On the first day of October, the college football Gods may have blessed us with an explosive match up between the two best quarterbacks and two of the best teams in the nation.
Deshaun Watson, who is draft eligible, and Lamar Jackson, who is not, will face off in what we should hope is an epic showdown of college's greatest players (8 PM on ABC). Since the beginning of the 2015 Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson have combined for nearly eleven THOUSAND yards for from scrimmage and NINETY FIVE touchdowns.
That number is even more absurd when you consider that Jackson was not even starting for a good part of last year and this year he already has 25 (TWENTY FIVE) total touchdowns in four games, some of which he did not play entire halves.
On the Clemson side of things, Deshaun Watson was a Heisman finalist last year after being the first player in college football history to throw for four thousand yards and rush for a thousand more. He led the Tigers to the national championship where he put up video game numbers against Alabama's near NFL level talented defense in a losing effort. Watson has suffered from a bit of a slow start this year, but there is still more than enough tape to suggest he has a bright NFL future.
While Lamar Jackson has time at the college level to continue getting better, Watson may be a bit more pressed to show he can get to top form before the NFL comes calling. The prospects do not stop at Watson, however, as both teams have a bevy of talented NFL prospects worth keeping an eye on.
Deshaun Watson, QB: The obvious first choice. Watson is one of the best passers in the nation, possessing a strong arm, great mobility and a very good ability to read defenses and work within Clemson's offense. Watson has been iffy under pressure this year and is not the best deep passer, while also not being a consistently aggressive passer, but he has all the tools and brains to be a star NFL passer. He has looked improved in the most recent weeks, so hopefully it is a sign of things to come. Louisville's defense is no joke, so Watson will need to bring his A-Game like he brought against alabama to give Clemson their best shot.
Mike WIlliams, WR: Mike Williams has made a miraculous recovery from a scary neck injury he suffered back in 2015, looking as strong and explosive as he did back in the 2014 season. The 6-3 receiver has a great blend of size, speed and savvy at the position that allows him to dominate the game in multiple ways. Clemson will need the big play threat against a talented Louisville Secondary.
Wayne Gallman, RB: With Deshaun Watson's emergence last year, Clemson's top running back enjoyed a very nice season as well. The six foot, 200 pound back does not have any excellent physical traits, but has a combination of vision, quickness and tough running ability that allows him to be productive. Like Watson, his numbers are not as flashy this year, so there is a question if he can carry a team if the quarterback is not cooking. He might get a chance to prove that tonight.
Carlos Watkins, DL: Two years in a row, Clemson has had a first round pick come from their defensive line. This season, the guy on their line is Carlos Watkins, the 6-3, 300 pound defensive tackle. Watkins is a solid athlete with great technique and an awesome motor. He keys the action up front for the Tigers and the need for him to disrupt against Louisville's offense. This is likely the biggest test of Watkins' career where his ability in the run game and passing game could decide the outcome.
Cordrea Tankersley, CB: The best player on Clemson's defense and one of the most underrated players in the country is Clemson's star defensive back, Cordrea Tankersley. Tankersley has the perfect blend of size and speed for the cornerback position and flashes excellent ball skills. He has his lapses, but his upside is immense and he can impact immediately. On top of their massively powerful running game, Louisville has an explosive passing game that can threaten downfield. Tankersley will need to shut down one of Lousiville's many options in the passing game to at least slow Lamar Jackson down.
Brandon Radcliffe, RB: Even though Lamar Jackson is not draft eligible, his partner in the backfield is a very talented 5-9, 210 pound running back, Brandon Radcliffe. While Lamar Jackson is the lightning option in the backfield, Radcliffe is more of a powerful back who can offer a change up and bruise on defenses. Radcliffe has great pad level, balance and vision. He is not a great athlete, but he is the type of back who can keep a defense honest. It should be exciting to see him run into the teeth of Brent Venables' defense.
Shaq Wiggins, CB: Louisville has an excellent defense Wiggins is an underrated playmaker on the unit. The 5-10, former Georgia Bulldog has awesome quickness, tenacity and ball sills. He is a bit diminutive, so it will be interesting to see how he matches up with Clemson's top receivers, especially if he is covering Mike Williams.
Josh Harvey Clemons, S: Another Georgia transfer, the 6-5, 230 pound safety looks more like a defensive end than a safety from far away, but his athletic ability allows him to move around and cover the back end of a defense. Most affective when he is closer to the line of scrimmage, Harvey Clemons is still very inconsistent for all of his talent. In what figures to be his last season in college football, it will be interesting to see how he plays against top competition.
Devonte Fields, EDGE: It feels like Devonte Fields has been in college forever. In fact, he basically has. When Fields won Big 12 Freshman of the year, I was a junior in high school. A lot has changed since then, as both Fields and I moved to different parts of the country. I moved to go to college, but Fields was kicked off of TCU after multiple violations of team rules, run ins with the law and injuries. Fields ended up at Louisville where he has had a very productive career. The 6-4, 250 pounder is incredibly quick of the line and has excellent flexibility around the edge. He does not have a great motor and is not particularly strong, but is a very adept speed rusher. The biggest concern with him, besides off the field questions, is how he is a much older, and thus, much more physically advanced prospect. Is he actually a great athlete or is his relative age giving him an obvious physical edge over younger, less developed talent. In order to answer those questions, Fields needs to absolutely dominate his competition to show he is more than just a good athlete, but also a good football player as well. He will be massively important to keeping the pressure on Deshaun Watson and will be a big factor in this game.
DeAngelo Brown, DT: Last year, Louisville had a defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins, go in the first round of the NFL draft. This year, DeAngelo Brown will assume his role on the defensive line. The 6-1, 310 pounder has good strength and excellent quickness for his size. He does a good job of getting upfield and making an impact in the run and passing game. Brown looks better suited shooting gaps whereas Louisville has him two gapping a lot, so it will be interesting to see him continue to show his versatility for the next level, much like Rankins did in his final season as a Cardinal.
Other players to watch...
Amba Etta Tawo, WR, Syracuse: You may be perplexed as to who this is, probably due to Syracuse having not been relevant in a few years. Well, Tawo is a 6-2, 210 pound senior receiver who currently leads the country in receiving yards, and set the school's single-game record for receiving yards last week. The Orange's deep threat has been outstanding this year and faces a nice test this week against a talented Notre Dame secondary (12 PM on ESPN).
Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: The Volunteers have bee somewhat of an enigma, getting dragged, kicking and screaming to an undefeated record this season. However, despite the lack of conviction behind their record, they are still a very talented football team. The spark on their offense is 6-3 receiver, Josh Malone. Malone has the size and speed to make an impact in the passing game and he will be needed against a Georgia secondary (3:30 on CBS) looking to make up for a poor showing last week.
Ryan Switzer, WR, UNC: Another one of the many gifted receivers in college football, Switzer had a huge game in a winning effort against Pitt last week. This week, the savvy pass catcher will be asked to go over the middle against a tough Florida State defense (3:30 on ESPN). Switzer is a do it all player with home run ability, so the Tar Heels will be depending on him to keep them in the game.
Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan: Jabrill Peppers has been killing it as a do it all player for the Wolverines during his career and looks to have finally found his home playing linebacker. The defensive playmaker will be a massive difference maker against an incredibly tough Wisconsin team (3:30 on ABC), so it will be interesting to see how he, a smaller linebacker, does against their power running game.