Due to a quirky (dumb?) schedule, LSU will play Oregon (ABC) tonight (8 pm) at the exact same time Boise State plays Georgia (ESPN). Of the four teams, Boise State has the most to gain, because with a win, the Broncos have a 93% chance* to go unbeaten. Here’s a preview of players from each team you should keep an eye on because they will eventually be getting paid** to play in the NFL.
Kellen Moore, senior QB: Likely will go down as one of the winningest QBs in college football history. Best senior QB in the country. Ruthlessly efficient as a junior, but he lost his top two receivers to the NFL. Doesn’t project as a great pro, and some people think he won’t even get drafted (he’s only 5-foot-11). I can see him as the No. 3 QB on an NFL team that runs the West Coast offense.
Doug Martin, senior RB: Short but tough runner (5-9, 215) with nice hands out of the backfield. Scored 15 TDs as a sophomore, then rang up 1,280 yards rushing as a junior. I wouldn’t be surprised if he approached 2,000 all purpose yards as a senior. A poor man’s Mark Ingram? Martin can squat 530 pounds, and I think he could garner 3rd round consideration (maybe 2nd?) if his 4.41 40-time can be improved a bit.
Billy Winn, senior DE: The Broncos’ strength this year will be its front seven. Winn, at 6-3, 295 pounds, is the player to watch. Will be interesting to see how a Georgia line with maybe three pro prospects (Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones, Kwame Geathers) handles Winn, who could be a first-round talent (more likely 2nd) in 2012.
Aaron Murray, redshirt sophomore QB: Impressive 2010 campaign (61 % completions, 3,049 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs), but his offensive line is weaker, and he’s lost AJ Green to the NFL. Murray’s only 6-foot-1, which is shorter than the scouts love (though Drew Brees is only 6-foot). Might just end up being a very, very good college QB who never amounts to much in the pros … like other Georgia QBs (Mike Bobo, Eric Zeier, David Greene). I’d say he’s got a ceiling of being a 2nd-3rd round pick in 2013.
Brandon Boykin, senior CB: Sick athlete, confident and full of swagger, and very fast. Will be interesting to see if he matches up with Tyler Shoemaker, Boise State’s top returning receiver. Likely a mid-round pick in the 2012 draft.
Tavarres King, junior WR: Third-leading receiver on the team as a sophomore becomes the top target of Murray. At 6-1, 190, he’s a speedy deep threat who could have a very good season if the Bulldogs’ much-hyped running game (starring freshman Isaiah Crowell) pans out.
Orson Charles, junior TE: Friend of Nevin Shapiro is supposed to be one of the best at his position in college football. I think he’ll have a big game against Boise because Murray will be under duress and not have much time to look downfield. He’s 6-3, 240 and should be a mid-round pick in 2013.
(I’ve left Russell Shepard off this list due to his suspension, but he’s a future NFL pick)
Morris Claiborne, junior, CB: One outlet has Claiborne as the 4th best player in the SEC. A dangerous returner and cover man, he’s also blazing fast. A converted receiver, Claiborne probably is a 1st or 2nd round pick in the 2013 draft. Not sure he’d go that high if he came out in 2012.
Rueben Randle, junior WR: High school superstar was a 5-star recruit and had a good sophomore year (33 catches, three TDs), but should be the No. 1 target with Shepard suspended. At 6-foot-4, they say he’s got some AJ Green/Julio Jones in him, but I haven’t seen it yet. Potential is there to be a high-round draft pick, but can he do it catching passes from Lee or Jefferson?
Barkevious Mingo, redshirt sophomore DE: You may know him as a guy with a fantastic name, but at 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, he’s a menacing defensive end. He only weighed 220 last year, but bulked up by 20 pounds. Curious to see what he’s like when he adds 25 more pounds – which is what he’ll need to do to become an NFL DE. Won’t be an NFL draft pick until 2013 or 2014.
(I’ve left Cliff Harris off this list due to suspension, but he’s considered a first-round pick)
LaMichael James, junior RB: At 5-9, 185, I’m not a huge fan of his pro prospects. Some say he could be like Chris Johnson of the Titans, but the best 40 time I can find for James is 4.4, and Johnson famously ran a 4.24 at the combine. You also have to wonder if his monster stats the last two years – 1,546 yards, then 1,731 yards and 21 TDs – were inflated due to the up-tempo Oregon attack. James has proved to be a heavy-load workhorse – 8 games with 25+ carries last year. Second-round ceiling in 2013?
* Unscientific number.
** Yes, joke away.