doyle.jpgby Greg Doyle

The opening weekend of college football traditionally features many mismatches, as powerhouses get their groove on by scheduling weak sisters. But there are always some good games sprinkled in, and that is the case again this year.

In this weekly column, I hope to spotlight some of the most interesting televised college games of the week and identify the key players that viewers will focus on. In doing so, I’ll take a close look at the seniors who will be in next year’s draft and in some cases, since this is a Patriots-themed website, speculate on how they would fit in New England. We’ll examine all the top propects, including juniors who could come out early. We’ll also talk about the games themselves and what to look for. I hope it proves to be an enjoyable read over the course of this season.

With that said, let’s move on to the opening week’s games, which begin tonight:

Thursday August 30th – LSU at Mississippi State (8:00 ESPN): This is a matchup that features one of the pre-season’s top teams, LSU, against a team they traditionally dominate, Mississippi State. Mississippi State is improved, but young, so expect LSU to dominate again if not affected by early-season rust. Keep that in mind when evaluating the LSU players, very many of whom will someday be playing in the NFL. Among those to watch:

LSU Quarterback Matt Flynn (#15): Flynn is a smart, game manager who showed his character by not transferring and staying for a fifth year after years of sitting behind last year’s number one pick in the NFL, JeMarcus Russell. Flynn does have some experience. He started for an injured Russell in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and led LSU to a 40-3 win over Miami and was named MVP. This is a true team player with a 10-2 TD-INT ratio for his career who has nice size, decent mobility and a good arm and should draw some NFL interest. Can move himself up to a mid-round pick with a solid year and is someone the Patriots might consider as a backup as Matt Cassel moves toward contract expiration.

LSU Right Guard Will Arnold (#73): Arnold is a huge mauler who can bench 550 lbs. 2nd team All-SEC last year and All-American candidate this year. Watch him dominate on the line.

LSU DT Glen Dorsey (#72): Dorsey would have been a top 10 pick in the NFL had he come out last year. He was a first team All-American as a junior. He could move into the top 5 with a good year this year. It’s at least a question if he’d fit with the Patriots, as he plays in defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s one-gap system. Pelini, incidentally, was the Patriots linebacker coach under Pete Carroll and is in my mind one of the top coordinators in college football, is likely headed for a head coaching job after this season. But then again, Vince Wilfork switched from a college one-gap player to a two-gapper with the Pats, so it is possible. In any event, it’s fun to watch Dorsey dominate.

LSU LB’s Luke Sanders (#35) and Ali Highsmith (#7): Sanders is less-heralded than fellow senior Highsmith, but Sanders may be a better fit with the Patriots due to his size (6’5″ 235) with the frame to put on more. Sanders reportedly is strong as an ox for a linebacker and capable of putting up a lineman like a 500 lb. bench press. Highsmith plays with quickness and is a better fit and could be a great player in a Bucs or Colts type system at only 225 lbs.

LSU CB’s Jonathan Zenon (#19) and Chevis Jackson (#21): Zenon and Jackson were tied at #2 in the SEC in passes defensed last year and have good corner size at 6’0″ 190. Given the Pats needs at corner, both could be possibilities. Jackson has been the better player so far but Zenon could move up into the mid-rounds with a good year, though he does not have top-end speed and has occasionally been burned deep.

Mississippi State WR Tony Burks (#4): Burks is a big receiver, 6’4″ 217, who led the SEC with a 24.3 ypc average last year. Has great hands and good speed.

Mississippi State TE Eric Butler(#88): Big tight end who can catch and has 42 career receptions. Big senior year could put him as one of the top 5 tight ends in the draft.

Mississippi State DE Titus Brown (#54): Brown is a college defensive end who projects as a 3-4 linebacker in the NFL. Can rush the passer and generally plays down in college. Good athlete with good size, the kind of lineman the Patriots usually look to transition to the outside. Will need to show good quickness to make the switch in the NFL.

Friday August 31st – Washington at Syracuse (7:00 PM ESPN): Two teams that have struggled in recent years, but are traditionally powerful programs with the ability to turn it around. Both should be improved this year and there is some good talent in this game.

Washington DT Wilson Afoa (#74): A strong, powerful, hold the point type defensive tackle who does not make many plays himself. Clogs up the middle, but lacks a pash rush. Could be a role player in the NFL or possibly move up if he has improved his all-around skills. Worth watching.

Washington DE Greyson Gunheim (#7): An athletic and big defensive end who shows up at 6’5″ 265. Watch his skills to see if he has the speed and athletic ability to switch to OLB, as he is too small to play anything else for the Patriots. Had six sacks last year and was Honorable Mention All-Pac 10.

Washington CB Roy Lewis (#28): A solid corner with lots of experience. Had no interceptions in 12 games last year, though he did make 66 tackles. Needs to show more.

Syracuse WR Rice Moss (#12): I like Moss and think he is very talented. Hasn’t put up gaudy numbers due to playing with below average quarterbacks on bad teams, but this guy can play. Has good size and could move up with a big year.

Syracuse DE Jameel McClain (#52): Another of those college defensive ends who is difficult to project into a Patriots type system unless they have the superior speed and athletic ability to convert to LB. McClain can rush the passer, with 9.5 sacks last year. Played LB in high school, so has some experience and may be indication he can switch. Syracuse has their ends play up more than many college teams and has a former NFL coordinator in head coach Greg Robinson.

Syracuse S Joe Fields (#5): Former starting QB who switched to safety last year. Smart, free-safety type who showed promise in his first year on defense, coming up second on Syracuse in tackles and picking off four passes. If he progresses further, he’ll be a draftee.

Other Players to Watch: Utah takes on Oregon State on Fox Sports Northwest tonight (10:00 PM EST). Keep your eye on #26, Derrek “Don’t Call Me Golden” Richards, a 5’11” wide receiver for the Utes, who reportedly has amazing 4.25 speed and caught 60 balls last year. Elsewhere, Oregon Running Back Jonathan Stewart (#28) is a stud and could put up 1,500 yards this season. This guy has it all, size, speed and power. He is only a junior, but you’ll be hearing a lot about him in coming years. He’ll be spotlighted on ESPN Gameplan (for those that have it) when Oregon takes on Houston on Saturday. 

Boola Boola, Boola Boola…..hey, shouldn’t there be a band?