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College Football Playoff open thread and 2020 NFL Draft, Los Angeles Rams prospect watchlist

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It’s a beautiful Saturday for some college football.

LSU Tigers QB Joe Burrow
LSU Tigers QB Joe Burrow
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we’ve got some very relevant college football today. After a week of some hinterland bowl action, we’re ramping up today with the playoffs underway.

Here’s the outlook for today and some of the major names to look out for:

#17 Memphis Tigers (12-1) v. #10 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2)

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
12pm ET/9am PT, ESPN

Interesting game here on the merits. Memphis has one of the best offenses in the country, but they’re without Head Coach Mike Norvell who has moved on to prep for his new job at Florida State. Penn State on the other hand has one of the best defenses but continues to find itself unable to puncture the top tier of college football under Head Coach James Franklin.

UM isn’t stacked with NFL talent. RB Patrick Taylor, Jr., keeps the pipeline open at running back following the departure of Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard and Los Angeles Rams RB Darrell Henderson, Jr. TE Joey Magnifico will likely be a Day 3 pick as well. And OL Dustin Woodard will likely find a buyer with experience at both guard spots as well as center where he was assigned for 2019.

Penn State on the other hand will factor early into the 2020 NFL Draft. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos will be involved in first-round mock drafts. Redshirt sophomore WR KJ Hamler could turn pro after two very productive seasons but will invite obvious questions for the NFL because of his 5’9” build. DT Robert Windsor is an interesting mid-round option. I’m eager to see if any buzz builds behind CB Tariq Castro-Fields too.

#15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) v. Iowa St. Cyclones (7-5)

Camping World Bowl
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
12pm ET/9am PT, ABC

Another matchup with coaching intrigue. While Notre Dame continues to play good football under HC Brian Kelly, it’s ISU’s head man at the center of this game. Matt Campbell has put together the best three-year run in Ames in two decades, and the college landscape is taking notice. ISU gave him a contract extension, but there’s next to no way Campbell stays there through 2025. A win here could potentially catapult the Cyclones into the 2020 Big XII mix (especially with their successful work on the recruiting trail), but a successful season next year likely pushes Campbell out the door.

Campbell’s not working with much draftable talent though as of yet. NT Ray Lima could be a Day 3 option. And LT Julian Good-Jones and S Greg Eisworth, a high school quarterback who never quite settled in at Ole Miss, should draw attention.

Note Dame is, predictably, flush with talent. EDGE Julian Okwara, the younger brother of Detroit Lions EDGE Romeo Okwara, leads the way, but he broke his leg in early November ending his season so he won’t be out there today. Neither will OL Tommy Kraemer who sprained his MCL weeks ago. The Irish’s secondary is stacked with Day 3 options like S Alohi Gilman and CB Troy Pride, Jr.

#1 LSU Tigers (13-0) v. #4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1)

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, College Football Playoff Semifinal
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
4pm ET/1pm PT, ESPN

Well this is more like it!

Points will be scored. Many, many points. But I’m eager to see (a) if LSU’s defense can step up or (b) if OU’s offense can kick it into top gear and outduel the Tigers. Either way, we all win.

Yes, QB Joe Burrow will draw the headlines for NFL-watchers, but there’s soooooooooooo much more beyond that. S Grant Delpit might be the “best” prospect after Ohio State EDGE Chase Young. WR Ja’Marr Chase is the better prospect at wideout, but as a true sophomore teams will have to wait to bid on him in the first round in 2021; instead, they’ll look at WR Justin Jefferson as an early option. And CB Kristian Fulton is all but certain to make the first round as well. Strange for LSU to have won the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line without more heralded prospects, but here we are. C Lloyd Cushenberry III likely leads the way, but he might not factor in until Day 3. Tons of other prospects here with intrigue.

And then there’s OU. WR CeeDee Lamb has the best YAC game in the country. C Creed Humphrey could hit the first round. LB Kenneth Murray is a fantastic playmaker, though he’s on a bit of an island in that front seven. QB Jalen Hurts is going to require the right situation in the NFL, but the right situation could set him up for significant success.

#2 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0) v. #3 Clemson Tigers (13-0)

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, College Football Playoff Semifinal
State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
8pm ET/5pm PT, ESPN

There’s going to come a point in this game (and hell, it could be the first damn snap) where all 22 players on the field will ultimately be in the NFL one day.

I’m hesitant then to put up any kind of prospect watchlist, because honestly you should just watch this and filter it through your own lens as appropriate...but I’ma do it anyway.

EDGE Chase Young was the best player in football this year. CB Jeffrey Okudah is a fantastic corner prospect. RB J.K. Dobbins was my RB1 going into this year, and he’s my RB1 coming out of it. I’m confused about what position OLB Malik Harrison plays in the NFL, but not enough to not take him on Day 2. WR K.J. Hill is going to make a rotation in his rookie NFL season. And I’m interested in LT Thayer Munford. He’s not an athletic, modern tackle, and he’s not physically impressive. But he’s gotten better in his time in the mix, and he’s got some Big Ten road grader to his game. I could totally see him developing into a long-term NFL veteran who isn’t anywhere near Pro Bowl quality but makes good on a mid-draft selection and holds up his end of the line.

Whew. Clemson. LB Isaiah Simmons is there with Chase Young and Grant Delpit as one of the best players in the game. He’s also one of those guys that doesn’t have an obvious position. He’s also good enough to not care. WR Tee Higgins is A.J. Green 2.0. RB Travis Etienne isn’t an everydown back in the NFL, but he might be the most explosive back in the draft. Nobody cares that New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara isn’t an everydown back. CB A.J. Terrell is going to get plugged in to a starting rotation in 2020. The offensive line has a bunch of Day 3 guys. Oh and by the way, QB Trevor Lawrence and WR Justyn Ross could go 1-2 in the 2021 NFL Draft (but I’d bet on Oregon LT Penei Sewell breaking up the party).