For years and years, this column served to recognize the best offensive and defensive players from the previous weekend and not much else. A fine column, but I wanted to give this column more color and let it be part of a larger goal to understand developments in an upcoming NFL Draft class. I will keep in the best player accolades, but also expanding the area of commentary.
Week 4 of college football was fantastically exciting from 12 PM right until the end of the day. The stacked slate of ranked match ups delivered in a big way, as did many of college football’s best players. It is rare to get such high stakes early in the season, but boy was it fun to sit through. While watching, I couldn’t help but think of a few things...
- Dan Lanning is fielding the most physical Oregon team in some time. I have been following and cheering for Oregon’s football team since Dennis Dixon and LaMichael James were lighting college football on fire. The Ducks have been good for most of my life, but very rarely have they been a hard nosed football team. They’ve had prospects like DeForest Buckner, TJ Ward, and Penei Sewell who had a nasty streak to them, but it wasn’t an expectation with Oregon prospects. Lanning came over from Georgia and brought an SEC mentality with him. While he has yet to really fill out the team with his players, you can see it rubbing off on the way the guys player. Oregon dismantled a very talented Colorado football team and it really came down to the Ducks just being stronger, bigger, and more physical ithan the Buffalos. Lanning has defensive linemen like Brandon Dorlus looking mean as hell in the trenches and has Khyree Jackson looking like a tone setter in Oregon’s secondary. The Lanning era is still young, but we could be seeing a much different kind of player coming out of Oregon over the next few years.
- There is so, so much great quarterback play happening in college football right now, but I have some doubts it will translate to a historic quarterback class. From coast to coast and conference to conference, there is some really exciting quarterbacking going on. Of course Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are the headliners, but it’s hard to ignore what Michael Penix Junior, Bo Nix, Sam Hartman, Joe Milton, Jayden Daniels, Jordan Travis, Dillon Gabriel, and KJ Jefferson are doing for their respective teams. It’s hard to remember quarterback play being this good across the board in college football. This has some people talking about the 2024 class like it will have a bunch of quarterbacks going in the top fifty. And it might! ... but I am not sure a lot of these guys will be quite the same level of stars at the NFL level. A lot of their success comes from talent, yes, but also unprecedented levels of experience for college quarterbacks. Besides Maye and Williams, the majority of these high level starters have been in college football for five or even six seasons. Bo Nix’s first start came against Justin Herbert and Herbert is on his second NFL contract! It’s very, very rare for quarterback prospects to enter the league as 24 year old rookies and have franchise player type careers. Obviously with all these guys’ talents, you want this trend to be broken over and over again. It just feels unlikely. Hope isn’t quite lost for the quarterback class beyond the top two guys though...
- Can we talk about Cam Ward? The fourth year quarterback is off to an insane start to the season, scoring 16 total touchdowns (13 passing, three rushing) and not yet turning the ball over. Ward transferred to Washington State last year from Incarnate Word after tearing it up at the FCS level for two years. His first year at Wazzu had moments of brilliance, but you could tell he was still growing as a player. This season, Ward has arrived. He has a huge arm, athleticism to make plays outside of the pocket, and great poise. He has good size and real NFL talent. He should make a huge push for QB3 in this class if he keeps up this level of play.
- Ohio State has the two best wide receivers in the country. You cannot say enough good things about Marvin Harrison Junior, who is the best player in the country for my money. As long as that ankle is okay, he will be must-watch television every week. However, it was Emeka Egbuka who carried Ohio State’s offense in their nail biter in South Bend. The Notre Dame defense made a serious effort to slow Marvin Harrison Junior (and let’s just mention for a moment that Notre Dame has something special in sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison), and Egbuka shouldered the load by catching seven passes for 96 yards, including some catches late in the game to get Ohio State down near the goal line. Egbuka would be the top receiver on any other team in the country. He has good size, great playing speed, and is a very good technical football player. Ohio State really has been churning them out over the last few years.
NFL Draft Prospects of the Week
Cam Ward, Quarterback, Washington State: Cam Ward lit up a good Oregon State team on Saturday to the tune of 404 yards, four passing touchdowns and one more touchdown on the ground. He had five total touchdowns and only six incompletions. He made some great plays within structure, was aggressive down the field, and was able to improvise on some big plays as well. Between Ward, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix there is some great quarterback play in the Pacific Northwest.
Jonah Elliss, Edge, Utah: The Utes had a tall task in slowing an explosive UCLA team. Jonah Elliss took the challenge personally. He had 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks and five total tackles for a loss, helping limit UCLA to only seven points and ZERO POINT THREE (0.3) total yards rushing on the day. Elliss has been a major contributor for Utah’s defense this year and this was certainly a breakout game for the third year defender.