|Stepfan Taylor (left) had 118 rushing yards in a Stanford's 28-14 win over Manti Te'o and Notre Dame in 2011.|
Yes, it's true. The college football season is at the midseason point.
Seven weeks ago, we cheered the start of another impending fall. Seven weeks from now, we'll be wondering where it went.
The typical turn in the weather across the northern part of the country has also sprung a change in format in my college football preview. Rather than trying to eye up several prospects in every major game on the Saturday football television slate, I'll keep my focus on five matchups of talented players you'll be able to view at home as easily as NFL general managers will on the road or in their offices.
So enjoy these battles of bruisers and actions of athleticism on the gridiron Saturday -- you might see them again in a year or two on Sundays!
All games are scheduled for Saturday; all times listed are Eastern.
Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson vs. Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat
Oklahoma (3-1) vs. Texas (4-1) in Dallas, Noon, ABC
The Red River Rivalry is in full effect this weekend, but this edge matchup alone makes it worth the effort to get in front of a television early Saturday. Johnson (6-foot-7, 303 pounds) played quarterback in high school and junior college before moving to tight end and then defensive end in his first two years in Norman. After one season as the Sooners' starting right tackle in 2011, he's on the left side now, looking like a potential NFL starter with supreme athleticism and a frame that offers plenty of growth potential. The same can be said about the son of former Dallas Cowboys star defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, who is really starting to come into his own in his junior year as a somewhat slender (6-5, 245) but explosive hybrid pass rusher. Oh, and Johnson might also have the privilege of facing powerful end Alex Okafor (6-4, 265), who already has six sacks on the year, if Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz moves his star defender to the other side of the line. Johnson will be a highly coveted prospect if he manages to keep this dynamic duo away from quarterback Landry Jones (6-4, 218), who also needs a big performance here to show scouts he's got the pocket poise to be an NFL starter.
Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson vs. Alabama interior offensive line
Alabama (5-0) at Missouri (3-3), 3:30 p.m., CBS
Richardson's (6-4, 295) mouth got him in trouble earlier his year when he said he turned off Georgia's game against Buffalo because it was "old man football." The Bulldogs didn't look so old when they beat the Tigers 41-20 the following week. Now he'll have to pull up his pants for some "big boy football," facing a pair of top-notch senior offensive linemen on Alabama: 2011 Outland Trophy winner and current center Barrett Jones (6-5, 302) and tough-as-nails left guard Chance Warmack (6-3, 320). Richardson has played well this year, racking up 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in the last five games by using flashes of power and enough quickness to win gaps. But Warmack will come off the ball as hard as anyone in the country and Jones knows when to get his licks in on double-teams (if he's not taking on Richardson one-on-one).
Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor vs. Notre Dame ILB Manti Te'o
Stanford (4-1) at Notre Dame (5-0), 3:30 p.m., NBC
The 4-1 Cardinal travel to South Bend to take on the undefeated Irish Saturday afternoon, and you can bet there will be some collisions between the tackles. Sure, Stanford's junior tight ends Zach Ertz (6-6, 252) and Levine Toilolo (6-8, 265) will see their fair share of targets from fellow junior quarterback Josh Nunes (6-4, 225), but the offense's true engine is Taylor (5-11, 215), who has both the power and burst to challenge Notre Dame's stingy defense. However, Te'o (6-2, 255) will bring the hammer to Taylor after adeptly searching out his foe through traffic. If the All-American middle linebacker shows the athleticism to make plays against those tight ends in coverage as well as tag Taylor before he hits his stride, NFL teams will have even more interest in securing his services early in the first round.
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger vs. South Carolina defensive ends
South Carolina (6-0) at LSU (5-1), 8 p.m., ESPN
After losing to Florida in The Swamp last week, the Tigers return home to take on another top-10 foe in a night-time Bayou brawl. Even if LSU's stable of young running backs makes some hay against South Carolina's ninth-ranked rush defense (which allows just 83.8 yards a game), the team's 6-5, 230-pound junior pocket passer must step up to make the big plays the offense lacked against the Gators. Mettenberger will need to move within the pocket and throw more accurately downfield to improve on his 11-for-25, 158-yard effort against Florida. It won't be easy, though, especially with one of the top players in college football, sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (11.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) chasing him from the back side. If Mettenberger tries escaping Clowney to his right, though, another long and powerful defender awaits in strong-side end Devin Taylor (6-8, 267). LSU senior tackle Alex Hurst (6-6, 331) can only occupy one of them each play; the rest of the Tigers linemen must also do their job so Mettenberger can do his.
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray vs. Mississippi State secondary
|Tennessee QB Tyler Bray has an NFL arm, but he'll be tested by a talented Mississippi State secondary. (Dale Zanine/US Presswire)|
Tennessee (3-2) at Mississippi State (5-0), 9 p.m., ESPN2
Most would have expected Tennessee to be the 5-0 team in this midseason melee, but it's the Bulldogs with the unblemished record (albeit against a mediocre schedule). Meanwhile, the Volunteers are still looking for their first conference win after defeats to Florida and Georgia. The tall and lean Bray (6-6, 215) has phenomenal arm strength. Tennessee's quarterback can sling the ball to any part of the field, even when his footwork isn't ideal. And he has a couple of fantastic playmakers in junior receivers Justin Hunter (6-4, 200) and Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205), though Patterson's hands already have let him down a couple of times on potential touchdowns this season. The talent of MSU's secondary shouldn't be overlooked. Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185) is an All-SEC pick likely to project as an NFL starter with his toughness and ball skills, while fellow cornerback Darius Slay (6-1, 190) actually has more picks (four) than Banks (three) this year. And tenacious cornerback-turned-safety Corey Broomfield (5-10, 180) will lay the wood on any ball carrier. If Bray gets too loose with his downfield passes, this secondary will make him pay.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter.