College football is back!
As the 2022 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch (except for Week 1 — sorry about that!). 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 own Peter Borkowski and Lead Draft Analyst Jacob Infante will be taking a look at what to expect in Week 2 of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
Jacob: Kentucky vs. Florida, Saturday Sept. 10, 6:00 p.m. CST
This SEC game features arguably the best quarterback showdown we’ve had to this point in the 2022 college football season.
Florida is one week removed from beating then-No. 7 Utah in a nail-biter, and much of that was thanks to the big-play ability of quarterback Anthony Richardson. Though very raw as a processor in the pocket, his cannon of an arm, large build and fantastic athleticism give him the upside of an NFL franchise quarterback if he can develop properly. Their offense features a big-bodied ‘X’ receiver in Justin Shorter, as well as a dominant run-blocking guard in O’Cyrus Torrence. Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter is an explosive pass-rushing 3-technique. Athletic edge rusher Brenton Cox Jr. and intelligent linebacker Ventrell Miller help fill out a strong front-seven, and the safety duo of Rashad Torrence II and Trey Dean III is one of the best in college football.
Kentucky doesn’t have the defensive star power that the Gators have, but they have one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 draft in Will Levis. A strong-armed, well-built passer with legitimate athleticism, he has a lot of tools that NFL teams drool over at the position. Filling into a role similar to that of 2022 second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson is Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson, a shifty and versatile weapon who had 6 catches for 136 yards against Miami (OH) in Week 1. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is a tough runner with a high motor and a low center of gravity, while right guard Tashawn Manning is an interesting prospect at 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds with plenty of athleticism for his size.
With Florida coming off of a stellar win and Kentucky looking to solidify themselves as one of the SEC’s elite, this should truly be an entertaining matchup.
Peter: Tennessee @ Pittsburgh, Saturday Sept. 10, 2:30 p.m. CST
Two top-25 teams meeting up, trying to keep up strong performances from last season.
Pittsburgh is adjusting to life after Kenny Pickett, but Kedon Slovis isn’t that much of a drop off. The senior transfer put up elite numbers throughout his time at USC, and is now looking to lead Pitt to its fourth straight winning season.
Meanwhile for Tennessee, Hendon Hooker tossed two TDs in the Vols season opener, picking up right where he left off after last year’s 31td season.
It should be a fun matchup between two teams looking to move up the rankings after solid 2021 years.
Big Matchup to Watch
Jacob: Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon vs. Virginia, Saturday Sept. 10, 3:00 p.m. CST
Devon Witherspoon is off to a strong start to the 2022 season.
Through two games, he has an interception and 3 pass deflections. Oh, and he also has this highlight reel hit from last week:
The #Bears invested heavy in their DBs this draft, but next year has a local stud in Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 3, 2022
He’s a quick processor with good ball skills and slot/outside versatility. You wanna talk about the HITS principle… pic.twitter.com/ya2acRkrc6
Witherspoon is an intelligent cornerback whose football IQ stands out both in coverage and as a tackler after the catch. His work ethic in the film room is apparent in how quickly he diagnoses route patterns and is able to act upon his reads to make a play on the ball. A 6-foot cornerback at 180 pounds, he has inside and outside versatility that should see him moved around a bit at the NFL level. He does a good job of staying inside an opposing receiver’s hip pocket, and while he isn’t the biggest or quickest defensive back out there, his instincts and aggressiveness make up for it.
Virginia has two NFL-caliber wide receivers in Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson. Both of them are big-bodied receivers — Thompson especially — with good deep speed and very good YAC ability. Witherspoon will have his hands full with both of them, and it will be interesting to see how the Fighting Illini deploy him on Saturday. If he can put together another strong performance, he’ll have a chance to shoot up draft boards.
A 6’7, 270lb. TE who can hurdle defenders?
Washington has been blowing up over the last week or so for his highlight play against Oregon. But he’s a little more than just a highlight machine.
Of course the most notable thing is Washington’s stature. Even at tight end, being 6’7 270 makes Washington somewhat of a unicorn. Making things even better is the fact that Washington is pretty good on his foot. The hurdle is a good example, but he also does a good job getting his feet under him to keep his balance while making difficult passes. Speaking of difficult passes, that’s Washington’s bread and butter. Thanks to his size, he’ll regularly go above his defender to make a grab, and he has no problem making catches when surrounded by opponents. Bringing him down once he’s good some momentum is obviously a challenge, and to top it all off, he’s a decently talented blocker.
Washington isn’t a perfect prospect of course. On the field, he doesn’t look the snappiest, which leads to him not gaining much separation from his defender. However this doesn’t really affect him just to how dominant he is at catching while under pressure, but it could be a problem in the NFL when he comes up against players who know how to defend bigger players. The biggest knock against Washington is his injury concern. He’s already had a couple in college that has kept him off the field, but with a body that big taking that kinda punishment, another injury seems likely. Think of it like the Zion Williamson situation for all you NBA fans.
Still, Washington is an elite mismatch threat that should make lesser opponents (i.e. Samford) look foolish.
Jacob: Appalachian State EDGE Nick Hampton vs. Texas A&M, Saturday Sept. 10, 2:30 p.m. CST
Though Appalachian State allowed 63 points in their shootout with North Carolina last week, Nick Hampton was a bright spot for the Mountaineers’ defense.
He finished the game with 2.5 sacks, starting off 2022 on the right foot after tallying 11 sacks in 2021. He has a tremendous first step with the get-off burst that makes him a threat any time he rushes along the outside. It further aids his athleticism that he plays with a red-hot motor on a consistent basis. He has shown some promise in regards to his agility in space, as well. Hampton is smaller for an edge rusher at 6-foot-3 and just 225 pounds, but his chops as a pass-rusher should still see him going after the quarterback in some capacity in the pros.
Texas A&M doesn’t have a Kenyon Green-caliber prospect on their offensive line this year, but you could make the argument that all five of their starting linemen could eventually enter the NFL, especially right guard Layden Robinson. Hampton dominated in his 2022 debut, and another strong performance against Power 5 competition can further boost his stock.
Peter: Kentucky QB Will Levis @ Florida, Saturday Sept. 10, 7:00 p.m. CST
The Kentucky senior put up good numbers in the season opener against Miami (OH), completing 21 passes on 32 attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns (plus an interception). While it’s doubtful that Levis plays himself into the top tier of QBs (Stroud, Young), he could easily earn round one consideration.
Levis’ throwing motion is a thing of beauty. It’s incredibly compact and quick, and he is able to generate some insane velocity between his arm and hip motions. Thanks to its compactness, Levis is able to make some impressive throws out of real awkward positions (i.e. running away from pursuers). He’s accurate to boot, and he’s got the prototypical QB build (6’3, 230) with good athleticism.
He’s still a little raw and needs to refine a little more over this season, but Levis is quickly looking like a top QB prospect.