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Scout's Notebook: NFL prospects show well in marquee games

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Ryan Kang/Associated Press
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota put on an impressive performance in leading the Ducks over Michigan State on Saturday.

When I started my career as a scout in 2000 with the Seattle Seahawks, I was advised by my college scouting director (Scot McCloughan, former San Francisco 49ers' general manager) to always watch blue-chip prospects play against elite competition.

He told me that the true measure of a player's pro potential is revealed in those games because the intensity and talent resembles the competition that a player will face in the NFL.

Given that premise, I was intrigued to see how several 2015 prospects would perform in marquee games that dotted the schedule on Week 2. From the Michigan State-Oregon matchup to the Michigan-Notre Dame contest, I couldn't wait to see how the "blue" players performed on the biggest and brightest stages. Not to mention the Virginia Tech-Ohio State battle, which featured several young stars poised to make a big impact on the pro game down the road.

Overall, I walked away from Saturday's games feeling like the stars played like stars in primetime. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota looked like a franchise quarterback directing the Ducks' fast-paced offense. He teased and tormented Spartans defenders with his explosive run-pass skills, yet looked composed and poised within the pocket. This represents tremendous progress for a young quarterback who exhibited some jitters when confined to the pocket a season ago. Not to be outdone, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu lived up to his reputation as a premier cover corner by blanketing receivers on the edge and coming up with an acrobatic interception that showcased his remarkable instincts, awareness and ball skills.

For the Spartans, Shilique Calhoun flashed enough disruptive potential to whet the appetites of scouts looking for a dominant player on the edge. Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond gave up a few plays on the perimeter, but their abilities are ideally suited for the next level.

Looking at the Michigan-Notre Dame game, I believe Everett Golson is going to be an interesting prospect to monitor going forward. Although the Notre Dame star lacks prototypical dimensions (6-0, 200) for the pro game, he is a strong pocket passer with enough athleticism to make plays on the perimeter. With Russell Wilson emerging as a force in the NFL, evaluators could view Golson as an intriguing prospect due to his unique skill set.

The Wolverines have an interesting quarterback-receiver combination in Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess. Although the duo was unable to help the Wolverines get on the scoreboard, the explosive talent of Funchess will prompt scouts to take a closer look at the big-bodied pass catcher as a hybrid playmaker as a pro. Gardner certainly has the arm talent, athleticism and physique evaluators covet in a franchise quarterbacks, but he must deliver better production and performance in big games to merit serious consideration as a top quarterback prospect in the 2015 class.

Finally, the Virginia Tech-Ohio State game served as a showcase for the Hokies' young defensive backs. Kendall Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett, Donovan Riley and Brandon Facyson were superb in coverage on the perimeter, leading to J.T. Barrett's disappointing day. Although Michael Thomas, Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson broke loose for a few big plays in the passing game for the Buckeyes, the Hokies' secondary deserves props for its overall effectiveness in a man-heavy game plan.

Now, it is certainly too early to make strong assertions on a prospect's potential based on an early-season game, but the opportunity to watch so many blue-chippers perform in big games will give scouts a solid foundation to build their final evaluations.

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College Football Playoff final four

1. Georgia: The Bulldogs retain their lofty position atop the list after a Week 2 bye. A stern test against South Carolina is on the horizon, but the Bulldogs' depth and talent on both sides of the ball should make them one of the favorites to finish as one of the College Football Playoff participants.

2. Florida State: Jameis Winston and Co. got on track with a dominating 37-12 win over The Citadel. With a couple of weeks to prepare for big showdown with Clemson (Sept. 20), the Seminoles are beginning to look like the heavyweight contenders that everyone expected prior to the season.

3. Oregon: After dispatching Michigan State in impressive fashion, the Ducks look primed and ready for a run to the postseason behind Marcus Mariota. If the defense continues pummel opponents with its collective speed and athleticism, the Ducks will be hard to deal with in the Pac-12.

4. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has rebuilt the Sooners into a title contender behind a fast-paced offense complemented with an ultra-athletic defense. With a young quarterback (Trevor Knight) showing signs of handling the pressure of playing in primetime, the Sooners are looking like a budding powerhouse in the Big-12.

Heisman Watch

1. QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: "The Thrill" didn't play long, but he put up big numbers (17 of 26 for 283 yards with four touchdowns) in his limited action. Hill has seven passing touchdowns through two games without tossing a costly pick. With the Aggies' schedule lacking a heavyweight opponent over the next month or so, Hill should continue to ring up the kind of numbers that keeps him in the conversation for college football's top individual honor.

2. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: The Heisman hopeful made a strong impression on voters while dismantling Michigan State's defense with his dynamic skills as a dual-threat playmaker. Mariota passed for 318 yards and three scores, while adding 42 yards on the ground. The efficient performance showcased his impressive skills as an improvisational playmaker and silenced some of the critics questioning his effectiveness as a pocket passer.

3. RB James Conner, Pittsburgh: The Pitt standout put up 200 yards and scored in the Panthers' 30-20 win over Boston College on Friday night. The 6-2, 250-pound bruiser has topped the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games and made a positive impression on voters looking for a bell cow capable of ringing up big numbers in the running game.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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