College football is back!
As the 2022 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch. This will come in addition to our sporadic NFL Draft coverage over the course of the fall and winter. Whether you’re a fan of the draft or just a college football fan, this series looks to give you an idea of what to watch each week.
Windy City Gridiron’s Lead Draft Analyst Jacob Infante will be taking a look at what to expect in Week 14 — conference championship week — of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
Neither of TCU and Kansas State were in the preseason top 25 rankings, so for both of them to be among the best teams in the nation is commendable and makes them both deserving of praise.
The top-ranked player on my big board on TCU’s roster is wide receiver Quentin Johnston, a freak of nature whose physical traits — size, speed, agility, strength, ball skills among them — finally translated into complete and utter dominance at the collegiate level. Throwing him the ball is Max Duggan, who has been one of the top-performing quarterbacks in the nation and should generate draftable looks should he declare. The offensive line also features guard/center Steve Avila, who has vise grips for hands and a stout frame, and center Alan Ali, who could end up selected in Day 3 when it’s all said and done. The defense features a long-time personal favorite in scrappy cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, as well as tenacious cornerback Noah Daniels and athletic linebacker Dee Winters.
Here’s what I had to say about Kansas State back in Week 4, in which I said they were one of the most underrated rosters in the Power 5! Humble brag. Since this got published, I would also like to add cornerback Julius Brents as an impact player. He’s a 6-foot-4 defensive back who tackles well and looks right at home in zone coverage. It’s also worth noting that Felix Anudike-Uzomah now has 7.5 sacks at this stage of the year.
Kansas State’s offense is led by dynamic running back Deuce Vaughn. The comparisons to Darren Sproles seem unoriginal — two small, athletic backs from Kansas State — but they check out. Vaughn is a pint-sized spark plug with elite agility, good vision and value as a pass-catcher. Left guard Cooper Beebe is one of my favorite interior blockers in this draft class, as he brings very good weight distribution, play strength and situational awareness. Their defensive superstar is edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah, who has 2.5 sacks in his first three games this year. He’s an athletic pass-rusher with a high motor and very good flexibility turning the corner.
Big Matchup to Watch
Jacob: No. 12 Utah CB Clark Phillips III @ No. 4 USC, Friday Dec. 2, 11:00 a.m. CST
Clark Phillips looked like a future NFL starter when I first watched his tape from 2021. Fast forward to now, when he has a 6-interception season to his name, and it’s become even more apparent that he should be an impact player at the next level.
Phillips stood out to me in 2021 for his ability to more than hold his own against top receivers like Drake London and Jaxon Smith-Njigba — don’t worry, most of JSN’s elite performance against Utah didn’t come against him. Phillips is a fluid athlete with loose hips and a flexible lower half that allows him to mirror the lateral movements of the receivers he covers. He’s quick in his backpedal and has the deep speed needed to defend vertical route concepts. Though he’s a bit smaller at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds, he’s scrappy at the catch point and is a willing downhill tackler.
USC’s only loss came in a 1-point loss to Utah in Week 7, during which Phillips tallied 2 pass deflections, 4 tackles and a sack. He was targeted a total of 8 times in that match and allowed just 3 catches per SIS DataHub, but those receptions resulted in a total of 72 yards. The Trojans tested him deep and tested him often, and with a talented passing attack that includes likely 2023 first-round Jordan Addison at wide receiver and No. 1 pick in 2024 front-runner Caleb Williams throwing the ball, Phillips will have his hands full. A strong outing in the Pac-12 championship could be just what he needs to solidify himself as a first-round candidate.
Jacob: Coastal Carolina DL Jerrod Clark @ Troy, Saturday Dec. 2, 2:30 p.m. CST
If you like big boys who can move, Jerrod Clark is the prospect for you.
Clark is a three-year starter at nose tackle who actually started off his collegiate career as a tight end. At 6-foot-4 and a hulking 340 pounds, he is a big boy in every sense of the word with tree trunks for legs and a well-proportioned frame. His raw size and anchor strength makes him an effective two-gapping defensive tackle who needs to generate attention from double-team blocks. For someone as big as he is, Clark is a nimble athlete with nice burst off the line of scrimmage and fluidity in his ability to rip and squeeze up the A gap using finesse. He has built upon his collegiate production over the year, tallying career-highs with 39 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.
A valid concern with Clark is conditioning; given his frame, it might be tough for him to take on a three-down role in the pros. He doesn’t have a super deep pass-rushing arsenal just yet, either. Clark is a bonafide 0-technique nose tackle whose main purpose is to stop the run, and the recent Shrine Bowl invite will be key to help Coastal Carolina shut down a red-hot Troy team in the Sun Belt championship game.