The Cincinnati Bearcats host the North Carolina State Wolfpack tonight (8 pm ET) in an interesting Big East/ACC showdown.
There are a number of pro prospects worth watching in this game, but the two prospects scouts will be paying the most attention to will actually be squaring off one on one on many occasions, making the matchup all the more intriguing.
The hosting Bearcats boast one of the top -- if relatively anonymous -- running backs in the country in senior Isaiah Pead. Pead, a 5-10, 200 pound speedster led the Big East in rushing last season (1,029 yards) despite missing two games with a bruised knee. Don't think he's just a back capable of chewing up yards against "weak" competition. The Tennessee Volunteers found out just how explosive Pead is just a few weeks ago when he ran for 155 yards and a touchdown against them. Pead only rushed the ball 14 times, meaning he averaged 11.1 yards per attempt on the road against a quality SEC defense. Pead currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 senior running back prospect and our No. 9 running back potentially available for the 2012 draft.
Pead will be facing one of the active linebackers in the country in NC State's Audie Cole, however. The 6-4, 239 pound Cole played strongside linebacker throughout most of his career, but was moved inside this season to help make up for the loss of Nate Irving -- a third round pick by the Denver Broncos (No. 67 overall).
Cole is athletic and generally recognizes the action quickly. This can lead to a lot of splashy plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Last season, however, he was prone to over-running the play, leaving cutback angles to backs with good vision and burst. He also had a tendency to hit ball-carriers, rather than wrapping them up securely. This is precisely why Pead could spring a big play or two on the Wolfpack.
Not surprisingly, Cole leads NC State in tackles for loss (5.5 in only three games) and is a close second to safety Earl Wolfe in total tackles (Wolfe has 28, Cole has 22). Cole has also racked up 1.5 sacks and has already forced and recovered a fumble this season. The versatile Cole currently is graded as an inside linebacker by NFLDraftScout.com and rates as our No. 4 senior at the position.
Looking for others to watch in this game? NC State has an interesting senior tight end in George Bryan. The 6-5, 265 pounder earned First Team All-ACC honors after each of the past two seasons. Scouts question whether he has enough athleticism, however, to enjoy similar success in today's pass-heavy NFL.
This game will be televised by ESPN.