Monday, May 19, 2008

Buckeyes and Trojans on a scouting field of dreams

On September 13, with the 2008 college football season still fresh, Ohio State and USC will meet on a football field for the first time in 18 years. And regardless of personal love or hate for either program, the television ratings are certain to explode. It marks the first big game of the new season, with each certain to be listed in the nation’s top 5. It has potential to be the biggest college football event outside of the BCS championship game, with title implications possibly resting on the results. And with its star-studded cast, and if the game lives up to the hype, it could rank among the historical best ever played.

Somewhere beneath that Fall sky, and lurking the Los Angeles Coliseum floor, representatives of the 32 NFL franchises will be in attendance. They will travel to a city that doesn’t host an NFL team, but to a stadium that is hosting future NFL players. With schedules created far in advance, and rosters changing each year, no one could have predicted that a game penciled on a schedule years ago would essentially lead to one of the largest regular season gatherings of potential first day draft selections. It’s a scouting field of dreams, long before the Senior Bowl (which excludes underclassmen), and months ahead of the NFL combine (featuring players in drills, and not in football performance).

Three of the nation’s top linebackers will be featured in that September game. Southern Cal’s Rey Maualuga and Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis (good luck trying to spell either last name on first attempt) were projected on many boards to go in the first round of 2008, but each chose to remain with their programs for their senior year. USC’s Brian Cushing, who struggled with injury in 2007, now joins Maualuga and Laurinaitis as a projected first round linebacker.

In the secondary, the Buckeyes bring the top rated cornerback, in Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins represents another that passed on the professional dollars to return to school. He maintains his first round projection, to begin 2008. In the Trojan secondary is an underclassman that may very well be the best safety in the country. Junior, Taylor Mays, has drawn comparisons to both Troy Polamalu and Ronnie Lott. Now draft eligible in 2009, if Mays chooses to forego his Senior year, he could be nabbed by the NFL in the middle of the first round.

With the 2009 running back class highlighted with the names, C.J. Spiller, Knowshon Moreno, and LeSean McCoy, Ohio State’s Chris “Beanie” Wells looks to be the top prospect at the position. Among his offensive lineman, Alex Boone looks to join his teammate in the first round. USC brings youth at running back and along the offensive line, but from the defensive trenches, Fili Moala is being rated anywhere between top 10 and top 5 of all NFL prospects.

The Trojan receiving corps is questionable, having failed to impress in the previous years. But Buckeyes wide out, Brian Robiskie, has the potential to be a first day selection, be it late first or somewhere in the second round.

Revisiting the Trojan secondary, other possible names that can be called in the second round include, S Kevin Ellison, CB Shareece Wright, and CB Cary Harris. Along with Taylor Mays, this group is arguably the best secondary in the country, and the best Pete Carroll has ever fielded.

To find a similar gathering of first day potential on one field, I think we would have to go back to 2006 Rose Bowl, when Vince Young, Limas Sweed, Frank Okam, Michael Huff, Aaron Ross, Jamaal Charles and the Horns squared off against Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, Winston Justice, Ryan Kalil, Keith Rivers, etc. in the BCS Championship game.

If the upcoming September game can rival that 2006 Rose Bowl, fans across America are in for a definite treat. And for the NFL executives in attendance, as well as NFL fans, it brings the first glimpse of the league's future.

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