While we've had a few thrilling Thursday night college football games so far this season, few can match the potential impact that Florida State's trip to Louisville will have on the national title race with both teams in the CFB Playoff selection committee's top 25.
The matchup is also of significant interest to NFL scouts, as it features a great deal of potential NFL draft prospects, perhaps the most in any one game this year. Scouts from 21 NFL teams will be at Papa John's Stadium, and the list of evaluators slated to be on hand includes nine general managers (Titans, Vikings, Lions, 49ers, Steelers, Browns, Chiefs, Rams and Buccaneers).
There's very likely never been more NFL talent on the field in Louisville, but is it the most in any one game this year or does another matchup from earlier in the season, say Alabama and Ole Miss in Oxford, take the cake?
Obviously, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will have scouts' attention Thursday night. Although his numerous off-the-field missteps have been well chronicled, the redshirt sophomore's talent is readily apparent. As a result of Jimbo Fisher's recruiting efforts, Winston isn't the only current Seminole who will eventually find himself in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, though.
Rashad Greene is Winston's go-to receiver and has already established himself as the school's all-time leader in receptions. Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson are also making plays on the outside. And don't forget about Nick O'Leary -- he could be one of the top tight ends in next year's draft class. The FSU offensive line hasn't played well this year but there's still a belief that Cam Erving, Tre' Jackson andJosue Matias will all be drafted.
Defensively, linemen like Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman each have first-round potential and will be counted on to have big games on the road. It probably speaks to the FSU depth chart that even young guys like freshman Lorenzo Featherston have been talked about inside the program as having similar potential despite just getting backup reps. Throw in defensive backs like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams and Jalen Ramsey and the Noles are stacked with guys that will play at the next level.
As for the Cardinals, most of the folks picking them to pull off the upset cite their very talented defense. Lorenzo Mauldin is a beast and has picked up where 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith left off last year with six sacks already. Throw in DE Sheldon Rankins, and Louisville sports a very talented front seven that could send three or four players to the NFL in the next two years. The talent doesn't end there, as safety Gerod Holliman is tied for the FBS lead in interceptions (eight) and has been terrific in coverage.
Bobby Petrino is known as an offensive mastermind and there's plenty of talent on that side of the ball as well. Wide receiver DeVante Parker is back from injury and might be the best senior wideout prospect in the country thanks to his speed, size and ball-control ability. Don't forget running back Michael Dyer, who made his way to Louisville from Auburn and finally had a breakout game last week against N.C. State. Tight end Gerald Christian might find himself on an NFL roster down the road, too, and there's a similar outcome in store for center Jake Smith. Though he's young, the coaching staff raves about wide receiver James Quick and he could one day hear his name called by a team.
Is all that enough to edge a game like Ole Miss and Alabama or Oregon and Michigan State in terms of NFL-caliber talent, though? That probably depends on who you ask.
In his preseason rankings of the country's most talented college football teams, NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks ranked Alabama No. 1, Florida State No. 2 while Oregon and Michigan State finished in the next two spots. Ole Miss checked in at No. 13 and Louisville was unranked.
While it's true some Ole Miss talent might be outperforming its initial ranking with Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Cody Prewitt and Laremy Tunsil all looking like first (Round 1) or early second day (Rounds 2-3) players, no game might come close to matching the talent we saw in the second week of the season in Eugene when Oregon hosted Michigan State.
In that 46-27 Ducks win, we saw Marcus Mariota, considered the top QB prospect in college football, plus a potential first-rounder in his own right in Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. Throw in top center Hroniss Grasu, top senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Spartans receiver Tony Lippett and defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and that game might have had more intriguing talent than any other we will see this year. There's an argument to be for that game as well as the Bama-Ole Miss and FSU-Louisville game.
We won't know for sure the true winner of this debate until the 2018 NFL Draft rolls around, but it's pretty clear the FSU-Louisville game more than holds its own against a few other contenders this season.