logoby Greg Doyle

The two big games this weekend are #1 Ohio State visiting #22 Penn State and #5 USC visiting #8 Oregon. These two games will have major implications for the National Championship and, of course, a local tie in with Boston College sitting at #2 having already defeated Virginia Tech Thursday night. An upset by Penn State over Ohio State (and really it wouldn’t be that big an upset) would put Boston College at #1 into November. Big doings.

USC at Oregon (Fox Sports Networks 3PM): USC conceivably could get back into the National Championship discussion with a win here, as could Oregon. USC has been very banged up and mildly disappointing this year, despite only one loss. Oregon is very tough to beat at home, so this should be an excellent match up. We’ve looked at USC before in the September 29th College Scout and Oregon in the September 8th College Scout, so we’ll spotlight some of the top underclassmen in this review.

USC RB Hershel Dennis (#34): Dennis is one of the more interesting players in the country, as far as the draft is concerned, because he is extremely talented yet doesn’t play much at all. That hasn’t always been the case. Dennis came to USC as one of the top recruited backs out of high school and did get a lot of playing time early on. As a freshman, he ran for nearly 200 yards and returned kicks for the Trojans as well. In 2003, he was the starter and ran for 661 yards. In 2004, however, he started the year suspended for rules violations, came back and played in a backup role, running for 109 yards before blowing out his knee prior to the Trojans’ bowl game. He has sat out the last two years recovering from that injury and was granted a rare extra year of eligibility by the NCAA this season. In his return to a limited role, he has run for 57 yards. Dennis was headed for a great career when things got sidetracked in 2004. But the talent remains there. He was a fast, not overly big, but shifty and at times powerful runner prior to his injury. This is a late round to free agent type diamond in the rough who could move up slightly in the draft if he tests well in the spring with his knee. An interesting case, because there is a ton of talent there, but given his limited role with USC now its hard to know exactly what toll the injury and layoff took on his skills.

USC T Sam Baker (#79): Perhaps the best lineman in the country, Baker is a solid rock at left tackle and is headed for his third straight 1st Team All-American placement. Surprisingly athletic for his size, he’ll anchor the left side of someone’s line in the NFL for years to come.

Oregon WE Jaison Williams (#4): Oregon’s leading receiver with 31 catches, he is only a junior. He may come out as he is headed for his second consecutive productive year. Very big receiver (6’5″ 240) who may be converted to tight end in the NFL. Has so-so speed but great hands. Not a burner, but effective and would be fast as a tight end. Good in the red zone and leads Oregon in receiving touchdowns. Very strong for a receiver. From LA, so he’ll be very motivated for this game.
Oregon DE Nick Reed (#49): Also a junior, Reed leads the Ducks in sacks with 7.5. This is a particularly interesting player for the Patriots because at 6’2″ 255 he has the size and quickness to convert to outside linebacker for them. Spends very little time in coverage for Oregon, however, and would be a complete project as a linebacker. Probably needs to stay in another year, this is his first big season. Great pass rush skills.

Oregon QB Brady Leaf (#16): Yes, this is Ryan’s brother. He does not start for Oregon and has never been a full-time starter. Has thrown for over 1,400 career yards, but has always been the #2 guy. This year, he has attempted only 11 passses in limited action. Still, like his brother, there is a lot of talent there. He is big at 6’5″ 225 and has his brother’s strong arm. Won’t be drafted, but could get an invite to camp and with talent and pro coaching, could wind up on a practice squad with a chance to develop over time.
Ohio State at Penn State (8:00 PM ABC): Airing against the World Series, I suspect there won’t be too many people in Boston tuned in. Still, it is a big game and important to BC as well. It may be worth tivo-ing if you have that capablity. Ohio State is replete with underclassmen and starts only two seniors, which suggests they’ll be dominant for a few years here. Check out the September 22nd College Scout for more on Ohio State.

Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie (#80): At a school known for producing top wide receivers, Robiskie is helping to carry on that tradition. He is only a junior and is the son of long-time NFL player and coach Terry Robiskie. At 6’3″ 195 he has NFL size and is also displaying separation speed and good hands this year. Has 37 catches for a 19.8 ypc avg along with 7 touchdowns coming into this game. Probably won’t come out, but would be a first day pick if he does.
Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman (#1): Overshadowed by fellow junior linebacker James Laurinaitis, Freeman is also a great player, but underrated. Second on the team in tackles, he has good size at 6’2″ 242 and would fit nicely in the Patriots 3-4 system. Plays the “Sam” linebacker for Ohio State and has played special teams as well. Probably won’t come out this year, but will be a first day pick when he does enter the draft.

Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins (#2): Yet another Ohio State junior, he is already one of the best corners in the country if not the best. Great size (6’1″ 202) and speed, he is a solid tackler and good in coverage. Can make plays on the ball. Reminds of Nate Clements, another good Ohio State corner. Will be a first round pick if he comes out this year. Has picked off 2 passes this season and had 4 last year. Very sound, technically solid and polished corner. Should be a shut down NFL corner and a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy. The Patriots will look at him closely if he comes out.

Penn State RB Rodney Kinlaw (#20): Has been overshadowed most of his career by the more highly-touted and flashy Austin Scott. Now that Scott has been suspended and is facing serious legal difficulties in a rape case, Kinlaw has gotten his chance to be the guy. Has not disapponted as he has run for over 700 yards and has shown so much he has put himself into consideration to be a fairly high draft pick. He is not the biggest guy in the world, but he runs hard and has had a productive career, particularly this year. Some speed and shiftiness. Can return kicks. Hasn’t been used too much in the passing game. He is probably a mid-round pick but his outstanding season so far has really turned some heads and moved him into the draft from a place where he probably would have had to beg just to get a free agent tryout. Has had a past ACL injury.
Penn State LB Dan Connor (#40): There is a rumor going around that Penn State has produced an NFL linebacker or two in the past. Connor will be the latest to continue that tradition. He is currently the second leading tackler for the Nittany Lions. Has good NFL size at 6’3 233 and can get bigger. Good toughness and leadership ability and a solid tackler. Finished only 2 tackles behind Paul Posluszny last season and Posluszny was drafted in the second round of this year’s draft. Has shown an ability to blitz this year with 5 sacks, but has also gotten out in coverage and can do that. Just a solid, smart all-around player and will be a first day draft pick.