A solid Big Ten match-up between a pair of school's hoping to gain invitation to a middle level bowl game. Northwestern has won four games this season by a combined nine points. Michigan State suffered a pair of consecutive conference losses the past two weeks.
The Michigan State offense ranks top in the conference, averaging almost 42-points per game. Quarterback Drew Stanton keeps rolling along this season, completing 71% of his passes and averaging more then 300-yards through the air each Saturday. More impressive then his quarterback rating of 184.03 is a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-3. Only a junior, Stanton has pocket passer size and is quietly the talk amongst NFL-scouts.
To his credit NU signal caller Brett Basanez is also having a fine season. One of seven finalists for the Unitas Golden Arm Award, Basanez is completing 66% of his throws, averaging more then 300 passing yards per game. Possessing marginal size and arm strength, Basanez has jumped into the late rounds thanks to his performance this year, and is being considered by several NFL teams which employ a west coast/timing offense.
Northwestern has a pair of defenders to watch. Barry Cofield is a well size defensive tackle who projects as a two-gap lineman. Many scouts feel athletically Coefield is not far behind Luis Castillo, taken in the first round by the San Diego Chargers last year. Inside linebacker Tim McGarigle is a tackling machine with a nose for the football. On a tear this season, McGarigle projects as a middle round selection for a 34 defense.
A tremendous Big 12 match-up between a pair of Texas schools with 6-0 records. The Red Raiders visit the unfriendly confines of Memorial Stadium in Austin yet the program has been known to pull off the upset.
Texas Tech has the top offense in the conference, averaging 53-points and 472-yards passing a game. The Longhorns boast the Big Twelve's top defense, allowing just 14-points and just 148-yards passing every weekend.
Saturday's contest could be a watershed moment for Cody Hodges, the man who runs the Red Raiders offensive attack. Coming off a 643-yard passing performance against conference opponent Kansas State, Hodges has completed 72% this season, tossing 22 touchdown passes and just five picks. A first year starter, he threw just nine passes as a junior in '04. Yet despite his inexperience Hodges has displayed great poise, timing and pocket presence. Texas Tech quarterbacks are considered "products of the system" by NFL-scouts yet Hodges is getting a lot of consideration as a next level player.
Hodges has a great number of targets to get the ball to, most from the ranks of the underclassmen. Robert Johnson, Joel Filani and Jarrett Hicks are all well-sized wide outs who perform well in the red zone. Only Hicks was a known commodity coming onto the season yet Johnson and Filani are the top two receivers in the conference combining for 75 receptions with the season just half over. All are serious NFL-prospects.
If there is a "diamond in the rough" in this game it would be multi-purpose back Taurean Henderson. Quite possibly the top third down back in the nation, the senior has totaled 14-touchdowns in six games as both a ball carrier and pass catcher. Last week Henderson broke the NCAA record for career receptions by a running back, catching his 263rd pass during the first quarter against Kansas State.
Texas will give these players their toughest test of the season. While Larry Dibbles, Tim Crowder and Rodrique Wright will be trying to pressure Hodges all day, Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin will be guarding the pass catchers.
The Longhorns themselves have a sleeper in linebacker Aaron Harris. Possessing poor size/speed numbers, Harris does nothing but produce positive results on the football field every week. His match-up against Taurean Henderson is one to watch.
For all the terrific talent on the field, the battle of the running backs stands out in this game.
Crimson Tide junior Kenneth Darby ranks second in the conference on the rushing board and is having a solid season. Gerald Riggs Jr., the Tennessee senior in the midst of a disappointing campaign, is just below him.
Darby has done a good job building upon what was a terrific sophomore campaign. Improving as a receiver out of the backfield, he is nicely building draft stock for 2007.
After rushing for 1100-yards as a junior, averaging 5.7-yards per carry, scouts expected big things from Riggs this season. And though adequate, Riggs has done nothing to improve his draft stock.
Wyoming vs. Colorado St (ESPN-Classic/3:00pm EST)
A good contest between a pair of Mountain West schools vying for the number two slot in the conference. Likewise it is a match-up between a pair a second tier receivers available in next April's draft.
A prospect with solid size/speed numbers, Jovan Bouknight turned in consecutive 63-reception seasons as a sophomore and junior. A solid red-zone threat, he's caught 8 touchdown passes in Wyoming's seven games this year. Bouknight has also turned into a game-breaking kick returner, averaging 36.5-yards on six returns in '05. Potentially a middle round choice next April, he fits in as a third receiver at the next level.
Colorado State's David Anderson has been a consistent performer since his sophomore campaign. Leading the team in receiving the past two seasons, Anderson is on pace to put up career numbers this year. Having limited success in the past returning punts, he is a solid late round pick who could end up as a fourth wide out in the NFL.
A terrific match-up in the SEC West as Auburn hopes to remain undefeated in the division while LSU needs a victory to have any shot of playing in the conference's title game. There will be a great battle on the line of scrimmage.
LSU has four next level players on the defensive line. Tackle Claude Wroten, a highly rated tackle coming into the season, is a disruptive force on the inside. Statistically Wroten has been a slight disappointment this season though to be fair, opponents constantly double him on the inside. Kyle Williams is a well sized tackle that has played well as a senior. As a result Williams has improved his draft ranking and may get first day consideration next April. Texas transfer Chase Pittman has done well during his first year in a Tiger uniform, consistently getting pressure up the field and making plays in the opponents backfield. Melvin Oliver could be one of the most underrated defensive lineman in the nation. Lacking the classic size/speed numbers, Oliver does nothing but produce on the field. He leads all LSU linemen in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
As many may be aware, Auburn's Marcus McNeill is one of the highest rated offensive tackle's in the nation. A rare combination of size and athleticism, McMeill will be tested by the speedy Pittman. While many concentrate on McNeill they overlook his teammate, right tackle Troy Reddick. A terrific run blocker, Reddick is a solid small area lineman who will be selected in the draft's late rounds and has starting potential on the strong side.