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Draft King Analysis

September 1, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Later today the 2011 NCAA college football season begins, and I for one can't wait for it. I wrote detailed previews of players to watch for tonight's games and Friday's action, but realized soon into the Saturday column that I attempted that I was in way over my head. So, instead of half-assing it, I've scrapped trying to give an overview of all of the key players to watch in Saturday's action.

There are some interesting things to keep an eye on in this opening weekend. Mostly the matchups are either lopsided or outright squash matches with I-AA/FCS teams going on the road to earn a payday and take a beating, though there are some interesting subplots that will be worth watching. I'll ask the questions and provide the answers.

Is Nate Potter an elite NFL offensive line prospect?
Since I did my first mock draft in 2003, I don't recall any highly-touted offensive lineman eliciting as many mixed emotions as Potter. In May,'s Gil Brandt posted a list of his top potentially-eligible 2012 NFL Draft prospects and had Nate Potter at #4 overall, noting his long arms and proper footwork. As this article from the Idaho Statesman reveals, several national publications rank Potter among the best offensive tackles in college football.

But some doubt Potter not only in being among the top of the offensive tackle crop but also him being taken outright in the first few rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft. Perhaps most vocal about this has been Evan Silva, a skilled writer who I respect, who wrote in June that Potter will enter the 2011 season "with 6th-round to free agent grades from scouts" -- that's quite a disparity from him being listed #4 overall on the NFL's own website.

But it's not just Silva who feels this way; this article on described him with similar questions about Potter projecting as a top-flight NFL offensive tackle: "Nate Potter on the other hand struggled at LT and really doesn't look like he'd be more than an OG at the next level..." Moreover, pointed out perceived flaws in Potter's game, saying he lacks elite strength, has sub-par size for the position (6'6" 295), is prone to being bullied by powerful pass rushers, and struggles to open gaps in the running game. That's hardly a flattering assessment.

I have Potter going late in the first round at this point, and while projecting him as a top five or top ten pick might not be realistic for Potter, a strong performance against Georgia on Saturday night would help to quiet some of his critics.

How deep is Alabama's roster?
The Crimson Tide are loaded with great young talent and also a large volume of players who could potentially be on the board in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The list of players who all could potentially be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft is staggering. Take a look at the list: junior CB Dre Kirkpatrick, junior RB Trent Richardson, senior ILB Courtney Upshaw, senior SS Mark Barron, redshirt junior ILB Dont'a Hightower, senior NT Josh Chapman (6'1" 330 pounds), redshirt junior OG Barrett Jones, redshirt sophomore OT D.J. Fluker, junior FS Robert Lester, junior OLB Nico Johnson, redshirt senior C William Vlachos, senior WR Marquis Maze, and redshirt junior TE Michael Williams. Every one of those players could enter the 2012 NFL Draft and all likely would be drafted if healthy, many of them in the first few rounds.

Keep in mind that Alabama runs a 3-4 defense and thus the players listed above are positioned accordingly. That list doesn't even include redshirt sophomore RB Eddie Lacy, who will be backing up Richardson and likely to inherit the starting RB job in 2012 if Richardson leaves for the NFL. Lacy could potentially go, but he'd be far better served by showing that he can carry the ball as a primary RB in advance of pursuing a career in the NFL.

Redshirt junior QB A.J. McCarron replaces Greg McIlroy as Alabama's signal caller this fall, and while McCarron could jump to the pros after this season, he would be wise to return to Tuscaloosa for 2012 to put in two solid years in as the Crimson Tide's starting QB and further develop his passing skills.

What are the top games to watch this weekend?
Forget the NFL exhibition games; the final week of exhibition season typically barely features any starters and is more of a way for teams to evaluate their on-the-fence talent as GMs decide who will make the opening-day roster and who won't.

If high school football is your bag, I'll be on the call with Rhett Douglas in Nashville tomorrow (Friday) night broadcasting the football game between 2-0 Baylor and 2-0 Father Ryan High School for ATW Sportscast. Click here to listen on 9/2/2011 beginning at 7 p.m. CDT. It's available to watch online live and for free worldwide.

As for college football, the following games are the top ones to watch beginning tonight and running through Monday. Please note that all times below are listed in Eastern Daylight Time.

Thursday, September 1, 2011
UNLV at Wisconsin (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - It's a likely Wisconsin blowout win, but it will offer a first look at former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson under center for the Badgers
Wake Forest at Syracuse (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN3 online only) - Hardly high-profile, but has the potential to be a competitive game between two major conference schools

Friday, September 2, 2011
Youngstown State at Michigan State (7:30 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network) - It starts a half-hour before TCU and Baylor are scheduled to kick off and it serves as a change of pace option for commercial breaks and also as something to watch during halftime of the TCU/Baylor game
TCU at Baylor (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - TCU begins life after Andy Dalton with a road game against a former longtime conference rival in the old SWC

Saturday, September 3, 2011
Northwestern at Boston College (12 p.m. EDT, ESPNU) - It might surprise you to learn that most books have BC as only a three-point favorite at home in this game
UCLA at Houston (3:30 p.m. EDT, Fox Sports Net) - Case Keenum makes his return in what happens to be a revenge game since he tore the ACL in his right knee at UCLA in 2010
USF at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. EDT, NBC) - Skip Holtz squares off with a Notre Dame team that his father once coached
BYU at Ole Miss (4:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - Ridiculous heat/humidity anticipated at kickoff time in Oxford
Colorado State at New Mexico (6 p.m. EDT, The Mtn) - Keep this in mind as filler if the afternoon games are all blowouts; availability for The Mtn is limited but it's available nationwide on DirecTV channel 616
Indiana vs. Ball State in Indianapolis, IN (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN3 online only) - Laugh if you must, and this is filler until the 8 p.m. EDT games start, but Ball State beat Indiana in their last meeting in 2008 and most books list Indiana as only a six point favorite
Oregon vs. LSU in Arlington, TX (8 p.m. EDT, ABC) - Game of the week
Boise State vs. Georgia in Atlanta, GA (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - It amuses me that this is classified as a "neutral site" game
Colorado at Hawaii (10:15 p.m. EDT, ESPN2) - The best of the late games; this is Colorado's first football game as a member of the Pac-12

Sunday, September 4, 2011
Marshall at West Virginia (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - This is the Friends of Coal Bowl game; the winner gets the Governor's Cup traveling trophy, which is appropriately named since it required former West Virginia Governor (and current U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin to act as an intermediary to get both schools to reach an agreement to play one another in football
SMU at Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. EDT, Fox Sports Net) - Both teams were in the now-defunct Southwest Conference together from 1918 until the SWC was dissolved in 1996

Monday, September 5, 2011
Miami at Maryland (7:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN) - It's the only football game in town on Labor Day; deal with it (h/t to LSUfreek)

Watch and enjoy, plus again remember that there are a number of high-profile teams playing who aren't listed on here since they are likely going to win in blowout fashion, dishing out thrashings on their home field against mostly I-AA/FCS opponents and low-level I-A/FBS teams showing up for a payday. It doesn't always work out that way (ask the 2010 Virginia Tech Hokies if you doubt me), but overall there should be plenty of blowouts in several games scheduled for this weekend.


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