logoby Greg Doyle

The big game everyone is anticipating this weekend is USC-Ohio State. #1 vs. #5. So without further ado, let’s move on to that big matchup and look at the top players in the game.

Ohio State at USC (8:00 PM EST ABC)

A lot of people seem to be writing off Ohio State with their star running back Beanie Wells out. USC is an 11 point favorite. I think this one will be closer than many think and will come down to the end of the game.

Ohio State RB Maurice Wells (#34)

With Beanie Wells out, Maurce Wells will get a lot of carries this game. Not nearly as powerful or elusive as Beanie, Maurice is still a solid back. He doesn’t do anything great, but is solid in all areas. He is a bit undersized at 195, which makes it unlikely he’d be an every down back in the NFL. Has good speed, but doesn’t always appear to play to it. Is good in the passing game. This game is his big chance to shine (though he will also split carries with sophomore Brandon Saine) and could help his chances. He is a team player and the Patriots would like that. In reality, it’s unlikely he’d be anything but a late round choice, but he has enough talent to play in the NFL as a change of pace, 3rd down type back.

Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis (#33)

A prototypical middle linebacker many thought would be a top 10 pick in last year’s draft until he elected to stay at Ohio State. Good size and lateral movement, he was the Big 10 defensive player of the year last year and won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best college linebacker. He has all the tools and athletic ability to be a very good NFL player. Still, the doubt is whether he is talented enough and strong enough to be great, rather than merely good. Along those lines, it is a legitimate question to ask if he is slightly overrated. He is good, but the press seems to outweigh the production at times. Is dedicated to the game and smart, so the Patriots would like that. He is a good player and should have a productive NFL career, but probably not as a game changing type player.

Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins (#2)

Probably the top corner in college football, he’ll also be a very high draft pick. Has good size, good speed and can shut down receivers. Good strength too. He’ll be tested against USC’s aerial attack. First team All-American last year. Has run as fast as a 4.3/40. Not afraid to hit and play the run. Had 4 picks last year despite teams avoiding him. This guy is basically a can’t miss prospect and will be an NFL Pro-Bowl corner. That will certainly have the Patriots interest and he fits their system perfectly. Here is a good video of Jenkins making a pick 6 against Penn State.

USC WR Patrick Turner (#1)

This is a big, physical receiver who makes his bones catching shorter routes for first downs. Has good hands and can fight for a ball, but usually won’t burn teams down the field despite decent speed. Will be a possession receiver in the NFL, but with his strength and size, a good option for that role. 6’5″ and dangerous around the end zone. Probably a 2nd or 3rd round type due to the lack of great production so far, but very talented and could move up on that basis alone.

USC LB Rey Maualuga (#58)

Along with Laurinaitis, he is right up there as the top linebacker in the nation. This is a great game to compare two great middle linebackers. Big and strong, he is also tough and smart. There is no doubt he’d fit the Patriots system as well and possibly even better than Laurinaitis given his larger frame. Here is a good pasting Maualuga put on the UCLA quarterback.

Wisconsin at Fresno State (10:30 PM EST ESPN2)

Anyone who wants to stay up late night watching college football will see this good game on the Deuce. The game features Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, who is a Bill Belichick friend and former assistant. He has already fed the Patriots players from his program such as Logan Mankins and James Sanders. So Fresno State players bear watching here.

Wisconsin TE Travis Beckum (#9)

A great pass-catching tight end but somewhat of a glorified receiver. He only weighs in at 223 lbs. Had 75 catches last year and has the speed to get down the field. Teams can’t cover him with linebackers. Great hands, just outstanding. Probably too small to be a tight end with the Patriots, but perhaps could be considered as a fullback/h-back type. Probably would be gone long before the Patriots would draft such a position.

Wisconsin LB DeAndre Levy (#11)

This is an underrated player who fits the Patriots scheme. Good size at 6’3″ 235. He plays outside. Can hold up against the run and get out in coverage. Good athlete. Unheralded but the Patriots could very well have their eyes on him due to his projection as a 3-4 outside linebacker with a good size/speed combination and that he is a solid, team player.

Fresno State TE Bear Pascoe (#85)

Of the two All-American caliber tight ends in this game, Pascoe is the one the Patriots would likely be much more interested in. He has the size at 6’5″ 260 and is a more complete all around tight end than Beckum. He can block, but he can also catch as witnessed by his 45 receptions last year. With Hill’s recommendation, this tough, physical tight end will likely be on the Patriots radar.

Other Players to Watch

At Noon on ESPN, tune in as California takes on Maryland. Featured in that game is Maryland tight end Dan Gronkowski (#13), who also fits the Patriots mold in terms of size and blocking ability. Though his pass catching has been mediocre so far in his career and he is far from a blazer, he is known to be physical and smart. Currently pursuing his MBA at Maryland. Only has 11 career catches, but if he can improve that part of his game, at 6’6″ 255 he could fit in the NFL.