The two best players at the position in college football are coming on strong, too.
Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins entered this season already holding school records for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end, but he was suspended for the first game of the season, and he was rusty when he returned vs. Illinois in his first game action since breaking his pinkie finger at practice in mid-August. He had as many penalties (three) as catches vs. the Illini.
Heading into the Huskies' game against Idaho State last week, head coach Steve Sarkisian challenged Seferian-Jenkins. The message was, "If you're going to be a superstar, you need to start playing like one. No one is going to sit around waiting for you."
It grabbed his attention, and he responded with five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown against Idaho State.
Washington has kick-started him. There is a reason he was a preseason All-American. Look at his size -- he's a big man (6-foot-6, 276 pounds) who can run. He can be split out wide and run the wide-receiver routes. He's improving as a blocker, too. Seferian-Jenkins is more than big enough to handle in-line blocking. Just like Tony Gonzalez, he is a former Pac-12 basketball player and we see that in his game when he runs routes and walls defenders off to makes catches just like he's boxing out for a rebound.
I think he's the top tight end in college football right now.
North Carolina's Eric Ebron is not too far behind him.
Ebron broke out as a sophomore last season and has picked up where he left off. He made an incredible grab vs. Georgia Tech last week, and we should get used to seeing sensational plays from him. The junior leads the Tar Heels with 13 catches for 200 yards.
At 6-4, 245, Ebron is a freak athletically. He gets into the seam and stretches the defense, but he's a willing blocker. He needs to work on becoming more consistent -- he'll have some lapses in concentration. If he improves in that area, look out.
Star linebackers to meet in Columbus
While much of the attention leading up to Saturday's Wisconsin-Ohio State game is on the Buckeyes' quarterback situation, two of the nation's top linebackers will be on display in that game -- Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier.
In some ways, Borland reminds me a little bit of a less athletic Sean Lee, which is not a knock on Borland -- Lee is a terrific athlete. Borland is instinctive and hard-hitting. He plays his heart out. I think Wisconsin players sometimes get unfairly labeled as big, heavy guys. Borland is a good athlete. He makes plays vs. the pass and run.
Wisconsin changed from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new coach Gary Andersen this season -- I don't care what the scheme is, Borland is going to be productive.
While Borland plays inside, Shazier is more of an outside guy. He can drop into coverage and rush the passer. He plays the run well, too. He's a very athletic, run-chase-hit guy.
He's also very tough. I was on the call for Ohio State's game against Cal a few weeks ago and watched Shazier hurt his shoulder and get taken to the locker room. The very first play back, he was in there tagging guys.
So I think he'll do just fine against Wisconsin's power-rushing attack. The Badgers will have to go find him. They have to get him and hit him. Sometimes you can't hit what you can't catch, and Shazier is not necessarily going to run around everything. He will pick his spots, and he will take on blockers.
UNC OT standing out
When we talk about the best left tackles in college football, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews are most frequently mentioned. But let's not disregard North Carolina's James Hurst, who has held up very well this season against two of the nation's top pass rushers in South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu.
Attaouchu had his best rushes when he was lined up away from Hurst in the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game last week.