Another one bites the dust … Prior to the start of the season, the consensus around college football was that the SEC, and particularly the SEC West - read Alabama or LSU - was almost guaranteed at least one of the spots in this year’s BCS national championship game. Meanwhile, the best bets for the other spot were traditional powers Southern California, which was finally off probation, and Oklahoma, both of which had talented rosters headlined by star senior QBs. However, USC became a cropper two weeks ago when the Trojans were upset by a rebuilding Stanford squad. Then this past weekend, Oklahoma flamed out losing its conference opener at home to Kansas State.
Along with the Sooners’ national championship aspirations, the biggest casualty in the loss to Kansas State may have been QB Landry Jones’ hopes of re-establishing himself as a potential elite prospect at the position for the 2013 draft. Jones actually had decent numbers against K-State as he completed 28 of 43 passes for just over 300 yards, but had two costly turnovers that the Wildcats turned into points. And that’s kind of been the story for Jones, who was considered to be a top 5 prospect at this time last year, but has seen his draft status slide south pretty much since.
No question that Jones has the physical skills of an elite prospect; in particular, he has prototype size and arm strength, along with decent mobility. However, Jones’ mechanics and decision making in the pocket leave a lot to be desired. He throws off his back foot too often, in the process losing much of his velocity and accuracy, while he also has a tendency to abandon the pocket at the first hint of pressure and really doesn‘t throw all that well on the move. What bothers scouts the most is that these are the same kind of issues that have hurt Jones throughout his career, there just hasn‘t been much growth or maturing as a player. It is still hard to believe that some NFL team won’t fall in love with Jones’ physical skills prior to the draft, however, its highly unlikely that he is taken in this coming April’s opening round; heck, right now he may not even be lock to be a top 100 pick
However, Jones isn’t the only highly-rated senior QB who has struggled so far this year. Tyler Wilson of Arkansas at least got back on the field this past week after missing a game and a half with a concussion, but might just as well have stood in bed as the Razorbacks lost for the third straight week, this time falling to Rutgers. That would be Rutgers of the Big East, a conference which hasn’t scared anybody on the football field in years. Wilson did throw for over 400 yards and 3 scores, but barely completed 50% of his pass attempts (20 of 39), while having two picked off. If there was a positive for Arkansas, though, it was the play of WR Cobi Hamilton who had over 300 receiving yards and all three of Wilson’s TD passes covering 10, 57 and 80 yards.
Meanwhile, Southern California was able to bounce back from that upset loss at Stanford, knocking off California 27-9. However, Trojans’ QB Matt Barkley still didn’t look much like the presumptive favorite to be the #1 pick at this year’s draft. Barkley was accurate enough completing 22 of 34 passes, but again seldom got the ball downfield as he averaged barely 6 yards per attempt. Barkley also had a couple of more picks giving him 5 in the past two weeks.
While the likes of Barkley, Wilson and Jones have engendered as many questions as answers in the early going this fall, Geno Smith of West Virginia and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel appear to be trending upward. Smith, for example, is starting to generate some quiet Heisman buzz, not to mention some legitimate first-round interest as he has completed over 80% of his passes and has thrown 12 TD passes through 3 games, while he has yet to be picked off. There is a similar story for Manuel who rallied the Seminoles to a come-from-behind 49-37 win over ACC rival Clemson.
The Seminole that has pro scouts really intrigued though is junior DE Bjoern Werner. Werner was actually held sackless for the first time this year by Clemson, but was still very disruptive. As has been noted, whatever his final grade, Werner who only took up football as an exchange student from Germany, will be one of the better stories in the week’s leading up to the draft. However, Werner is also the real deal on the field and has reportedly moved into the mid-first round area on a lot of boards around the league. Werner is a freakish athlete with tremendous strength along with outstanding explosion and range as well as a great motor.
Keeping it vanilla for the second half of the season.