The 2010 season has featured several big conference matchups thus far on Thursday nights, but none bigger than tonight's showdown between two Big 12 unbeatens in Nebraska and Kansas State.
By virtue of their 27-20 victory over conference rival Iowa State a few weeks ago, Kansas State hosts this game in first place over Nebraska in the Big 12 North division. This, despite the fact that the Cornhuskers are currently ranked No. 7 in the country (AP) and boast a sparkling 4-0 record, including an impressive dismantling of Washington in Seattle.
While the Cornhuskers and Wildcats have matching records, there is a significant disparity in talent on the two rosters, which is likely to give Nebraska the win in this contest.
Nebraska's stellar defense features as many NFL prospects as any unit in all of college football. Senior cornerback Prince Amukamara was rated the No. 1 senior prospect in the country regardless of position by NFL scouts heading into the season. The corner playing opposite him, junior Alfonzo Dennard, is playing like a future first round pick, himself. Senior safety Eric Hagg, who at 6-2, 210 pounds has seen snaps at cornerback, both safety positions and even linebacker, is among the more versatile defenders in the Big 12.
On the defensive line, junior defensive tackle Jared Crick is a proven playmaker and senior defensive end Pierre Allen is a rising name in scouting circles this year.
Nebraska's spread option offense helps them put up points quickly. The play of redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinzez is a huge reason why. Michigan's Mr. Versatility Denard Robinson gets so much attention (and deservedly so), but Martinez (with 1,028 all-purpose yards and 10 scores) has been spectacular through the first four games. If wideout/returner Niles Paul played for an offense that featured him, he might be viewed as the top senior receiving prospect in the country. At 6-1, 220 pounds, he boasts an ideal frame and athleticism for the pro game. The Cornhuskers feature some intriguing second-tier NFL prospects on the offensive side of the ball, as well, including running back Roy Helu, tight end/receiver Mike McNeill.
As I mentioned earlier, Kansas State does not boast the talent that Nebraska does. That said, in senior running back Daniel Thomas, they have arguably the top senior running back in the country.
Thomas, 6-2 and 228 pounds, is a former JUCO All-American quarterback, made a splash last year in his first season in the Big 12, earning Offensive Newcomer of the Year with 1,265 rushing yards. Though his height concerns some scouts, there is no denying that Thomas is a natural runner with good vision and balance -- true rarities for backs of his size.
Nebraska's defense is so stout I don't expect Thomas to be particularly effective in this contest. If he is, however, it will unquestionably move his stock that much higher in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Be sure to tune in tonight (ESPN, 7:30 pm EST). I assure you, NFL scouts will be.