There are certain games that find themselves circled on scouts' calendars every year: Alabama-LSU, USC-UCLA, Notre Dame-Stanford, Clemson-Florida State, and "The Game" -- Ohio State-Michigan. Evaluators know these games are going to be loaded with NFL-caliber talent each season.
One of the benefits of these games for scouts is that many of the prospects will face one-on-one matchups that will be as tough as any they've faced all season. Here are five such matchups that scouts will be watching on Saturday when the Wolverines visit the Buckeyes (12 p.m. ET, ABC).
1. Michigan LB/S Jabrill Peppers vs. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett and RB/WR Curtis Samuel
It will be interesting to see how Michigan's defensive coaches use Peppers in this game. He could be assigned as a spy on Barrett, who will try to make tough runs to move the chains if the Wolverines' talented secondary (CBs Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis and safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are all potential draft picks) takes away his downfield options. Peppers is one of the few defenders in the country who matches up well with Samuel, an all-around offensive threat who lines up in the backfield, slot and outside. It won't be a surprise if Peppers is shadowing Samuel wherever he goes.
2. Michigan RB De'Veon Smith vs. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan
Smith exploded last weekend against Indiana in the wind and snow for two long scores to salt the game away in the second half. But in that game he didn't have to line up across from an instinctive, hard-hitting Mike linebacker like McMillan. The pad-popping in the hole by these two will be worth the price of admission. If Smith has no room inside and bounces out, will he have enough speed to get past McMillan? Will McMillan be able to get off the blocks of Wolverines right guard Kyle Kalis and center Mason Cole? Scouts will be interested to see how these questions are answered on Saturday afternoon.
3. Michigan WRs Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson vs. Ohio State CBs Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore
Now that Michigan QB John O'Korn has a start under his belt, maybe he'll find a rhythm with his senior receivers. Last weekend's weather was problematic for O'Korn, but he'll take on an even bigger obstacle in Ohio State's excellent group of cornerbacks. Even if UM starter Wilton Speight is able to return from injury, he'll find it difficult to make plays against the Buckeyes' formidable duo. Darboh (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and Chesson (6-3, 203) have a size advantage against their defenders, but Conley (6-0, 195) and Lattimore (6-0, 192) are taller and more physical than the typical college cornerback. If either of the senior receivers can make hay against Urban Meyer's star outside defenders with their own strength and foot quickness, their draft stock will be on the rise.
4. Michigan RT Erik Magnuson vs. Ohio State DEs Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard
Before the season, I projected Magnuson as a potential mid-second-round pick, as I believe he's the top senior right tackle prospect in the country. But on Saturday, he'll be facing off against talented Buckeye defensive ends Lewis and Hubbard. That's a tough ask of anyone, as both are athletic, relentless and possess the ability to get under the pads of taller tackles like Magnuson (6-6). He did manage to anchor against bull rushes of Illinois end Dawuane Smoot earlier this season, which makes me think he'll be up for the task. If he is, scouts might consider him a top-50 value.
5. Michigan DTs Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst vs. Ohio State C Pat Elflein and G Billy Price
The Buckeyes will want to run the ball behind their stud linemen inside, and they'll face an NFL-caliber duo in Glasgow and Hurst. Hurst's quickness is reminiscent of former Iowa Hawkeye Mike Daniels', so Elflein will have to move his feet to win on third down. Price might be the best guard in college football because he's able to not only anchor against strong tackles like Glasgow but show off his mobility, as well, to make second-level blocks against linebackers (you better believe he'll be searching out Jabrill Peppers on the edge.) This game is pure gold for anyone who loves watching the work in the trenches.