Championship games will give scouts a different perspective

Phil Sandlin / Associated Press
Tim Tebow will be on the big stage again Saturday when No. 1 Florida takes on No. 2 Alabama in the SEC title game.

Big-time players play big in big games.

I've been hearing that since I started playing football when I was 7 years old. Though the phrase seems simplistic by nature, its meaning holds true in the minds of coaches and evaluators.

Astute football observers want to see how well players perform when the pressure rises, and this week’s round of conference championship games will provide an opportunity for many to see some of college’s biggest stars perform on a big stage.

With the SEC, Big 12 and ACC having their title games this weekend, the scouting community will flood the press boxes to witness a host of prospects playing in intense, pressurized situations. These games carry added significance in the minds of evaluators for several reasons.

Championship games give scouts the opportunity to see the best teams square off in a battle for conference supremacy, and the added intensity is comparable to the weekly display in the NFL. How well a player performs under these circumstances provides an indicator as to how he will handle the rigors of being a professional.

Additionally, these title games allow scouts to see the best players in matchups against other immensely talented players. These competitive battles rarely occur on a weekly basis, so evaluators pay close attention to how well a prospect plays against another highly touted player. While the results of the individual battles play a significant role in the evaluation process, scouts closely scrutinize the hidden intangibles displayed in these games.

Toughness, poise and resiliency are critical to achieving success as a pro, and scouts want to see that these potential pros have the requisite traits to make it on the next level. Moreover, scouts from elite teams want to see if a prospect has the moxie to contribute to a team with serious championship aspirations.

This weekend has long been circled on the calendar of players looking to secure a championship ring, but it should also have special meaning for prospects looking to cement their status among the ranks of the elite.

Must-see college games for NFL scouts this week

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, Saturday, Noon ET

Plenty of scouts will be on hand to see the battle for the Big East crown. The Bearcats’ Tony Pike was the darling of the scouting community until a midseason injury led to questions about his durability and toughness. However, he can erase those questions by standing tall and delivering accurate throws against the Panthers’ aggressive defense. Luckily for Pike, he has a top-rated pass catcher in Mardy Gilyard, who is enjoying a sensational senior season. The 2008 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year has developed into more than a return specialist and is pushing for top status among the senior class of receivers. For Pitt, scouts will pay close attention to a pair of tight ends -- Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson. Though Byham is tabbed as one of the top tight ends in the country, Dickerson has surpassed him as the top option in the Panthers’ passing game. The former positional vagabond (Dickerson has also played receiver and linebacker during his career) has steadily climbed up draft boards across the NFL.

Alabama vs. Florida, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

The SEC title tilt is brimming with a host of prospects that are poised to make a significant impacts in the NFL. Scouts will closely scrutinize Tim Tebow’s work against an Alabama defense led by DT Terence Cody and CB Javier Arenas. Cody, who is regarded as one of the top prospects at his position, has the ability to single-handedly dominate the middle of the line. Scouts are anxious to see how he performs against the Gators’ rugged offensive line. Arenas doubles as Alabama’s return specialist, and his ability to impact the game in multiple phases will be closely monitored. Arenas not only has the arduous task of matching up with WR Riley Cooper, but also squares off against the Gators’ Brandon James in a duel of top return men. On the other side of the ball, LB Brandon Spikes and LB Jermaine Cunningham headline a Gators defense that has routinely punished opponents. Given the absence of DE Carlos Dunlap (suspended this week after a DUI arrest), the Gators’ terrific tandem must raise their games against a physical Crimson Tide offense that features an outstanding young running back in Mark Ingram.

Nebraska vs. Texas, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Scouts will be out in full force to see several NFL hopefuls take the field in the Big 12 title game. Huskers DT Ndamukong Suh will be expected to dominate a Longhorns attack that has as much talent as any offense in college football. Colt McCoy, who sits atop most draft boards as the top-rated senior quarterback prospect, has started to find his rhythm in the passing game and scouts are intrigued by his dynamic play-making ability. Longhorns wideout and return man Jordan Shipley has skyrocketed up the charts based on his electrifying combination of speed and explosiveness, and a big performance against the Huskers could push him closer to first-round status. Defensively, the Longhorns have a pair of impact players (OLB Roddrick Muckelroy and OLB Sergio Kindle) on the edges capable of dominating the game. Scouts have rated both highly on their play throughout the season, but a stellar game on a big stage could cement their status among the ranks of the elite.

Georgia Tech vs. Clemson, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

This ACC tussle is loaded with explosive prospects. Clemson RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby Ford fit the bill, as they are two of the fastest players in college football. Although both were well known in the scouting community due to their track-and-field exploits, it has been their outstanding performances this season that have led to their emergence as top-rated prospects at their respective position. Spiller, in particular, has ascended into top 10 consideration on some draft boards due to his uncanny ability to generate big plays in the running game. While Ford lacks the polish of some of his counterparts, his blazing speed has enticed some scouts to push him up the charts due to his immense potential. Defensively, OLB Ricky Sapp will occupy the attention of scouts looking for a dynamic edge player. The senior standout has played at a high level this season, but scouts will closely assess how well he holds up against Georgia Tech’s imposing rush attack.

Prospect to watch

Selvish Capers, OT, West Virginia
The former tight end has opened eyes with his nimble feet and athleticism. Though Capers moved to left tackle after spending two years manning the right side, scouts view him as a potential long-time starter at right tackle in the NFL. While some evaluators would like to see Capers play with more aggression, his impressive combination of size and athleticism will make him an early round selection in the spring.
The Sweet 16
Bucky Brooks' list of the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:

1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma St.
Okung continues to impress scouts with his superior skills as a run or pass blocker, and is undoubtedly a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Husker standout is a dominant interior player with the skills to terrorize opponents as a run stuffer or pass rusher, and his unique skill set makes him the top defensive prospect in the draft.

C.J. Spiller 3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
The explosive speedster has lived up to his reputation by delivering a host of big plays this season. Spiller has emerged as one of the top multi-purpose threats in college football.

4. Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
While his struggles with speed and quickness off the edge lead some to question his ability to play left tackle in the NFL, Williams remains one of the top tackle prospects in the draft.

5. Taylor Mays, FS, USC
An exceptional athlete with outstanding instincts and awareness, Mays is the prototypical enforcer defensive coordinators covet in the middle of the field.

6. Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas
The ultra-athletic pass rusher has one of the quickest first steps in the game, and is an explosive player with immense potential. His stock has taken a bit of a tumble in the eyes of some scouts, however, due to his inconsistent motor and effort.
Complete list ...



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