Whether young men are breaking out into the national consciousness, or redeeming themselves for past on-field disappointments or off-field transgressions, it seems as though college football presents great stories seemingly every week.
The second week of the 2011 season is no different, with the oft-suspended South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia and oft-arrested Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd looking to move forward with their personal and professional lives. They both came through for their teams last week, even though Floyd's Irish couldn't avoid the upset loss that Garcia saved his team from suffering.
Players hoping to be among the best new faces on the college football scene, South Carolina freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Nevada quarterback Tyler Lantrip, will also be on display this weekend. Clowney's match-up against Georgia's All-SEC performer Cordy Glenn in Athens will be highly scrutinized by NFL scouts, while Lantrip's debut as in the starting spot Colin Kaepernick handled adeptly for Nevada in recent year against a hungry Oregon Ducks' team in Eugene.
Certainly NFL scouts do not get too caught up in the drama college football provides, but do they have great interest in the success of these prospects -- along with the others listed below -- because adversity and expectations are something players must face throughout their NFL careers.
If Garcia, Floyd and others overcome off-field incidents to succeed and Clowney and Lantrip rise up to make the grade in 2011, NFL teams will have confidence in their ability to transition to the next level.
This week's Five on the Spot
1. South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia
The mercurial senior helped rescue South Carolina, coming off the bench with the team down 17-0 to East Carolina to lead the Gamecocks to a 56-37 victory. He did more damage on the ground (52 yards, two scores) than he did through the air (7-15, 110 yards, one touchdown). He'll have to do more through the air to pull out a win against an ornery Georgia team between the hedges in Athens -- and to impress scouts.
Garcia has flashed playmaking ability with both his arm and feet to NFL general managers, but his on-field inconsistency matches his off-field improprieties (he's been suspended five times by coaches). He's perfectly capable of finding 6-foot-5 junior receiver Alshon Jeffery with well-placed fades down the sideline, as well as accurate bullets laced between linebackers and safeties over the middle. Displaying that arm strength and accuracy, without turning the ball over trying to make something out of nothing, gives him a shot to be drafted next April.
2. Penn State DE Jack Crawford
A breakout season was expected for native of London, England in 2010, but a foot injury prevented it from materializing (seven starts, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks). Now healthy, the tall, long rush end is looking to make good on his promise -- starting with a huge game against the visiting Alabama Crimson Tide.
Crawford needs to show scouts he can hold the edge with leverage and disengage from All-SEC guard-turned-left tackle Barrett Jones to contain run plays coming to his side of the line. And when A.J. McCarron is allowed to drop back to pass in Nick Saban's offense, Crawford looks to prove he is quick and flexible enough to turn the corner as a pass rusher to close on the quarterback.
3. Iowa State LT Kelechi Osemele
The massive Osemele (pronounced oh-sem-AH-lee) is listed at 6-foot-6, 347 pounds, yet handles his left tackle responsibilities the past two seasons with aplomb. They're playing rival Iowa for the Cy-Hawk Trophy this weekend; although Broderick Binns is not quite as talented as 2011 first round pick Adrian Clayborn, Hawkeyes' defensive ends are always ready for battle.
Osemele's sheer girth and arm length make it very difficult for rush ends to get around him to the quarterback. But to stay at tackle (on the left or right side) at the next level, he must show to scouts he has the footwork and recovery speed to adjust when quicker defenders make moves inside or prevent a secondary rush when the play is extended. Iowa's athletic junior left tackle, Riley Reiff, could prove to be a interesting comparison for scouts in this game.
4. Nevada QB Tyler Lantrip
Nevada starts the post-Colin Kaepernick Era with a difficult road game at Oregon on Saturday afternoon. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lantrip has waited five years for this moment, playing mostly in mop-up duty in blowouts as the back-up to the team's three-time All-WAC signal caller, who is now in San Francisco after the 49ers picked him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Lantrip has the physical tools to succeed in head coach Chris Ault's pistol offense. NFL scouts like his size, and he also showed good mobility and enough arm strength to make most NFL throws. If he shows poise in the pocket and the willingness to keep his eyes downfield to find future NFL receiver Rishard Matthews breaking open, instead of simply running if his initial read is not available, scouts may begin to consider him a draftable prospect.
5. Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard
The Bulldogs put a beat down on Memphis last week with Ballard (166 yards, three touchdowns) and QB Chris Relf (13-for-21, 202 yards, two TD) playing well. Auburn's defense won't be happy their performance against Utah State in the near-upset at home (they gave up 38 points and 448 yards of offense), so this weekend's match-up will be difficult for MSU head coach Dan Mullen's squad.
Last season, 5-10, 220-pound Ballard had five carries for 13 yards and a score against Auburn. He'll need a bigger performance on Saturday for his team to win, and for scouts to think he's capable of putting up numbers against better defenses than Memphis. The Tigers offered Ballard a lot of room at the second level, of which he took full advantage with a good burst once feeling his way through zone blocks at the line. This week's group of Tigers are more likely to put up a fight inside.
Five Matchups to Watch:
1. Georgia LT Cordy Glenn vs. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Glenn, who moved from left guard to left tackle this off-season due to a third ACL injury suffered by Trinton Sturdivant in the past four years, faces the country's top freshman on defense in Clowney. So not only does Glenn need to play well to help his team earn the early advantage in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, but NFL scouts will be quite interested in the way he handles such a talented player.
Glenn must show the initial quickness and lateral agility to stay with Clowney off the snap, as well as stay in front of him if Georgia's sophomore QB Aaron Murray needs to extend the play. Many bigger linemen can push rushers around the corner with their length, but staying with the block with foot quickness and agility can be difficult for them. Glenn struggled at times with wide speed rushes last week against Boise, but Clowney relies more on length and strength as a pass rusher -- which should play into the 6-5, 350-pound Glenn's hands. If he overextends and bends at the waist throughout tonight's game, allowing Clowney and other defenders access to Murray, then scouts may consider Glenn as a power guard prospect only.
2. Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Michigan CB Troy Woolfolk
Whether junior Dayne Crist or sophomore Tommy Rees (who nearly brought the team back against South Florida after Crist floundered last week) plays the majority of snaps for the Irish, they'll need to find Floyd to stay in step with Michigan QB Denard Robinson and the Wolverines' offense under the lights at The Big House.
The Irish's best offensive weapon had the size advantage against South Florida's smaller corners last week, but Woolfolk's more physical game could be a tougher test. Floyd may not have great top-end speed, but running through tackle attempts by the son of former NFL running back Butch Woolfolk, separating with strong hands and arm extensions on out routes, and going over the top of the six-foot cornerback downfield will show scouts he can handle himself against pro defenders.
3. BYU LT Matt Reynolds vs. Texas DE *Alex Okafor
In order for BYU to pull off road wins at The Grove and in Longhorns Country in consecutive weeks, Reynolds and his fellow offensive linemen must hold back a defensive front looking to attack sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. Reynolds' 6-foot-4, 322-pound frame makes him look more like a guard to NFL scouts than an elite left tackle prospect, yet he flashes the flexibility, footwork, and recovery speed to stay outside at the next level.
His main foil in this contest is Okafor, an up-and-coming junior with length and speed off the edge but also surprising strength that he used playing inside last year for Mack Brown's defense. Staying in front of Okafor, as well as sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat if he switches to the weak side during the game, may help Reynolds show NFL teams he deserves chance at left or right tackle next fall.
4. Alabama Interior Offensive Line vs. Penn State Defensive Tackles
Scouts heading to Happy Valley for this backend of a home-and-home between college football powers won't have to look too far away from the snap to see a strong set of match-ups of NFL prospects. Penn State defensive tackles Devon Still and junior Jordan Hill face off against strong Alabama interior linemen in center William Vlachos and left guard Chance Warmack.
Still looks like an elite prospect on the hoof, but fought injuries and inconsistency throughout his career before showed life against Florida in the Outback Bowl (seven tackles, 3.5 for loss). To impress scouts, Still must handle the upper body strength and anchor of Warmack one-on-one and beat the block of smaller pivot man Vlachos to chase ballcarriers with quick hands and feet, instead of waiting for plays to come to him. He also needs to learn how to beat cut blocks, as RB Trent Richardson nearly flipped him on his back in pass protection once last year. Hill, on the other hand, could be the next undersized-but-active tackle transitioning from PSU to the NFL in the mold of Ollie Ogbu, Anthony Adams, and Jay Alford. Scouts will see him pressing double-teams and spinning off single blocks to rush the passer and fill running lanes, but he must show elite quickness and strength to overcome his 6-foot-1, 297-pound measurements.
5. Colorado RG Ryan Miller vs. California DE Trevor Guyton
The Buffs and Bears faced off as non-conference foes last year, but Colorado's defection to the newly-enhanced Pac-12 means they could meet regularly in the future. With potential battles in the trenches like Miller v. Guyton, scouts are certainly in favor of this change in the college football landscape.
Miller has the body of a right tackle (listed at 6-8, 295) but has played inside the past couple of seasons. He faced Cal's star end, Cameron Jordan, in 2010, allowing him to win too many one-on-one battles with quick hands, as well as sneak off his block after initial contact to reach ballcarriers. If Guyton can use his quickness advantage to beat Miller on passing plays and disengage with a strong punch and violent hands as Jordan did, NFL teams looking for a starting five-technique will push him up their boards. If Miller latches onto Guyton and other defenders, using his size to control them, he'll gain ground on other interior line prospects in the draft class.
DTs Travian Robinson/Melvin Ingram vs. Georgia C Ben Jones
Georgia WRs Tavarres King/Marlon Moore/Malcolm Mitchell vs. South Carolina CBs Stephon Gilmore/C.C. Whitlock/Akeem Auguste
Nevada ILB James-Michael Johnson vs. Oregon RB LaMichael James
UAB DT Elliott Henigan vs. Florida Interior Offensive Line
Iowa State CB Leonard Johnson vs. Iowa WR Marvin McNutt
--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter