#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. #2 Clemson Tigers
4pm ET, ESPN
This one’s probably going to be more muted than this evening’s game. That’s not to say there’s not talent on offense, but the defenses are the standout here.
For ND, it starts up front with DT Jerry Tillery. He’s probably the best prospect for the Irish for next spring, but CB Julian Love might be more ready for 2019 Week 1. He’s a bit on the smaller side, but on the right defense he could be an early star. Los Angeles Rams fans are going to get a good, long look at ILB Te’Von Coney. Without a second-round pick, there’s a chance he’s gone before the Rams are back on the clock in the third. Still, he’s going to be a very attractive option for Rams fans hoping to improve things inside.
Clemson on the other hand has more talent and more speed overall. The talent side starts with the defensive front. EDGE Clelin Ferrell, DT Christian Wilkins, DT Dexter Lawrence and EDGE Austin Bryant are all coming to the NFL and have a shot at all being first-round picks, though Bryant’s likely to come off after the first at this point. Of course, we have to note that Lawrence is going to miss this one for a failed drug test; I doubt that keeps him out of the top of the first round though. Rams fans again need to get a look at a linebacker: LB Kendall Joseph. I think there might be some discussions to be had about his best fit in Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but those are discussions worth having for a player of Joseph’s quality. They’d revolve around his size which would likely relegate him to a role similar to that of ILB Cory Littleton or former Rams ILB Alec Ogletree. Would Joseph’s skill set present an upgrade or would that still leave things unsettled without a better downhill thumper in run support beyond ILB Mark Barron? And if ND’s Love is the smaller CB that teams will fall in love with, Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen has the size concerns squashed. He’s going to remind a lot of people of former Rams CB Trumaine Johnson. And WR Hunter Renfrow is one of those guys who is going to get drafted too low because he’s going to have an NFL career despite his physical limitations while more impressive athletes get taken ahead of him only to flame out after two years.
In the end, I think this game comes down to two things: Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly and freshman Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. Kelly has finally gotten ND into the playoffs after a long run missing out on the top spots since losing the BCS Championship in 2012. How he stewards this team through the biggest game in six seasons will be unavoidably crucial. On the other side though is a Clemson team that Head Coach Dabo Swinney has had in the mix every season in recent years. But Lawrence is just now tasting his first bit of fame on the national level despite being a top prospect. If every player in all of college football were draft-eligible, you could make the case that Lawrence would be the #1 overall pick.
I’ll take Clemson in a close one thanks to the speed on offense, but I’d be shocked if ND doesn’t put up a fight and make this a close, hard-fought game.
#4 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
8pm ET, ESPN
Now this one is just gonna be weird.
OU scores points in buckets with Head Coach Lincoln Riley perhaps the best offensive coach in college football overseeing things while Heisman-winning QB Kyler Murray runs the show. They also give up points in buckets. That’s going to make things a strange fit against an Alabama side that likes to win games by scoring less than 20 points...until QB Tua Tagovailoa showed up to help power the offense. He’s not quite the NFL prospect as his fame would make him out to be, but being a legitimately good quarterback at a program like Alabama makes it hard to slow down the starmaking powers at work.
Draft-wise...good lord. Just bring a shopping cart and load up.
OU has plenty of offense to pick from. Murray, should he opt in to football over baseball, would be in play for NFL teams unafraid to lean into to mobile quarterbacks. WR Marquise Brown might be the top WR this draft. The entire offensive line is NFL quality. And RB Rodney Anderson might be the best running back NFL fans haven’t heard of from the college game since he’s injured too often; he’s missed this season with another knee injury. His combine medical check will obviously be crucial, but if he comes to the NFL clean he could be a steal. There’s not a ton on defense for this draft, but S Prentice McKinney is going to get some Day 3 attention.
As for Alabama, it’s Alabama. We could probably go 2,000 words on Bama alone (and probably should at some point), but suffice to say every unit has NFL talent. For Rams fans, it’s all about roster needs. Interested in linebacking talent? It’s Bama. Of course there are top options like LB Mack Wilson. Want pass rushing skills? EDGE Anfernee Jennings is going to invite first-round attention. Need a safety? S Deionte Thompson might be the best one in the country. Offensive line? OT Jonah Williams is a near-lock to be gone before the Rams pick, and C Ross Pierschbacher is likely the first center to come off the board. And if any team can match Clemson’s defensive line for talent, it’s Alabama with DT Quinnen Williams, DT Raekwon Davis and DT Isaiah Buggs.
How does this one play out? Does OU’s powerhouse offense prove too much to contain or does Bama’s defense yet again rule the day? And what about the other side of the ball? Can OU get enough (any?) stops?
Good stuff today. Let’s enjoy the NFL preview, Rams fans.