We've finally reached the end of the college football bowl season, with the national championship game Monday night between Oregon and Ohio state. There is going to be tons of debate going forward about whether or not the selection committee "Got It Right", but I don't think you can argue that the two best teams in the country are playing tonight.
And that wouldn't have happened under the old system.
That also happens to mean that there are a lot of future NFL players on the field in this game.
Without question, the prospect everyone will be watching is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. If the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback declares for the draft, he will be vying with Jameis Winston for the title of "Best Quarterback In The Draft", and first pick in the draft. Mariota makes an awfully strong case that he should be the Buccaneers' first selection.
He boasts a strong, accurate arm, rare athleticism for the position, and unlike many other athletic quarterbacks, he keeps his eyes downfield. But what should really win over GM's are Mariota's sparkling intangibles. Winston has a reputation of being a humble player with a strong team and community first attitude, high intelligence, and a strong work ethic.
The knock on Mariota is Oregon's offense itself. That offense does a lot to simplify defenses and make decisions apparent for the quarterback. He is rarely -- if ever -- under center, and his receivers are either open or they're not. None of that is Mariota's fault, but it is something NFL teams will need to consider.
But Mariota isn't the only top prospect on the field for Oregon. Offensive linemen Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu should both be off the board before the second night of the draft is over. Grasu is an athletic center with good length and great initial quickness. He's agile and shows good balance moving in space in the Ducks' ridiculously paced spread offense. Grasu is in the conversation for top center in the draft and easily reminds of the Giants' own Weston Richburg.
Fisher is, much like Grasu, a long, athletic tackle. He specializes in double teaming defenders and uses his athleticism to slide from block to block smoothly. Despite a great frame and 6-foot-6 height, he is going to have to get a lot bigger and stronger at the next level. He is listed at below 300 pounds, and will likely get pushed around by NFL defenses. He has tremendous upside for a team looking to develop their left tackle of the future, though.
Oregon also has some prospects on defense worth paying attention to. The big two -- and I meant that figuratively and literally -- are Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. These two massive, yet athletic, defensive ends are both roughly 6-7, and weigh in at around 280-290 pounds. Both are tailor made to excel in as defensive ends in a 1-gap 3-4 defense, like Calais Campbell or JJ Watt. They could interest the Giants if their next defensive coordinator incorporates some 3-4 principles in the new defense. Either Armstead or Buckner could go in the first round or at any time on Day 2.
Finally there is Tony Washington. At 6-3, 250 pounds, Washington has the size the Giants seem to covet at linebacker, and he also shows good athleticism. He is a versatile linebacker who does a bit of everything for the Ducks. He defends the run, rushes the passer as a linebacker or defensive end, and drops into coverage. Though he has "Tweener" size, he has the frame and the athleticism to easily be a linebacker or end in the NFL. He seems a bit unpolished on the mental side of the game, however. He can be a bit slow or hesitant to react and can get caught out of position.
Ohio State's two most exciting prospects, Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott aren't draft eligible, but they should be a blast to watch. They have plenty of other prospects to watch for, however.
The Buckeye most likely to be selected first is defensive lineman Michael Bennett. Bennett is an undersized for a defensive tackle at 6-2, 288 pounds, but he has enough strength, and more than enough athleticism, to be an effective 3-technique or 5-technique at the next level. He shows excellent quickness off the snap and some viscious hands.
Next up is cornerback Doran Grant, who should be the next Buckeye off the board. Grant is a dependable corner with solid size, speed, and some ball skills. At 5-11, 190 pounds, he is a bit smaller than teams prefer lately, but he should be drafted some time on the second day, and is probably in the top-5 of his position in a weak cornerback class.
Wide receiver Devin Smith is gaining momentum as the draft process gets into swing. He doesn't have outstanding size at 6-1, 200 pounds, but he has great speed. And combined with that artillery piece Cardale Jones calls his right arm, Smith is becoming a tremendous deep threat. Smith will need to improve his route running and adjusting to the ball at the next level, but he has the ability to take the top off of a defense.
Finally, Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman bears watching. He isn't involved much in their passing game, but he is a tremendous blocker. Heuerman has a prototypical frame for an NFL tight end, and the athletic makeup to be a well-rounded NFL tight end. Though he primarily blocks, Urban Meyer uses lines him up all over the formation, much like the way Ben McAdoo moves the Giants' tight ends round.
TV - Jan. 12th, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Odds - Oregon -6.5
Here is a little bonus preview from Giants' offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who played for Oregon.