Well, this is it. Next week is Army-Navy and after that, we're into bowl season. So if you haven't checked in on the draft prospects yet...you've missed most of them for the season save for any postseason action.
Still though, today's Championship fare (and faux championship fare) is a fine late-season catch-up day.
Here's the major notes:
Overall, it's been a plus season for these two members of the American Athletic Conference in its third year after coming out of the Big East's ashes.
For Temple, it's been a banner year. From 1979 to 2009, the Owls were annual losers failing to make a single bowl game. Al Golden came in and built a program from nothingness delivering two winning seasons and a bowl game at the end of the last decade before heading to Miami. Steve Addazio delivered another winning season and a bowl game leading to a bigger gig at Boston College. Matt Rhule's captained the ship for the last three years as head coach and he's delivering results. At 10-2 and 7-1 in the conference with wins over Penn St. and then-ranked #21 Memphis (including a four-point loss to Notre Dame), Rhule's coached himself into the offseason coaching rumor cycle (hello, Missouri...). Prospect-wise, OLB Tyler Matakevich could piece the Day 2 bubble. There are some late candidates as well. Rams fans might want to get a look at C Kyle Friend.
Houston just continues to raise the program regardless of who comes in the door at head coach. Well, nearly. Art Briles' stint at Houston led to the Baylor gig. Kevin Sumlin parlayed his success at Houston to the Texas A&M job. Tony Levine...well, that didn't quite work out. But Tom Herman came in and in his first year helped them to an 11-1 record thus far and had multiple suitors these last few weeks before signing a contract extension at Houston. For Rams fans, CB William Jackson could factor in the mid-rounds.
Overall, this is about programs more than prospects. Both head coaches seem to be on the rise. So a look at styles and tactics might be more relevant here than the immediacy of any short-term NFL prospects. And with Herman staying at Houston, a look at how he's going to build his roster (with a nod to former Cougar QB and current Rams backup/injured starting QB Case Keenum) might be the most important thing to see here for Rams fans today.
Let's be blunt. Texas is in freefall. One of the best programs in the country has now gone six seasons without double-digit wins with Charlie Strong's first two seasons resulting in losing records. This is as bad as it could get in Austin. In fact, it's the worst run of Longhorn football since the 1930s along with the late 1980s run. With that comes a corresponding drop in draft stock for some names that were much more highly thought of earlier in their college careers. G Sedrick Flowers was a big name as an underclassman. RB Johnathan Gray was widely thought of as the best RB in the country coming out of high school. Both find themselves at the back end of the draft stock pile after their careers in this downturn at UT.
Baylor, on the other hand, is having their golden era. Art Briles, who I mentioned above having left the Houston program in after the 2007 season to head to Waco, built up the RGIII era and has parlayed it into a powerhouse program seeing the Bears ranked in the top 5 at some point in each of the last three seasons. Of course, this year, the two losses stand out having been ranked #4 before the season and as high as #2 now looking on the outside of the playoffs. The Bears will figure heavily in the draft. WR Corey Coleman, DT Andrew Billings, G Spencer Drango and DE Shawn Oakman will all have early suitors.
It's been a solid start to the Jim McElwain era at Florida. He resurrected the program following the Will Muschamp era getting the Gators out to a 10-2 record in year one. CB Vernon Hargreaves III will attract top 10 attention in the 2016 NFL Draft, though DE Jonathan Bullard and WR Demarcus Robinson will get early looks as well. TE Jake McGee could be a justifiable day three pick for the Rams.
Then there's Alabama...and as is always the case, there are plenty of prospects. Rams fans need to get looks in at TE O.J. Howard and C Ryan Kelly, primarily. ILB Reggie Ragland might be a sneaky first round option for the Rams. Beyond those, I think future classes set up better for the Rams moving forward.
#20 USC at #7 Stanford (7:45pm ET, ESPN)
#5 Michigan St. at #4 Iowa (8:00pm ET, FOX)
#10 North Carolina at #1 Clemson (8:00pm ET, ABC)
When facing a glut like this, the key is to stretch. Don't overexert yourself and pick up an injury in your metatarsals as you work your remote.
I started the campaign for the Rams to get Clemson QB DeShaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft last year. You're all still invited. TE Jordan Leggett is worth a look as well.
I think we'll see the Rams mocked to Michigan St. QB Connor Cook quite a bit in the months ahead, but WR Aaron Burbridge and C Jack Allen might be better fits.
UNC G Landon Turner is an NFL player. Could the Rams look early for a permanent replacement for Rodger Saffold?
Stanford G Joshua Garnett is in that mix as well, but don't ignore WR Devon Cajuste.
For USC, I think Max Tuerk would be a first-round center were it not for his medical history. His combine check is everything. Much like Alabama though, I think USC's younger prospects set up better than their current crop for the Rams.