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NFL scouts, like college fans, will be watching USC-Ohio State closely

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Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com
Personnel evaluators are curious to see how USC's Taylor Mays performs against a talented Ohio State team.


Blount's stock drops
LaGarrette Blount Punch will cost Oregon back:
As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to enact tougher personal conduct policies to uphold the integrity of the shield, the sight of Oregon's LeGarrette Blount taking a postgame swing at Boise State's Byron Hout undoubtedly cost the highly-rated prospect dearly in the minds of scouts.

Now, more than ever, scouts are placing a higher value on prospect's character during the evaluation process. Whereas in the past, scouts and front office executives would cast a blind eye toward those elite players with off-field transgressions, the league's increased emphasis on personal conduct has started to make those gambles a thing of the past.

Not only are teams unwilling to deal with the public relations nightmare that comes along with selecting a character risk, but the possibility of selecting a prospect with the potential to miss games due to bad behavior is enough to make some teams bypass troublemakers. Therefore, Blount's sucker punch could cause him to see his draft stock plummet down draft boards across the league.

The ugly incident comes on the heels of Blount receiving a team-imposed suspension in the spring for "failure to fulfill team obligations," which raised doubts about his maturity and professionalism. Though scouts would have been willing to overlook that transgression if Blount put up numbers comparable to his sensational junior season (137 carries for 1,002 yards with 17 touchdowns), the despicable act will make it tough for scouts to ignore his troubling pattern of behavior.

However, Blount can work within the terms of the suspension to repair some of the damage. The troubled runner is allowed to practice with the team, and scouts will carefully scrutinize his work habits while in town to evaluate the Ducks' other prospects. Additionally, Blount is likely to receive an invitation from one of the season-ending all-star games.

Perhaps the biggest thing that Blount can do to dispel the negativity surrounding him is to genuinely show remorse for his wrongdoing. Though he will not be able to sway all of the pessimistic opinions, Blount can make it easier for a scout to stand on the table for him in front of the top decision makers if his contrition is heartfelt and convincing. However, Blount's actions must support his words for him to have any chance at salvaging a once-promising NFL career.
Sleeper to watch
Naaman Roosevelt Naaman Roosevelt, WR, Buffalo: The savvy pass catcher has been the buzz in scouting circles since tallying seven 100-yard games last season. A terrific pass catcher with deceptive speed, Roosevelt excels at making plays downfield. While some scouts have dismissed his outstanding production due to the level of competition, Roosevelt has put together big games against BCS schools (four receptions for 154 yards with two scores against UTEP; eight catches for 132 yards and one touchdown against Temple in 2008) and is coming off a solid performance against UTEP last week (eight receptions for 91 yards). Going up against Pittsburgh, Roosevelt has another chance to show his skills against a team from a BCS conference and prove he's a legitimate prospect.

With the notion of finding the top matchups between highly-rated prospects as the premise, let's take a scout's look at the five "must-see" college games for this weekend:

USC at Ohio State

The weekend's marquee matchup will have a host of scouts in attendance to see these football factories duke it out in Columbus. The Trojans have talent on both sides of the ball, but the game's main attraction will be Taylor Mays. The hard-hitting safety may be the top defensive player in the entire draft, and scouts will hope that Mays validates his status with a game-changing performance.

Offensively, scouts will closely watch Charles Brown and Jeff Byers battle the Buckeyes' physical frontline led by Doug Worthington and Lawrence Wilson. Additionally, the Trojans RB Stafon Johnson and TE Anthony McCoy will garner looks as potential mid-round prospects.

Clemson at Georgia Tech

Scouts are flocking to Atlanta this weekend to check out a pair of speedsters playing against top competition. RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby Ford enjoyed spectacular debuts against Middle Tennessee State, but the Yellow Jackets pose a stiffer challenge this week. Spiller, who scored on a 96-yard kick return and added a 50-yard punt return, will get a chance to showcase his dynamic skills as a running back this week after leaving last week's game early with an injury. While scouts are excited about his speed and big-play ability, some question Spiller's toughness and durability as a full-time runner.

Ford continues to intrigue scouts with his speed and game-changing potential as a receiver/returner. The ACC 100-meter sprint champion posted a 61-yard punt return score last week, and tallied a 43-yard receiving touchdown on a spectacular catch-and-run. However, Ford's penchant for dropping passes continues to raise doubts about his hands.

Defensively, scouts want to see how well Ricky Sapp holds up against the Yellow Jackets' physical running game. He has been regarded as one of top pass rushers in the country, but he needs to show that he is more than a one-dimensional prospect.

Troy at Florida

Troy, the unheralded school in Alabama, has a burgeoning reputation for producing NFL talent, and the Trojans have three players (DE Brandon Lang, DE Cameron Sheffield and LB Boris Lee) that are regarded as solid prospects. Facing a star-studded Gators offense that loves to pass, the trio has a chance to boost their draft status. Lang, in particular, can rise up the charts by displaying the pass-rushing skills that have some pegging him as an early round selection.

For the Gators, scouts are closely monitoring Tim Tebow's development as a passer. While the former Heisman Trophy winner has been lauded for his intangibles, his pro potential will hinge on passing the ball. The game against Troy gives him another chance to showcase his ability to do just that.

Michigan at Notre Dame

This matchup in South Bend is sure to draw a large scouting contingent anxious to see the battle in the trenches between the Wolverines' Brandon Graham and the Fighting Irish's Sam Young. Graham is a hard-working edge player capable of disruption, but Young is a stout pass protector who flashes the ability to anchor against power. The winner of this duel could earn favor in the eyes of many. Additionally, scouts will cast an eye on the Wolverines WR Greg Matthews to see if the senior is poised to break out in 2009.

Vanderbilt at LSU

The Commodores' battle with the Tigers not only has SEC implications, but also features an intriguing matchup between a highly-regarded corner (Vanderbilt's Myron Lewis) and a top-ranked receiver (LSU's Brandon LaFell). The Tigers' playmaker was kept in check last week against Washington (four receptions for 34 yards), but remains the team's top target, and has the skills to explode when given opportunities.

However, Lewis has the size (6-foot-1, 204 pounds) to challenge LaFell at the line and down the field in jump ball situations. With "big" corners being hard to find, Lewis' could help himself this weekend.

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