Week 2 and Week 3 of the college football season are in the books, and it was an eventful past two weeks with a few big upsets occurring.
In Week 2, the Michigan State Spartans led by Connor Cook were able to come away with a 31-28 win in East Lansing against the Oregon Ducks. In a big suprise, the Toledo Rockets took down the Arkansas Razorbacks in a low scoring 16-12 affair.
Ole Miss traveled to Alabama in Week 3 and caused a plethora of turnovers, which were the bane of the Crimson Tide who fell to the Rebels 43-37.
In spite of a slough of injuries that have ravaged the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame keeps rolling along and looks poised to be a contender for the BCS Playoffs. Last but not least, the SEC and PAC-12 both have a handful of quality teams jockeying for conference titles. The aforementioned Rebels, Georgia Bulldogs and Louisiana State Tigers are top schools to watch in the SEC and the UCLA Bruins, Arizona Wildcats and Utah Utes are fighting to be the creme of the crop out West.
Week 4 promises to have some exciting match-ups, and here is a list of my top three of the games that should make for great football over the next few days:
- UCLA (9) @ Arizona (16) - The winner of this game will get bragging rights in the PAC-12 for the time being. I expect the Bruins to take down the Wildcats in a close battle on the gridiron.
- Utah (18) @ Oregon (13) - After their loss to the Spartans in Week 2, the Ducks can't afford to lose to another top ranked team or their BCS Playoff hopes will be lost. That being said, I expect the Ducks to rebound and take down the Utes in a thriller in Eugene.
- Texas Tech @ TCU (3) - This is my upset special of the week. The Red Raiders are a good football team capable of playing the distance with the Horned Frogs. TCU is very thin at defense, and I believe Texas Tech will be able to take advantage of them with a powerful offensive performance that puts at least 5 touchdowns on the board. TTU hasn't forgotten their egregious beat down loss of 82-27 last season in Fort Worth, so this match-up means one thing - revenge. The Red Raiders walk away victorious in a Big 12 shootout.
Hart's CFB Prospect of the Week 2 and 3: Connor Cook, QB - Michigan State
If Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook had declared for the NFL Draft last season, he certainly would have been a Top 50 selection overall. Despite the opportunity to get into the NFL a year early, Cook decided it was best to refine his craft and head back to East Lansing to compete for not only a B1G Conference Championship, but propel the Spartans to a BCS National Championship. If those dreams become a reality, Cook won't just be a first-round draft pick, he will likely be one of the first players taken next April.
Run first, pass second, says Kubiak
Despite little success running the ball the last two games, the Denver Broncos aren't suddenly going back to 50 passes a game. But like everything else with this offense, "it's a work in progress."
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Cook passes the eye test for the measurables NFL executives and scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback. He is a cerebral player who progresses through his reads and has a refined pocket presence that displays great toughness and anticipation.
Arm strength and a quick release aren't questions with him and without a doubt, he has ability to make all the NFL throws. Cook's admirable performances and statistical output in a competitive conference and against big schools will be appealing to teams who are looking for a battle-tested signal caller to take over their franchise. By all accounts, he is a team leader in the Spartan's locker room and respected on campus and community for being a top-rate individual off the field.
Despite a lengthy list of positives, Cook also has a handful of issues that will cause draft war rooms to exchange in a heated debate when deciding whether or not he is worthy of top consideration in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is the prototypical gunslinger who relies too much on his arm strength and will take great risks that result in turnovers. Rather than throwing the ball away and living to play the next down, he has a habit of forcing plays when there simply is just no margin for error. In three road games last season, Cook turned the ball over seven times, which highlight a greater concern with some of his decision making on the field, which were a combination of poor decision making and porous footwork.
Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions Preview
The Denver Broncos travel to Michigan to face the Detroit Lions. The Broncos are struggling to find offensive rhythm, while the Lions are hanging onto their season by a thread. This could spell trouble for the Orange and Blue.
When his feet get sloppy, his arm strength and accuracy suffer. In the past two seasons at Michigan State, Cook has registered below 60 percent in completion percentage, but has improved a great deal in that regard three games into his senior season. If he wants to become a future face of an NFL franchise, he will undoubtedly have to tame his inner-beast and learn to rid himself of the burden that frantic decision making can lead to. His footwork issues are certainly correctable and with proper coaching and tutelage, he can ascend to a top tier quarterback in the NFL. He plays in a pro-style system that has prepared him well for the rigors of the big leagues and with proper diligence, the sky is the limit for him.
Cook's play-making ability was on display the past two weeks, which is what earns him my prospect spotlight honors. The Week 2 game against Oregon showed the quarterback has what it takes to play in big time games when everything is on the line. He has showed demonstrable maturation in his third year of being a starter and has made improvements in areas that are concerning. He has looked quite fashionable on play action roll outs that would make him an attractive fit for Gary Kubiak's offense in Denver. If his positive trend continues, he will cement himself as the top signal caller available in next year's draft, but likely be out of reach for the Broncos when they are on the clock in April.
Prospects to Watch:
Trae Elston, DB - Ole Miss (Senior)Elston is one of the best defensive backs in college football and after starting three years at the rover position for the Rebels, Elston switched to free safety this year as a safety to take over for Cody Prewitt. In three games this season, Elston has snatched three interceptions and displayed his ball-hawking ability. He is also a sound run defender to boot and has the ability to be a Top 50 selection in April if he keeps performing at such a high level.
The Broncos may have struck gold again this off-season with the signing of Darian Stewart, who has performed well thus far. However, he is only under contract for one more season and the Broncos lack depth at the safety position in the future. Elston is the kind of player who would thrive under Wade Phillips and would give the Broncos another versatile option in their defensive backfield. He certainly is worth considering in the second round next April if available.
- Kenneth Dixon, RB - Louisiana Tech (Senior)
Teams in search of a running back next April should be paying attention to Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon. Though he plays for a losing team, he has been very impressive running the football for the Bulldogs. He is one of the top rushers in college football this season and has racked up 355 yards on 48 carries, sporting an incredible 7.3 YPC average. While he doesn't have all-world speed, Dixon has great vision, balance and is a tough-nosed runner who excels downhill and is also a good pass catcher out of the backfield.
The offense he plays in uses a lot of option and pistol formations, so he has to be patient as a runner for his blocks to develop. His tenacity and running style is very rare compared to others in this class and he is one of my favorite "sleeper" prospects for the upcoming draft. Believe me, he will make a name for himself in the NFL and be a starter. Reminds me a bit of Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris.
- Joe Haeg, OT - North Dakota State University (Redshirt Senior)
As an alumnus of North Dakota State University, the past several years of college football have been amazing to endure. Several prospects from the Bison have made their way to the NFL and have had some success at the next level. Besides quarterback Carson Wentz, the player to watch at North Dakota State is left tackle Joe Haeg. After starting his first two seasons at right tackle for the Bison, Haeg made his way over to the left side after Billy Turner was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The All-American and first-team Missouri Valley Football Conference tackle already has scouts flying into Fargo to watch him play. He was recruited to play tight end for the Bison, but has put a ton of weight onto his frame, yet maintained top-notch athleticism. He has quick enough feet and shows enough grit as a blocker in both the run and pass game to have a legitimate shot at starting at either side at the NFL level. He is an excellent communicator and a team leader whose on the field tenacity is respected by his teammates.
His success is not only a testament to his dedication to the game, but the coaching and elite football culture the Bison possess at the FCS level. He has been a consistent and performer for the four-time defending national champions and has the potential to go just as high as Turner did in 2014 if he keeps performing as well as he has. In my humble opinion, he would make an excellent offensive lineman for our Denver Broncos.
- Emmanuel Ogbah, DE - Oklahoma State (Junior)
With Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe and Antonio Smith set to hit free agency at the end of this season, don't be surprised if the Broncos target a defensive end with one of their earliest selections in the 2016 NFL Draft. One of my favorite underclassmen and prospects overall is Oklahoma State Cowboys junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah who has the potential to be a star at the next level.
At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Ogbah has the ability to man down the defensive end position in Wade Phillip's 3-4 one-gap defense and possess premier pass rushing ability. This season, Ogbah has already racked up 3.5 sacks and 4.5 TFL's in just three games and is on pace to break his sophomore year production of 10 sacks and 13 TFL's. He is a dynamic defensive player that opposing offensive lines must focus on and double team if they want to have any shot at getting their pass game going.
His versatility will also be coveted by NFL teams, as he has lined up all over the Cowboys defensive front. He has the ability to pack on more weight and plays relentlessly with superior strength, but needs to refine his pass rushing move arsenal and hand technique in order to be successful as a pro. If he declares, look for him to be a late-first round pick for a team in need of help on their defensive line.
Unfortunate Injury Watch List:
- Malik Zaire, QB - Notre Dame (Junior)
Zaire was mentioned in my first article, but is done for the year with after suffering a broken ankle in the Fighting Irish's Week 2 win against Virginia. This certainly ends the talk of him being a potential entrant to the 2016 NFL Draft and fans pining for a quarterback selection for the respective teams will have to wait another year before the impressive young signal caller makes his way to the NFL.
- Joshua Hosley, DB - Auburn (Senior)
For the second year in a row, Auburn Tigers cornerback Joshua Hosley has fallen victim to an ACL tear that will keep him sidelined the rest of the season. Though he wasn't a top prospect by any stretch of the imagination, his starting experience and ball skills would have made him an attractive late-round option for teams looking to bolster their secondary with the plethora of pass-happy offenses at the NFL level.
There is still a chance that a team with a late pick may gamble on his abilities in spite of his injury history, but it is more likely that he will be considered a priority undrafted free agent next April. I wish him a speedy recovery and all the best on his path to the NFL. Get well soon, Joshua.