By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
We’re down to the second-to-last week of significant regular season college action and we’ve already seen a lot of fun-to-watch rivalry games and we have more this Saturday. Lets take a look at two of the better ones.
Clemson at South Carolina (Noon ESPN)
Clemson has one of their better teams in a few years and South Carolina is no push-over either. So this should be a good game. Its been intense in recent years, including one of the worst fights ever seen on a football field a few years back. Lets hope the action is good but clean and a close game is played.
Spiller has had a fantastic year for Clemson. He is a 5’11″ 195 breakaway threat RB who does everything well. While he hasn’t broken 1,000 yards rushing, he does have nearly 900 and averages 5.2 per carry. But its his versatility, as witnessed by his 421 yards receiving at a clip of 14.5 per catch and his electrifying kick returns in which he is averaging over 33 yards per kick return with 3 touchdowns and nearly 30 yards per punt return with a touchdown, that has made him a legitimate Heisman Trophy Award candidate. A native of Florida, Spiller’s nickname is “Lightning” due to his speed. He is so fast, he has recorded a 40 yard dash time as quick as 4.28. But his speed is also matched by his shiftiness and toughness. For the Patriots, Spiller would be a excellent pick as he is versatile and can do so much including fill Kevin Faulk’s spot given that Faulk is a free agent after this year and getting on in years in any event. Spiller is likely a late first round choice but in many ways has potential to do many of the same things Chris Johnson does for the Titans.
Ford is another blazer featured in the Tigers offense who once ran an other-worldy 4.126/40. Like Spiller, Ford is also from Florida but played for Fork Union Academy in Virginia which has produced 87 NFL draft picks and 2 Heisman Trophy winners. Ford has been called the fastest player in Fork Union history. Ford this year has caught 45 balls for over 650 yards and 5 touchdowns. Like Spiller, Ford is a premium kick returner and has a punt returned for a touchdown this year. He has also carried the ball 14 times for an average of 8.8 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns. In April’s draft, this undoubtedly will be one of the highest picked receivers and a sure fire first round pick. He has average size, but is not afraid to catch the ball in traffic and despite his speed he is definitely a football player, not just a sprinter. With his talent, production and all around solid play, he’d fit easily into the Patriots offense and be a dynamic threat next year with Randy Moss and Wes Welker that would be very, very difficult for opponents to match up with should the Patriots consider that possibility in the first round.
A real fun playmaking linebacker to watch on defense for the Gamecocks. Norwood holds the South Carolina all-time record in sacks, which is remarkable because he spends a significant amount of time in coverage as well. This year, Norwood has done it all with 66 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 3 blocked kicks. Talk about making plays! Norwood has good size at 6’1″ 252 and would fit into the Patriots defense so long as he was willing to make plays within the confines of sticking strictly to his assignment and not free lancing. He is allowed quite a bit of freedom in the Gamecocks defense, so that may be some adjustment for him but he seems to have the temperment to do so. Some have compared Norwood to the Steelers LaMarr Woodley, which would be a great fit for the Patriots defense. He isn’t overly fast and not great in coverage, but Norwood is stout against the run, physical, smart, tough and knows how to created havoc with booming hits. He should be a first round pick.
A 6’1 300 lb. defensive tackle for the Gamecocks, Pepper could slide outside in a 3-4 defense like the Patriots. Had a serious knee injury in 2007. Not a great pass rusher, Pepper has been good against the run this year and has chipped in 2 sacks from the inside. Pepper has called last year’s loss by South Carolina “embarrassing” and is looking forward to ending his home career with a big win and a good performance. Pepper is sort of a tweener as a defensive lineman because he is a bit small for inside, but a bit slow for the outside. But he is a leader, strong, plays hard and can certainly play in the NFL. As long as questions about his knee are satisfactorily answered, look for him to be a late round pick.
UCLA AT USC (10:00 PM EST Fox Sports Networks)
This should be a very good matchup with USC having one of their poorer teams in awhile and UCLA playing good football in recent weeks. The gap seems to have closed a bit between these two programs and UCLA has a chance to beat USC for the first time since 2006 and only the second time in over 10 years.
The Patriots certainly have had no trouble in recent years adding players from UCLA with Matthew Slater added this year and safety Brett Lockett as well as practice squad linebacker Bruce Davis added this year. Moya is another Bruin the Patriots may consider with possible off-season needs at tight end arising. He has been one of a pair of possible NFL caliber tight ends UCLA has, along with Logan Paulsen. Moya has 17 catches for 182 yards this season and 77 for his career. At 6’3″ 243, he isn’t a great inline player, but is good in motion and has solid hands and plays hard. He is a good route runner and has h-back potential as a motion blocker. More than likely, you’re looking at a late round choice but a solid guy who can play special teams and contribute in a few different areas, including catching a pass, and will get himself a shot on a regular season NFL roster at some point.
Verner is one of the top cornerbacks in the country and a tremendous NFL prospect. As a Junior he led the country with 20 passes defended and was a first team All Pac-10 selection. Is a semi-finalist this year for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best college defensive back. Here is a clip of a 89 yard INT return Verner made for a touchdown against Arizona during his career. During his time at UCLA, Verner has become a favorite of everyone associated with the football program due to his outstanding on-field play but also leadership off it and commitment to academics and high character as well. Came into the season with 8 career INTs, including 3 he returned for touchdowns despite most opponents attempting to avoid him altogether. This year he has added 4 more INTs and 1 more returned for a TD. Even at his young age, enjoys speaking to young football players about the importance of school and not dropping out. Has average size, but good speed and is not afraid to stick his nose in on runs as he has often ranked high on the UCLA defensive stats for tackles due to his willingness to play the run. A captain this year for the Bruins. Verner seems to be everything the Patriots would look for in a cornerback and although they have added a few other young ones in recent years, if they are looking for another Verner would seem a logical choice. He is likely no worse than a 2nd round choice and should be a very productive NFL player.
Byers has started three years at left guard for the Trojans and can also play some center too. Has been a good player, but has had a lot of injuries during his time at USC including back and hip problems and multiple surgeries. Was a third team All-American as a junior when he started every game. Byers is a bit undersized at 290 lbs., but can play in space as the Patriots like and is a hardworking, smart, tough guy. Coach Pete Carroll says about Byers: “We like his athleticism, his intensity and the intangibles that he brings. His downfield blocking sets the tone for the style of play that we like. He flies to his blocks better than anyone we’ve ever had, making use of his legs and his guts to finish plays. He creates such an attitude about the way we play.” Sounds exactly like a Patriots player and he’ll likely be a mid to late round pick.