solid since replacing an injured Adrian Martinez.


Sadly, the other major conference championship quite literally don’t matter enough to merit a preview. Michigan, for example, is going to be part of the CFP playoff win or lose in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis (8 PM ET: FOX) and Purdue is not. In fact, there is a pretty good case that the 8-4 Boilermakers don’t really belong in a championship game of any kind. And it won’t get a whole lot easier for Purdue if QB Aidan O’Connell (#16, 6-3. 200) can’t play. If healthy, though, O’Connell is one of several very good second-tier passers in this year’s draft class. And if he does play O’Connell will have a couple of very good receivers to work with in WR Charlie Jones (#15, 6-0, 200) who has 97 catches this fall for just under 1,200 yards, along with TE Payne Durham (#87, 6-5, 255) who has 54 receptions of his own. meanwhile, the one guy we’ll be watching for Michigan is DE/LB Mike Morris (#90, 6-5, 292) arguably the biggest ER in college football at almost 295 pounds. He can move too though and leads the Wolverines with 7.5 sacks.

There is a similar story in the SEC title game (4 PM ET; CBS) as Georgia is going to the national playoffs no matter what happens on Saturday, while LSU isn’t. However, it will be a chance for pro scouts to take one last look at LSU WR Kayshon Boutte (#7, 6-0, 205) to see if he has finally got his act together. Boutte came into the season ranked as one of the top 5-10 players in this year’s draft class, but injury and other issues have limited him to a measly 42 catches and 1 TD and leaving scouts wondering what to make of it. And just for fun – and future reference – fans can check out LSU freshman ER Harold Perkins (#40, 6-2, 220) one of the very best first-year players in the country this fall.

Meanwhile, no one’s going to the CFP from the ACC title game between Clemson and North Carolina (8 PM ET; ABC). Those that do tune in, though, can check out UNC redshirt freshman QB Drake Maye (#10, 6-5, 220) who will be in the conversation to be the #1 pick in 2024 along with USC’s Williams.