It’s officially the wild wild west in college football right now. With a few top undefeated teams falling last week, we are privileged to the discourse revolving around the conditions needed for the CFP to consist solely of SEC teams. *insert Gladiator gif here* With this week’s NFL games being blander than an overcooked chicken breast, we can take solace in yet another exciting college slate. Check out these prospects this week if your team (fantasy or real) has already entered draft season!

Saturday, October 22

#14 Syracuse @ #5 Clemson (12:00 PM)

RB Sean Tucker vs. LB Trenton Simpson

Syracuse is a puzzling team coming into this contest. While undefeated, they seem to be grinding out wins on the back of their persistent rushing attack. They seem to have stats to merit a top 15 team in the country, with an average margin of victory of 11.0 points against Power 5 opponents and an average of 432.8 yards of offense per game. But their slate thus far has been against middling competition and a Devin Leary-less NC State. They need an impressive showing, even if it’s not a victory, against Clemson to prove that they belong with the other contenders in the top 10.

Courtesy of Syracuse University Athletics

Tucker has the traits of an all-purpose back but in a smaller package. At 5’10” and 205 lbs., he epitomizes the form-over-function debate. Evaluators would have a much higher grade on him were he two inches taller and five pounds heavier. However, size should only matter in the way it affects production on the field. Tucker has a remarkable speed-power combination. While running balanced over his pads, he times his entry to the hole well and brushes off most arm tackles to accelerate at the second level. Once he reaches DBs and LBs he works angles effectively to gain chunk yardage, even if his breakaway speed likely won’t translate at the next level. If you take out the Orange’s game against Wagner, Tucker’s struggles this season can be seen in his 82.4 y/g production. However, even with a bad offensive line, Tucker and Shrader drive this offense to wins, even if it doesn’t look pretty.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor Isaiah Simmons, Simpson is a do-it-all defensive weapon for Clemson. It takes a second to find him on the field as he could be in the slot, in a deep zone, on the edge, or at his traditional LB spot. While listed at 6-3 240lbs, he moves more like an agile CB than an LB. While he could stand to build a more solid lower half, he shows plenty of power to win against linemen with 60-100 pound advantages on him. He leads the Tiger defense in tackles by a wide margin and is adequate in man coverage as well. With someone of his athletic profile, you’d like to see a better zone defender, but that is a skill that can be taught. While he can knock back some of the big boys up front, it’s usually with a running start. That is, we have yet to see his regular ability to engage and then disengage based on a read. Rather, Clemson has primarily deployed him to blow up gaps and defeat single blockers regardless of play leverage. While this is a valuable technique, it isn’t one that’s called for very often in the NFL.

Simpson is at his best when he has the space to move and generate his power from his speed, especially when keying on an RB. Playing opposite of RBs in shotgun, he has the speed to chase down from the backside should the play go counter but the strength to hold up play-side as well as having the option to drop. We should see plenty of this alignment in this game as Syracuse loves running out of shotgun, as Shrader can threaten with his legs as well. Tucker has been struggling to find running room up front thanks to a rougher OL showing this year. But, if he manages to get to the second level past the mauling monsters that Clemson has on its DL, it will be interesting to see how Tucker’s contact balance manages against the violent hitting power of Simpson. I wouldn’t expect a huge rushing day from Tucker, but I do think he gets at least one chunk reception out of the backfield thanks to his manipulation of pursuit angles.

#21 Cincinnati @ SMU (12:00 PM)

CB Arquon Bush vs. WR Rashee Rice

Cincinnati has recovered nicely after an early season loss to Arkansas. The theme to the Bearcats season has been good enough, whether it applies to the QB or the defense. Meanwhile, SMU has quietly had an up-and-down season. The touted passing attack has been producing (to the tune of 336 y/g) but the defense has been rough, surrendering almost 30 ppg. There are no easy weeks in conference play, but this week may be one of SMU’s toughest looking ahead on the schedule.

Though the Bearcat defense lost three defensive backs to the NFL Draft this spring, the position group is still one of the strongest on the team thanks to Bush. Playing in the slot last year to make way for Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant, Bush now gets his chance to shine on the outside. Bush doesn’t have outstanding physical traits. His frame is about average for a CB and his speed is decent enough, but he competes hard at the catch point and has the instincts to disrupt passing lanes. He is a willing tackler, albeit with a gambling approach that sometimes results in highlight reels and others, well, highlights for the offense. His lack of athleticism shows up in his choppiness in his pedal and he looks uncomfortable in zone coverage. But in man, he does a good job of playing with his feet and not his hands. Evaluators will love his competitive attitude, inside-outside versatility, and ability to contribute to special teams. 

Courtesy of SMU Athletics

Rice has somehow flown under the radar a bit despite posting the fourth-most receiving yards in college football this season. While Arquon Bush plays bigger than his size, Rice plays much smaller than his size in a good way. Similar to his corps mate last year, Danny Gray, Rice is an RB-build-style WR that has plenty of ability after the catch. His most impressive trait, however, is his body control to catch even the most errant of passes, perhaps making Tanner Mordecai look like a better QB than he really is. No one has even a quarter of the receptions that Rice has on SMU, and it’s easy to see why. He eats up cushion for breakfast with long strides to effectively create conflict for the CB. The problem is he often can’t take advantage of this conflict because he either takes too long to gear down or cuts his angles ineffectively, allowing DBs to get back in the play. With some refinement, Rice can definitely be an NFL weapon. Expect him to go in a similar range as his old teammate Gray.

This matchup brings two catch point artists together. One looks for violent collisions while the other prefers a more acrobatic approach. Mordecai’s accuracy will be an important factor in this conversation, as he will need to place the ball far enough away from Bush that Rice will be able to go up and get it. While Rice may have the long speed to run past Bush, the defensive scheme for Cincinnati may help in limiting plays that blow the top. I don’t think Rice hits his season average in this game but I think he has an impactful chunk play late in the game that gives SMU a chance.

Other Notable Matchups

Iowa TE Sam LaPorta vs. Ohio State S Josh Proctor

It doesn’t take much to slow down the plodding Hawkeye offense but LaPorta is one of very few weapons they have.

Boston College CB Josh DeBerry vs. Wake Forest WR AT Perry

Can DeBerry overcome a huge size disadvantage to slow down the Demon Deacon passing attack?

Mississippi State iDLs Cameron Young and Jaden Crumedy vs. Alabama iOLs Emil Ekiyor Jr and Javion Cohen

Matchup of very large human beings in a strength-on-strength collision.

Kansas State RB Deuce Vaughn vs. TCU LB Dee Winters

TCU’s defense has done just enough the past couple weeks, but will Winters be able to find Vaughn amongst the scrum at the LOS?

UNLV S Phillip Hall vs. Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer

Hall provides hope in slowing down Notre Dame and hopefully gives Chris Moxley an extra betting win this week.

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