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Bucky's Best: Top CFB matchups to watch in Week 8


In his weekly Bucky's Best series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks identifies the must-see matchups of the weekend in college football.

Most intriguing matchup

Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson

The swirl of negative attention surrounding Winston has overshadowed his impressive feats on the field, but NFL scouts will pay close attention to his performance against Notre Dame because it's a prime time game with national-title implications. Given how much stock evaluators place into performances in marquee matchups, Winston can put the focus back on his impressive arm talent, athleticism and big-game moxie.

» Herschel Walker: Winston didn't get my Heisman vote

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is coming off his best game of the year (completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse) and he could use a monster performance to springboard back into the discussion of the top quarterback prospect in college football. If Winston dazzles scouts with a sizzling performance that showcases his skills as an efficient pocket passer and charismatic leader, the arrow will point up on his potential at the next level.

» Scout's Take: Golson showing promise as prospect

For Golson, this is an opportunity to show scouts that he can be a big-time playmaker at the next level. He has shown tremendous growth as a pocket passer this season, but he needs to turn it up against an athletic defense that is loaded with NFL-caliber athletes. If Golson can fit the ball into tight windows against the Seminoles' defenders, scouts will feel better about his arm strength and passing skills at the next level. Throw in a few explosive scrambles or improvisational plays outside of the pocket, and the comparisons to Russell Wilson could enhance his value in draft rooms across the league.

Best under-the-radar matchup

Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici vs. Stanford CBs Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter

Bercovici, the unheralded gunslinger, has put up big numbers in back-to-back starts against Pac-12 competition, which has piqued the interest of scouts looking for a productive pocket passer with outstanding arm talent. He's expected to see playing time again this week even if Taylor Kelly returns from injury. Bercovici has already shown evaluators that he has the ability to make every throw in the book, but putting on an impressive showing against a stingy Cardinal defense will squash some of the conversation about him being a streaky passer who is simply in the midst of a hot streak. While some scouts will still consider the Arizona State standout a bit of a "system QB" due to the Sun Devils' fast-paced scheme, another eye-popping performance against one of the league's "elites" will thrust him into the spotlight in draft rooms across the league.

» Predictions for top games of Week 8

For the Cardinal, Lyons and Carter will have plenty of chances to showcase their cover skills against a hot quarterback and an ultra-talented receiver (Jaelen Strong). The duo has thrown a blanket over elite receivers in the past, but the pass-happy Sun Devils will isolate each corner on the perimeter, challenging them to make plays in space. How well Carter and Lyons perform on the island will not only determine whether the Cardinal get a big win, but it will play a huge role in their final evaluations on draft day.

Matchup creating biggest buzz in NFL circles

Indiana RB Tevin Coleman vs. Michigan State defense

Coleman, a big-bodied running back, is squarely on the radar of scouts after displaying the kind of versatility and explosiveness that could make him a dynamic three-down back at the next level. Coleman leads the nation in rushing yards (1,060), rushing yards per game (176.7) and all-purpose yards (1,194), and since the start of 2013, he leads the nation in touchdown runs of 70 yards (three), 60 (six), 50 (seven), 40 (11), 30 (13) and 20 (15) yards. Those numbers are telling for a 6-foot-1, 210-pound runner with a silky, smooth running style that reminds me of former New Orleans Saints RB Deuce McAllister. If Coleman can put up significant production against a loaded Spartan defense that snuffed out Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (24 rushes for 45 yards) earlier this season, scouts will stand up and take notice.

For the Spartans, it's a chance for Shilique Calhoun and Co. to showcase their talents as run stoppers. Although the Hoosiers will spread the field in three- and four-receiver sets, the game plan begins and ends with Coleman getting the ball early and often on an assortment of inside and outside zone plays. If the Spartans rally to the ball and contain one of the most explosive runners in football, NFL scouts will continue to hold the MSU defenders in high regard.

Best WR-DB matchup

Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett vs. Oklahoma CB Zack Sanchez

Lockett, the nation's most explosive punt returner, is also a polished receiver with a game ideally suited for the next level. Although Lockett's numbers are down from last season, he remains the Wildcats' most dynamic offensive weapon and he could be the focal point of the game plan against a Sooners defense that typically sells out to stop the run. With plenty of chances to win on the perimeter against one-on-one coverage, Lockett could enhance his value as a potential No.3 receiver/return specialist with a big game against Oklahoma.

Sanchez has already garnered significant attention in NFL circles after snagging five interceptions in the Sooners' first six games. He is an aggressive cover corner with a knack for getting his hands on the ball on the perimeter. While some evaluators are a little concerned about his gambling ways, Sanchez's ball production and active hands make him an intriguing prospect for teams willing to live with his penchant for freelancing. Against Lockett, however, Sanchez must play with better discipline and focus to handle the variety of stems and clever routes that the Wildcats' star receiver will throw at him on the perimeter. If he can maintain his leverage and close quickly on Lockett's breaks, he could add to his remarkable interception total in this matchup.

Best matchup between sleeper prospects

Tennessee MLB A.J. Johnson vs. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace

Scouts have been enamored with Johnson, the Vols' top defender, since he posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons in 2012-2013. The impressive production matched a savvy game built on instincts, awareness and toughness. Although his critics point to his inability to work free from blockers as a concern, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior has a knack for getting to the ball, and that will make him a favorite of NFL defensive coordinators searching for a hunter in the middle. Against Ole Miss, Johnson needs to show evaluators that he can be a factor as a defender in space, while chasing down Wallace on the perimeter on zone-read plays and designed quarterback runs.

For Wallace, the Tennessee game represents another chance to show evaluators that he's a capable passer worthy of consideration in the lower rounds. He has shown improved judgment over the past few weeks (Wallace posted a 4:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in wins over Alabama and Texas A&M after tossing six picks in the Rebels' first four games) and his efficient play from the pocket has helped Ole Miss emerge as a legitimate playoff contender. If he can avoid the big mistake against the Vols, Wallace will keep the Rebels in the title chase and enhance his draft chances as a developmental prospect.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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