We look ahead to today’s early games…
Cincinnati Bearcats vs Virginia Tech Hokies
12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
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The Cincinnati Bearcats ended the 2018 season with an impressive 10-2 record, losing only to an undefeated UCF team and Temple in overtime. They recorded a 6-2 conference record, finishing third in the AAC East behind UCF and Temple. They own a few impressive wins this season, but lost to the only ranked team they faced. The Virginia Tech Hokies feature two wins against ranked teams, defeating Florida State and Duke, who were ranked 19 and 22 at the time, respectively. Overall, they posted a 6-6 record, losing to a wide variety of teams, including Old Dominion and Notre Dame. They finished the season tied for third in the ACC Coastal with a 4-4 record.
Desmond Ridder was a three-star recruit in the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports. He took over for Cincinnati as a redshirt freshman, leading the team with 2,359 yards, 19 touchdowns, and five interceptions on 304 pass attempts. He also showed a bit of athleticism, adding 563 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this season. While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Ridder on Sundays, gaining crucial big game experience like this may prove to help his progression more than many expect.
Michael Warren II is another consensus three-star recruit, who has taken over the backfield as a sophomore this season. He led the team with 1,163 yards and 17 touchdowns on 224 carries. He also added 24 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown to his season. Warren has the potential to become a late round draft pick, and flashing upside with national exposure could only help his case.
Khalil Lewis had taken over as Cincinnati’s top receiving option this season. While he’s a fun prospect who posted a 55/768/9 line in 2018, he’s unlikely to ever play in the NFL as a senior. He could be in line for a big bowl game, though, after recording nine receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns in his last game against ECU. Rashad Medaris and Thomas Geddis are two more upperclassmen who could find success in this game.
Jayshon Jackson is the most intriguing receiver for Cincinnati for the future. As a true freshman, three-star recruit Jackson recorded 22 receptions for for 256 yards and two touchdowns. While he is a bit too small to be considered a future NFL prospect, he could find plenty of success in college.
Josiah Deguara was one of the biggest surprises for Cincinnati this season. He was only a two-star tight end coming out of high school, totaling 15 receptions for 145 yards in his first two seasons after redshirting. He broke out in 2018, ranking second on the team in receptions (37), receiving yards (465), and receiving touchdowns (five). If Deguara continues to progress next season, he may work his way into a late round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that is far from a certainty.
It’s a bit surprising that Ryan Willis isn’t receiving any NFL hype in a weak quarterback class after the season he has had. He was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school, but he has progressed well from his time at Kansas till now. In essentially ten games this season, Willis has thrown for 2,497 yards, 22 touchdowns, and eight interceptions on 333 attempts. If he can find success in this game and show signs of progression as a redshirt senior next season, he’ll like work his way into the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
Steven Peoples signed on with Virginia Tech as a fullback in 2015, but he has taken over as the lead back in 2018. On the season, he rank for 760 yards and five touchdowns on 149 carries. He also added a 21/182/1 line through the air. This will be Peoples’ last game for Virginia Tech, and he could be looking to top 100 rushing yards for only the second time this season. Deshawn McClease is a redshirt sophomore who has seen 83 carries this season and will likely take over as the lead back next season. He’ll likely see limited carries in this game, though, as he has not receiving double-digit carries since week five against Duke.
Damon Hazelton somewhat burst out of nowhere as a freshman for Ball State after being recruited as only a two-star recruit. He posted a 51/505/4 line as a true freshman before sitting out in 2017 to transfer to Virginia Tech. In his first season with VT, he leads the team with 45 receptions, 745 yards, and eight touchdowns. He’s technically only a sophomore, and at 6-2, 222 lbs., Hazelton could join the NFL Draft conversation in the future. He is questionable with an undisclosed “injury” for this game, though.
Eric Kumah, Tre Turner, and Hezekiah Grimsley would all benefit if Hazelton can’t play in this game. Of the trio, Turner comes with far and away the most upside, as a four-star true freshman. He has the size and skill-set for the NFL, while already flashing production in his first collegiate season. Turner could potentially use this national spotlight to breakout, as talent has never been a question for him.
Dalton Keene was a three-star prospect in 2017, and he has produced well with increased production early in his collegiate career. As a freshman, Keene posted a 5/20/0 line, which improved to a 24/322/3 line this season. He has also gotten progressively better this season, recording 19 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown over his last six games.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Stanford Cardinal vs Pittsburgh Panthers
2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Stanford Cardinal had a bit of an odd season in 2018. They totaled an 8-4 record, winning their first four games, before going on a 1-4 skid, and winning their final three games. They own two ranked wins against USC and Oregon, who ranked 17 and 20 at the time, respectively. They also ended the season with a 6-3 conference record, ending 2018 in third in the PAC-12 North. The Pittsburgh Panthers were a night-and-day team, posting a 5-1 record at home, losing only to Penn State, who was ranked 13 at the time. They also own a home win over Syracuse, who ended the season as one of the best teams in the NCAA. With that being said, they ended the season with a 7-6 overall record. Pittsburgh recorded a 6-2 conference record, though, ranking first in the ACC Coastal.
K.J. Costello was a four-star recruit in 2016, and we’ll be seeing him on Sundays at some point. He took a step forward in his progression this season, throwing for 3,435 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions on 396 attempts after seeing limited playing time in 2017. Costello has the frame and attributes to find success in the NFL, but he’s expected to return to school for his senior season.
Bryce Love could have been a first or second round pick last season, but he opted to return for his senior season at Stanford. His numbers dropped off because of multiple injuries, and he has announced that he’ll skip this bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. He’s still expected to be a day two selection, but he isn’t as widely coveted as he would have been last season. Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights could split carries with Love out, but neither are elite options for come with any NFL potential. Scarlett has been the better back on the season, though, and he comes with more upside in this game than Speights.
Costello’s top three pass catchers – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Kaden Smith – are all likely to be drafted at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft. Arcega-Whiteside has been the best of the trio, and he comes with first round potential. On the season, he totaled 60 receptions for 969 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s a 6-3, 225 lbs. receiver, who will comes with WR1 potential. Irwin is the other receiver of the trio, and he posted a 60/685/2 line this season. He was a four-star recruit with size coming out of high school, but he’ll likely end up being a late round pick with upside.
Smith was another four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he’ll likely hear his name on day two, as he’s one of the best tight ends in this draft class. He totaled 47 receptions for 635 yards and two touchdowns on the season, and he’s another elite tight end to come from Stanford. He’s questionable for this game, though, and if he’s out, Colby Parkinson will be ready to step in. Parkinson is another four-star recruit, who is a true sophomore, and has found plenty of success as the TE2 this season. In 2018, he posted a 28/476/7 line, and it’s only a matter of time before we see Parkinson in the NFL, as well.
Osiris St. Brown has shown flashes as a sophomore, recording eight receptions for 204 yards and one touchdown this season. He’s the brother of two elite wide receiver prospects – Equanimeous and Amon-Ra St. Brown – and he was a four-star recruit himself. While St. Brown likely won’t play much in this game, he’s a name to keep in mind for next season when Irvin and Arcega-Whiteside are in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh passing attack has been virtually non-existent this season. They have been led by Kenny Pickett, who is a three-star quarterback, who some believe have NFL upside. As a sophomore, he has plenty of time to develop, but his 1,833 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six interceptions leave much to be desired this season.
Pickett has featured three main receivers throughout the 2018 season. Maurice Ffrench, Taysir Mack, and Rafael Araujo-Lopes have all flashed upside, but simply haven’t had as much opportunity in this offense as some would like. Ffrench took the biggest step forward from his last season, while Mack has the most NFL potential. He could potentially develop into a late round pick with Pickett if the latter continues to develop throughout his career. That is far from a guarantee, though.
Pittsburgh has leaned heavily on their rushing attack this season. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall have both been feature, and they were both able to top 1,000 yards in 2018. Surprisingly, Ollison hasn’t gained much NFL traction after totaling 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 189 carries. Hall hasn’t been discussed in terms of NFL potential, although he has totaled 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns on 137 carries this season. There’s still plenty of time for their names to pop up, but this may be the last time we see the impressive one-two punch of Ollison and Hall.
Michigan State Spartans vs Oregon Ducks
3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Michigan State Spartans have featured plenty of ups and downs throughout the 2018 season, finishing the year with a 7-5 record. They own two losses against top-10 teams – Michigan and Ohio State – while also possessing one win against a top-10 team – Penn State. They ended the season with a 5-4 conference record, placing fourth in the Big Ten East. The Oregon Ducks found quite a bit of success in 2018, recording an 8-4 record overall. They featured two wins against top-25 opponents, while also owning two losses against top-25 opponents. They posted a 5-4 conference record, and ended the season fourth in the Pac-12 North.
Some scouts had hope that Brian Lewerke would take a step forward this season, but there’s very little reason to believe he’ll be able to make the jump to the NFL at any point in his career after his 2018 struggles. He was benched at times this season, and totaled only 1,868 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 299 attempts. He’s expected to draw the start over Rocky Lombardi in this game, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the redshirt freshman if Lewerke struggles early on.
L.J. Scott only saw 55 carries while dealing with injuries this season. He has turned those into only 180 yards, but he’s expected to return in this game. Scott will enter the NFL Draft after this season, as well, and he’s expected to be a mid- to late-round selection. Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson split carries throughout the season, and both are young players. Both have potentially bright futures, but they’re expected to give way to Scott in his final collegiate game.
Felton Davis III was enjoying an outstanding season before injuring his Achilles. He totaled 31 receptions for 474 yards and four touchdowns through the first six games of the season, and his future will now be as a late round pick in the NFL Draft. Cody White is a big sophomore receiver, who has enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season. In only eight games, he posted a 36/491/2 line with inconsistent quarterback play. Darrell Stewart Jr. is another receiver that has found some success, while Cam Chambers comes with the most upside of any receiver on the team. Chambers was a four-star recruit in 2016, but his breakout will likely have to wait until next season.
Unfortunately, Justin Herbert has announced that he is returning to Oregon for his senior season. He was expected to be the QB1 in the NFL Draft, but he reportedly wants to play a season with his brother at Oregon. On the season, he needed 371 attempts to total 2,985 yards, 28 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He also added 173 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Herbert may not be the QB1 in the next draft, but he comes with tremendous upside, especially if he can take the next step in college.
Redshirt freshman CJ Verdell took over the backfield this season, leading the team with 975 yards and 10 touchdowns on 188 carries. Travis Dye is a true freshman, and he also saw a large role with the team. Through 12 games, he recorded 721 yards and four touchdowns on 134 carries. This duo has an extremely bright future with Oregon, and they combined for 386 yards and six touchdowns in their final game against Oregon State this season. Tony Brooks-James has been ruled out for this game, but he’s expected to be a late round pick in the NFL Draft at this point.
Dillon Mitchell was Herbert’s top target this season, recording 69 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns. He isn’t on the NFL’s radar at the moment, but posting another impressive line with Herbert during his senior season could put him on the map after entering college as a four-star recruit. Jaylen Redd is another four-star recruit for Oregon, and he broke out as a sophomore. Lacking size didn’t stop Redd from posting a 31/368/5 line in somewhat of a limited role. Johnny Johnson and Brenden Schooler have also contributed, but neither project as more than role players in Oregon’s offense for their careers.
Jacob Breeland has been somewhat of a disappointment after breaking out as a sophomore. He posted a solid 22/351/2 line, which is good collegiate production for a tight end, but his NFL value is up in the air after finding himself on their radar after last season. Elkanah Dillon barely played for Oregon this season, posting an 8/110/2 line. With that being said, there are scouts that believe Dillon will work his way into the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s a bit surprising at this point, but there are some traits to like about his game.
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