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College Football championship weekend: Games, players to watch

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All about college football’s conference championships

NCAA Football: Arizona at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We finally find ourselves at the end of the college football regular season.

It has been a long and interesting ride, with some weekends throwing the playoff picture into chaos.

But here we are, with a full weekend of great games and some of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL draft on display, many of whom should interest the New York Giants.

It all gets started Friday night with the PAC 12 championship, so let's jump right in.

PAC 12 Championship: USC (11) vs. Stanford (14)

Friday (12/1) 8 p.m. - ESPN

This game is the reason why you are seeing our weekly look-in at college football a day early.

The Stanford Cardinal travels down to southern California to take on the USC Trojans in what should be an entertaining game. Neither team is likely to be selected for the College Football Playoffs, but their conference championship is certainly high stakes.

This game should feature a bunch of talented prospects.

Stanford

Running back Bryce Love has had a ridiculously productive junior season, and that consistent production has landed him as a consistent member of my Top - 10. He is solely a running back for Stanford, rarely catching the ball, but he is a silky-smooth runner with terrific vision.

On the defensive side of the ball, CB Quenten Meeks has great size (generally listed at 6’1,” or 6’2”) with long arms. He is also technically sound and has strong ball skills.

Linebacker Joey Alfieri has the size the Giants have traditionally loved in their linebackers at 6’3,” 240, as well as a good feel for the game and an aggressive mind-set. How he tests (if he declares for the draft), will determine where he goes, but he could be mid-round pick to keep an eye on.

USC

Obviously the player everyone is going to be watching is quarterback Sam Darnold. Should he declare for the draft, Darnold has all the tools to be the first pick off the board in April. Whether or not he declares for the draft is still up in the air, and there are those (myself included) who believe he would be better served in the long run by staying in college. It can’t be disputed that Darnold does have the tools to (potentially) be a franchise quarterback.

But for all the attention on Darnold, running back Ronald Jones ii might be more important to USC’s chances of victory. Like Love, Jones isn’t a big athletic freak of a running back, but instead a smaller back who can make defenders miss and gain huge chunks of yardage — but unlike Love, he is a factor in the passing game. Against UCLA, Jones had 122 yards on 28 carries (with 2 touchdowns). Jones has only failed to break 100 yards on the ground this season, and that 122 was almost exactly his average per game this year.

Trojans’ outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu should also be on your radar. He has dealt with dings all season long — most recently a grade 1 MCL sprain — however he is a pass rusher worth watching. He has plenty of burst and bend to rush the edge, as well as a fantastic sense for batting down passes. He has knocked down 13 on the year to go with 8.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

AAC Championship - UCF (12) vs Memphis (16)

Saturday, Noon - ABC

I’ll admit it now: Shame on me for not talking about UCF this season. UCF has put some good players in the NFL, such as Daunte Culpepper, Asante Samuel, Brandon Marshall (WR), Latavius Murray, Josh Sitton, and Matt Praeter.

Most recently they were known as the school that produced Blake Bortles and Breshad Perriman.

But this year UCF is downright fun and difficult to root against. Most notably because of S/LB Shaquem Griffin. Griffin is terrific in coverage, with plenty of range and instincts, but that isn’t why people will be talking about him. He is going to be one of the inspirational stories of the draft because he plays as well as he does with only one hand. Griffin, twin brother to Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks, had his left hand amputated at the age of four, but hasn’t let that deter him from being an impact player on the football field.

Memphis QB Riley Ferguson has been generating something of an under-the-radar buzz this season. He has the typical height and arm talent that NFL evaluators like to see, and has been productive this year, with 32 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. He could stand to add some mass at the next level, but he has done enough to excite scouts — including out-dueling Josh Rosen to start the season.

Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma (2) vs. TCU (10)

Saturday, 12:30 p.m. - Fox

The Big 12 championship is a rematch from just three weeks ago, when TCU faced Oklahoma after the Bedlam game. At the time, the stout TCU defense was expected to be a stiff test for quarterback Baker Mayfield. It was a test that Mayfield passed with flying colors as he completed 18-of-27 passes for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed 11 times for 50 yards. Mayfield is my current top quarterback, in part because of how he performed against TCU the first time around.

It will also be worth watching Oklahoma’s left tackle, the massive Orlando Brown Jr. Brown Jr. is the son of former NFL player Orlando Brown and is an interesting study at left tackle. He is obviously massive and powerful, but also unusually graceful in his movements. However, he is also about as slow-footed as you would expect from someone 6’8”, 350 pounds. He is capable in a short area, but asking him to pull or get out in space can be frustrating.

Oklahoma linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is definitely worth watching and made my list of Top 5 Edge Rushers (he is number four). Likely strictly a linebacker at the next level, Okoronkwo is disruptive and productive — and certainly the best player on Oklahoma’s defense.

The last time these two faced off, the Giants were one of four teams with a scout credentialed for the game.

SEC Championship - Auburn (4) vs. Georgia (6)

Saturday, 4 p.m. - CBS

The battle for the SEC Championship is also (likely) a battle for a berth in the College Football Playoffs.

And, as with the Big 12 championship, it is a rematch from Week 11 of the regular season. This game will feature two complete and talented rosters. Auburn might be the most complete team in college football, with a difficult to stop offense and a stout defense. The story of the game may be the health of running back Kerryon Johnson. Johnson is the SEC’s leading rusher, but he has done so at the cost of many, many carries in Auburn’s run-heavy offense. He is currently considered a game-time decision after a shoulder injury suffered against Alabama. If he can’t go, Auburn will have to lean on quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Stidham is a talented player with a strong arm to stretch the field while also having the athleticism to run the read-option. Gus Malzahn’s offense is always at its peak with those traits behind center.

In front of them is left tackle turned guard Braden Smith. Of the players on Auburn’s roster, Smith is the one that should interest Giants’ fans the most. While he isn’t quite athletic enough to play tackle at then NFL level, he has excellent feet for a guard. Combined with good technique, leverage, a strong upper body, and plenty of nasty, he should be (at least) a solid starter in the NFL.

The Georgia Bulldogs field a pair of running backs who will likely be starting on Sundays. Nick Chubb gets most of the attention with his return to health — and with it his rare blend of power and explosive athleticism. However, Sony Michel is a talented runner in his own right. He has exceptional quickness for a 220 pound running back, and the ability to be a contributor in the passing game. There are scouts who believe that of the two, Michel could be the superior player on Sunday.

Left tackle Isiah Wynn is another tackle-to-guard transition prospect. At 6’2,” 305 he is too small to play offensive tackle in the NFL, but could transition nicely inside. He is a powerful run blocker and would have very good feet for a guard.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebackers Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter should be of interest. Smith is a slightly undersized but highly athletic and instinctive linebacker who is generally considered the top off-ball linebacker in the draft. He has twice lead Georgia in tackles and is generally a factor all over the field, with 100 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, and a forced fumble.

Lorenzo Carter is a long, lanky pass rusher who should have a role rushing the passer in any “Under” system. At 6’5”, 240, he has great athleticism and movement skills. If the Giants need a SAM linebacker to replace free agent Devon Kennard, Carter might catch their eye.

Big 10 Championship - Wisconsin (4) vs. Ohio State (8)

Saturday, 8 p.m. - Fox

This should be an epic battle in the trenches.

Wisconsin’s offensive scheme is entirely predicated on their ability to run the football with a Pro-Style blocking scheme.

Ohio State has a ridiculously deep defensive front filled with players who will be playing, starting, on Sundays.

Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagagalli is the Badgers’ top prospect. A “classic” and well-rounded tight end at 6’5,” 250, he has good size, enough athleticism, reliable hands, and blocking ability.

The Badgers also have a trio of linebackers, Jack Cichy, Garret Dooley, and T.J. Edwards, worth keeping an eye on. If all three enter the draft, which one goes first in the draft might depend on the needs and scheme of the various teams — not to mention how they all perform at the Scouting Combine.

On the Ohio State side of things, we’ve already talked at length about their stacked front 7 — it’s likely that at least one player will leap off the screen for you from that unit. We’ve also talked about Billy Price, who could not only be the top center but a top-5 guard in the draft.

Running back Michael Weber gets lost in the shuffle of both Ohio State prospects as well running backs as a whole. As a red-shirt sophomore, he might not even declare for the draft. However, at 5’9”, 215 pounds, he combines a powerful style with good agility. He shows the ability to sink his hips and change his center of gravity to quickly change direction as well as run through arm tackles before accelerating through a hole. His production is streaky, but Weber can be a fun back to watch.

ACC Championship - Clemson (1) vs. Miami (7)

Despite two days of marquee games, this could be THE marquee game of the weekend.

The ACC championship features two teams that are incredibly fast and fun.

Miami has a very young and athletic team, and in fact isn’t (yet) of much interest draft-wise. It certainly isn’t for lack of talent, but rather that the Hurricanes’ best players are all too young to be draft eligible. That won’t last long and they should be a hotbed of draft prospects starting next season.

The Clemson Tigers, however, have several players who should interest Giants’ fans.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and DE Clelin Ferrell are the top two prospects on Clemson’s roster -- though which one is the top varies by who is looking at them. Both are big, long, athletic, and disruptive.

Behind them are linebackers Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel. Joseph likely fits best as an inside linebacker at the next level. He has solid size and athleticism, and is a quiet leader (but active defender) for Clemson’s defense. O’Daniel might fit best as an off-ball WILL linebacker, who has almost-DB athleticism

On the offensive side of the ball, left tackle Mitch Hyatt is probably the player most Giants fans will be watching. He has good length at 6’5”, but at 295 will really need to add mass to deal with NFL power. He has the requisite athleticism for the position as well as (generally) solid technique.

If you are looking for power, keep an eye on right guard Tyrone Crowder. If the Giants don’t retain D.J. Fluker, Crowder could catch their eye. At 6’2,” 340 pounds, he looks like a bowling ball with arms and legs, and he has approximately the same effect on defensive linemen. Crowder is mauling run blocker who uses his natural leverage well to get under defenders’ pads and simply move them. NFL teams will want to double check his pass protection, but when it comes to run blocking, he excels.

Finally we have wide receiver Deon Cain. He doesn’t see many touches in Clemson’s offense, but he has the potential to be an impactful pro. Listed at 6’1,” 190 pounds, he is thin, but shows a good catch radius while having plenty of speed to stretch a defense. In his two seasons with DeShaun Watson, he averaged just over 18 yards per catch and caught 14 touchdowns on just 74 receptions.

So, strap in, get your popcorn ready, and enjoy a Friday night and a full Saturday of what promises to be great college football!