This week in college football lacks the star power of something like a top ten contest, but there is plenty of good football to be excited about. Most exciting however, is the Pac-12 match up between Washington and USC (7:30 on Fox), which has been one of the hottest teams in the country after starting the season slow. Washington has mostly been running roughshod through their schedule on the arm of their incredibly gifted sophomore quarterback, Jake Browning and a stingy defense loaded with NFL players. USC similarly has been riding the momentum of strong quarterback play from Sam Darnold, a freshmen the team switched to early in the season who has been playing some of the best football in the country. This should be an excellent match up between two of the country's rising stars at the quarterback position, but it will also feature a handful of NFL talent to keep an eye on.
John Ross III, WR: Last week's "NFL Draft Player of the Week" might find it difficult to top his 200 yard, three touchdown performance against Cal next week, but he is likely to make a big time impact once again against the Trojan secondary. The speedy touchdown machine will no doubt face a starker test than he did last week, but his success will be important not only for his team's chances, but also to show he can produce against better competition.
Dante Pettis, WR: Though Ross gets a lot of the headlines, and deservedly so, his running mate in the Washington offense deserves recognition as an NFL player. The 6-1, 190 pound receiver has excellent speed and quickness while also having the size to win in more physical situations. Ross is scoring touchdowns at an incredible clip, but Pettis is at a nearly similar rate of 29% of his catches (as opposed to Ross' 31%). Pettis may choose to stay for his senior season so he can be "the guy" after Ross leaves, but he is a name to watch with the numbers he has put up this season.
Lavon Coleman, RB: The Washington backfield is headlined by gifted sophomore, Myles Gaskin, but Coleman has been an incredibly efficient change up back of for the Huskies. The 5-11, 230 pound back has awesome size to break through tackles with, but also has the speed to run away from defenses. It is a shame he is in such a limited role, especially considering he is averaging 9.1 yards per carry on his 66 rushing attempts. Against USC, Washington will have to spread the ball around, so Coleman will have a chance to create one of his signature big plays.
Azeem Victor, LB: With the immense talent along the defensive line predominantly being made up of underclassmen, it is important to shift focus to Washington's back seven to key on draft eligible guys. First to watch is their speedy linebacker, Azeem Victor. Victor has great range to cover ground with and he excels against the pass. His athletic ability also allows him to work sideline to sideline against the running game and it will be important for him to fill lanes when USC has such talented running backs and strong offensive line play.
Sidney Jones, CB: The best draft eligible player on Washington's team, and that says a lot, is cornerback Sidney Jones. The six foot, 185 pound cornerback has awesome physicality, athletic ability and ball skills. He is a versatile corner who can truly do it all. He will have his hands full tonight, likely covering one of the best wide receivers in the country in Juju Smith Schuster. USC will probably test Jones despite his reputation. Can Jones answer the call?
Kevin King, CB: Kevin King won't get the glamour that the number one corner on his defense will, unsurprisingly, but the 6-3, 195 pound cornerback is an NFL player in his own right. While he does not have the speed or polish as Jones, his immense size and physicality give him an ability to smother wide receivers. In a game where Jones could be shutting down USC's number one option, expect King to see a lot of chances in the passing game to prove himself.
Budda Baker, S: Do not confuse Budda Baker's smaller stature (5-10, 195 pounds) for being a lesser player. The Washington safety is an absolute hound in the secondary with excellent range and tackling ability. He can play on the back end of a defense or come up to mix it up over the middle of the field or in the running game. His versatility will be tested against a USC offense that likes to mix it up and a few big plays from the junior could help Washington avoid an upset.
JuJu Smith Schuster, WR: There is not much to be said about Smith Schuster that has not been said already. The 6-2, 220 pound receiver is one of the best in the country. Ever since Sam Darnold took over at quarterback, Schuster has finally regained form after being hampered by bad quarterback play to start the season. Schuster is a do it all receiver who can play well at the catch point, separate at all levels of the field cane creates yards after the catch. Schuster will need to create a lot against Washington's defense to help his quarterback and a big game against such a physical team would be a huge boost for him.
USC's Offensive Line: Tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler combine with the stellar guard play of Damien Mama to make up one of the best offensive lines in the country. A big reason why Sam Darnold is playing so well is because he is behind a USC line that has allowed nine sacks all season. The offensive line has also played a big part in helping USC's running backs put up big numbers this season. Against Washington, the unit will be tested at every position. The Huskies have a stacked defensive line, even after losing star edge rusher, Joe Mathis. Washington is incredibly disruptive in the passing game and even more so against the run. If USC wants a chance, it will be up to their talented upperclassmen on their offensive line to pave the way.
Adoree Jackson, CB: On a USC defense with surprisingly little name recognition, the best player by far is their athletic freak at cornerback. Adoree Jackson has been used in so many ways during his time at USC due to his special athletic ability. This year, the 5-11, 190 pounder has finally taken the next step as a defender and looks the part of an NFL cornerback. His athletic ability is finally being married to consistent technique and discipline, making him extremely hard to throw on. His match up with Washington's speedster at wide out might be the match up to watch all game, as it will surely be a big decider in the outcome.
Other Players to Watch...
James Washington, WR, OK. State: James Washington has quietly been one of the best receivers in the country this season. This week, his match up against Texas Tech (3:30 on FS1) will be far from his biggest test of the season, but it should be a fun one. Washington is poised to have a monster game against the Red Raiders' wet cardboard defense and with Tech likely to make this a shootout, expect Washington's number to be called on in every quarter.
James Connor, RB, Pitt: The cinderella story of James Connor's season will not be forgotten. The Panthers' star runner has had an excellent season upon returning from fighting cancer last year. This season, Connor has carried the ball for over seven hundred yards and eleven touchdowns, despite defenses knowing he will be getting the ball. Against Clemson (3:30 on ABC), it will be very important to get Connor going against such a talented defensive line to give the Panthers a chance. Be sure to keep an eye on Pitt's offensive linemen, Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, as well against Clemson's staunch front.
Ryan Reid, CB, Baylor: Baylor lacks a lot of big names on their defense, but their senior cornerback Ryan Reid certainly has the makings of an NFL player. He is a quick cover man with good size to match (Six foot, 190 pounds). Reid will be matched up with Dede Westbrook and the Oklahoma Sooners (12 on ABC) today. Westbrook is one of the hottest receivers in the country and if Baylor wants any chance, Reid will need to play his best football today.
Greg Pyke, G, Georgia: UGA has had a bit of a down season due to the youth movement they're going through, but they have various bright spots across their talented team. While a lot of people talk about their talented duo of running backs, their offensive line deserves a bit of recognition as well. Greg Pyke is an athletic, mean guard and he will be an important cog in giving UGA a chance against Auburn today (3:30 on CBS). Auburn has one of the most underrated defensive fronts in the country, so if UGA wants to run the ball as it likes, a big game from Pyke will be a must.