It's not a surprise that a Boston College middle linebacker leads the nation in tackles. After all, Luke Kuechly pulled off that feat the past two seasons (after finishing second in 2009) on his way to becoming the ninth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
But scouts are taken aback by the play of Nick Clancy, a career reserve outside linebacker who is now sitting atop the national rankings. Racking up 24 stops (14 solo) in a 22-13 loss to Northwestern last week certainly helped his cause, and that wasn't a one-game fluke. In the season opener against Miami, Clancy played the run effectively between the tackles and hustled all over the field, making eight stops against an athletic Hurricanes offense.
Considering the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Illinois native might have chosen baseball over football after high school if not for an injury to his pitching arm, and that he wasn't even sure he would return for his fifth year of football with the Eagles after the 2011 season, this is quite a turn of events for Clancy and his future as a professional athlete.
Clancy's athleticism will be challenged this weekend, when Boston College plays host to a Clemson offense known for its speed. And this time, scouts will be expecting big things.
All games are scheduled for Saturday; all times listed are Eastern.
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Clemson at Boston College, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Clancy's primary duty will be to slow down Clemson running back Andre Ellington (5-10, 195), whose breakaway speed is dangerous -- but only if Tigers senior center Dalton Freeman (6-5, 285) and the rest of the offensive line can reach Clancy before he fills the hole. Ellington's averaged just 52 yards a game since his 228-yard effort against Auburn in the opener. Freeman must also protect junior quarterback Tajh Boyd (6-1,225), so he can distribute the ball to deep threat DeAndre Hopkins (6-2, 205) and Sammy Watkins (6-1, 205), who goes from 0 to 60 in a flash.
When the Boston College offense is on the field, scouts will turn their attention to tall tackles Emmett Cleary (6-7, 313) and John Wetzel (6-8, 302), as both try to prove they have the athleticism to become starters at the next level. On the strong side, Wetzel matches up against powerful Malliciah Goodman (6-4, 270), who despite inconsistent pass-rush production is likely to be the seventh Clemson defensive end drafted in the past eight years.
Ohio State at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Buckeyes are 4-0 and facing a Spartans club that might still be hung over from a disappointing home loss to Notre Dame two Saturdays ago. Junior running back Le'Veon Bell (6-2, 244) had a 200-yard effort against Eastern Michigan last week, but his linemen, led by yeoman right guard Chris McDonald (6-5, 298), must step up their game against Ohio State's experienced and talented defensive line if they want to avoid the struggles they had against the Irish. OSU junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 322) used his agility and strength to log 20 tackles over the last two weeks, senior tackle Garrett Goebel (6-4, 290) hustles all over the field, and high-motor, senior defensive end/linebacker prospects John Simon (6-2, 263) and Nathan Williams (6-3, 249) will challenge the MSU line on the edge.
Michigan State head coach Mark D'Antonio has his own playmakers on defense. Powerful, long junior pass rusher William Gholston (6-7, 278) flashes great talent, but scouts need to see him consistently beat the lineman in front of him. One guy he'll face: right tackle Reid Fragel (6-8, 310), a former tight end who's developed into a top-100 prospect as an O-lineman. Linebackers Max Bullough (6-3, 252) and Chris Norman (6-1, 233) will pound Ohio State fullback Zach Boren (6-1, 245) and H-back Jake Stoneburner (6-5, 245) when they lead block for Buckeyes running back Jordan Hall (5-9, 194) and quarterback Braxton Miller (6-2,220). Spartans cornerback Johnny Adams (5-11, 177) also has toughness belied by his slight build, but he will be challenged by playmaking sophomore receiver Devin Smith (6-1, 200) deep when Miller sets his feet to throw.
Tennessee at Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS
If Georgia wants to be a BCS title contender, its defense must disrupt the rhythm of strong-armed Tennessee junior Tyler Bray (6-6, 215), making him reset or throw on the move to his supreme vertical threats: juniors Justin Hunter (6-4, 200) and Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205). Junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (6-3, 241) should lead this charge for the Bulldogs -- given his 4 1/2 sacks this season and 13 1/2 in 2011 -- along with three possible draft picks in defensive ends Abry Jones (6-3, 309) and Cornelius Washington (6-4, 268), as well as wide-body nose tackle John Jenkins (6-3, 358). But even if left guard Dallas Thomas (6-5, 310) and his linemates protect Bray, Georgia has four seniors with NFL potential waiting for his throws in the secondary: cornerbacks Sanders Commings (6-2, 216) and Branden Smith (5-11, 182), safeties Shawn Williams (6-1, 217) and Bacarri Rambo (6-0, 210).
Mark Richt's junior quarterback, Aaron Murray (6-1, 210), doesn't have a cannon arm or a tall frame like Bray, but he gets a nice chance in this game to prove himself as an efficient passer. Look for him to hit breakout senior receiver Marlon Brown (6-5, 216) and fellow vertical threat Tavarres King (6-1, 200), along with reliable sophomore Michael Bennett (6-3, 204). Tennessee senior cornerbacks Marsalis Teague (5-11, 182) and Prentiss Waggner (6-2, 182) look to force Murray into the turnovers that have plagued him at times in the past.
WORTH A QUICK LOOK
Arkansas at Texas A&M, 12:00 p.m., SEC Network
This one-time Southwest Conference rivalry is now renewed in the SEC, and there's plenty of talent for scouts to watch, even if neither team is threatening for a league championship. One of the few highlights for Arkansas during their current three-game losing streak was seeing tough gunslinger quarterback Tyler Wilson (6-3, 220) combine with striding receiver Cobi Hamilton (6-3, 209) 10 times for 303 yards and three scores against Rutgers last week. Wilson might be running for his life, though, if A&M's senior linebacker Sean Porter (6-2, 230) and junior end/linebacker hybrid Damontre Moore (6-4, 250) have anything to say about it. Porter and Moore will also be active in their pursuit of Arkansas running backs Knile Davis (6-0, 226) and Dennis Johnson (5-9, 213).
Marshall at Purdue, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
Most college football fans would not guess that Marshall currently sits atop the nation in passing offense. Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato (6-0, 182) isn't physically imposing, but he slings the ball all over the field to potential top-50 pick Aaron Dobson (6-3, 200), Antavious Wilson (6-1, 196) and fellow Miami native and sophomore Tommy Shuler (5-8, 187). They'll all face a tough test, though, with Purdue's tenacious cornerbacks; Josh Johnson (5-11, 195) acquitted himself well against Notre Dame two weeks ago, while junior Ricardo Allen (5-9, 186) backs down from nobody. While this is not a marquee matchup for the college football championship picture, scouts will be watching intently.
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (at FedEx Field), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
Virginia Tech junior quarterback Logan Thomas (6-6, 260) hasn't had the season many expected, ranking 86th in the country in pass efficiency. Thomas won't have an easy time in the pocket this weekend, either, as strong-side end/linebacker Walter Stewart (6-5, 249) and fellow senior end Dan Giordano (6-4, 260) work hard to reach the passer on every play. These two will test the Hokies' two first-year starters in senior tackles Nick Becton (6-6, 317) and Vinston Painter (6-6, 309). Bearcats safety Drew Frey (6-3, 212) will try to limit Thomas' big plays downfield to a trio of senior receivers: Marcus Davis (6-4, 232), Dyrell Roberts (6-2, 195) and Corey Fuller (6-2, 196). If you switch over to this game while Cincinnati has the ball, look for Bearcats tailback George Winn (5-11, 202) and junior quarterback Munchie Legaux (6-5, 199) to vex Tech's stud junior defensive end James Gayle (6-4, 269) and senior middle linebacker Bruce Taylor (6-2, 244) with their quickness in the run game.
Texas at Oklahoma State, 7:50 p.m., FOX
This meeting between 3-0 Texas and Oklahoma State's prolific offense (rated first in the FBS) is an important game in the Big 12 race, though a lot of the top players on both sides are underclassmen. The Cowboys' senior guards, Jonathan Rush (6-4, 305) and Lane Taylor (6-3, 328), could help their draft stock by fighting off a strong Longhorns front that includes long and athletic defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat (6-5, 245) -- son of former NFL star Jim Jeffcoat -- and Alex Okafor (6-5, 265). If Oklahoma State handles Texas' pass rush, Longhorns junior cornerback Carrington Byndom (6-0, 180) will get plenty of chances to make plays against strong senior inside receiver Tracy Moore (6-2, 215) and others. When Texas has the ball, scouts focusing on seniors will watch three-time NCAA long jump champion and Texas slot receiver Marquise Goodwin (5-9, 180), as well as small but physical Oklahoma State cornerback Brodrick Brown (5-8, 185) -- even if they're not matched up against each other very often.
Wisconsin at Nebraska, 8:00 p.m., ABC
Last season, the Huskers took it on the chin, 48-17, in Camp Randall -- and don't think they've forgotten. Badgers running back Montee Ball (5-11, 215) took his own shot to the head from UTEP last week, but doesn't plan on missing this one. He'd better run decisively behind stout left tackle Ricky Wagner (6-6, 317) or he could be knocked out again by the Huskers' sturdy defensive end Cameron Meredith (6-4, 260), tough middle linebacker Will Compton (6-2, 230) and hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford (6-1, 205). Nebraska junior quarterback Taylor Martinez (6-1, 200) has been throwing the ball better in 2012, but the team would like to see senior back Rex Burkhead (5-11, 210) prove his knee is healthy by running through Wisconsin linebackers Mike Taylor (6-2, 224) and Chris Borland (5-11, 242).