The Nittany Lions were the darlings of the media after a comeback campaign in '05. Things may not be so easy for them this year. Notre Dame fell short in their BCS contest yet will compete for the national crown this time around.
How will Penn State stop the aerial assault of Brady Quinn and the Irish? It won't be easy. Quinn, a top three pick in next April's draft, has an assortment of weapons at his disposal. Jeff Samardzija is a big possession wide out and a top 45-pick while Rhema McKnight played well last week, his first game since tearing a knee ligament last September. Prior to the '05 season NFL scouting concerns gave McKnight high grades and the receiver could sneak into the draft's first day.
If that's not enough Notre Dame's running attack combines an outstanding ball carrier and several highly considered blockers. Darius Walker flashes tremendous skill when healthy and looks like a big time NFL prospect. Guard Dan Santucci and tackle Ryan Harris open holes for their ball carriers and help Quinn stay upright. Both are first day prospects for April's draft.
On their behalf Penn State is very strong in the defensive front seven. Jay Alford is a tough tackle who makes plays laterally. Undersized, he's a middle round choice who may have a home as a three technique lineman. The Lions welcome back Ed Johnson, a one-time dominant tackle and solid NFL prospect who was suspended all last season.
State's linebackers will draw lots of opinions and debate. Paul Posluszny gets top headlines across the nation and is one of college football's finest linebackers. That being the case we feel he is not the top ten pick some are casting him to be. Possessing marginal computer numbers (6'2"-228lbs-4.80) Posluszny is deficient in pass coverage and offers limited sideline-to-sideline range. And though a solid prospect we feel he only deserves a second round grade. Tim Shaw is actually a little larger and a hair faster then Posluszny. Equally as instinctive compared to his teammate, Shaw does not get his just due and is a solid NFL linebacker prospect.
The match-up of the night could be PSU offensive tackle Levi Brown trying to ward off Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame's outstanding pass rusher. Brown has been productive for State College since his freshman campaign and is fundamentally outstanding. Yet with that Brown does not show the top footwork or adjustment wanted in a blind-side protector. Abiamiri could be the most underrated defender in the nation. A disruptive force, he is a top athlete with growth potential. Both players offer first round grades with Abiamiri likely a top 15 selection.
Last year Texas went to Columbus and stole the game from the Buckeyes, setting the tone for their national championship run. This year Ohio State hopes to turn the tables. The NFL talent in this game is outstanding.
The Buckeyes have a trio of ball handlers to watch. Quarterback Troy Smith is a big-armed athlete who can make all the throws. Needing to complete his game and fine-tune the details of his position, Smith now sits as an early second day pick but could move up boards with a knockout senior season. Antonio Pittman is an explosive back with terrific playing speed and ball carrying instincts. While he needs to physically mature, Pittman offers big-time NFL ability and the junior presently carries a second round grade. None compare to game-breaker Ted Ginn Jr. Offering home run hitting speed, Ginn Jr. possesses big play ability as a receiver or return specialist. If he enters next April's draft as expected he will slide into the initial 20 picks.
The Longhorn defense will have their hands full, especially with the loss of cornerback Tarell Brown. A shut down cover man with potential as a top 40 pick, Brown was arrested earlier this week on gun charges. His match-up against Ginn Jr. would've been great. It'll be up to cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Michael Griffin to try and contain the Buckeye wide out. Ross is a developing corner and outstanding punt returner while Griffin shows a lot of athleticism in centerfield. Griffin is top 50 material at safety while Ross will be a top 100 pick.
There battle on the lines of scrimmage will be one to watch.
Longhorn tackle Justin Blalock rates highly and offers a first round grade. Built low to the ground and looking more like a guard, Blalock is a dominant force who stands out in pass protection while also sealing holes for the running game. Kasey Studdard and Lyle Sendlein are both late round choices from their guard and center positions respectively. On the other side of the ball Ohio State offers a pair of solid prospects. Quinn Pitcock is highly thought of by some but a late round pick in our opinion. A high intensity defender, he chases hard from his tackle spot but is a limited athlete best in a straight line. David Patterson is better at making plays down the line yet has limited size. He is also late round material.