Besides the fact that tonight's game between USC and California is an intriguing Pac-12 showdown, there are also plenty of NFL prospects to keep an eye on.
I expect the hype to center around USC quarterback Matt Barkley and it probably should. He's my No. 3 overall rated prospect potentially available for the 2012 draft, having shown improvement in his junior season in his decision-making and accuracy on the deep ball -- two areas I previously was concerned about.
The showdown I'll be focusing a great deal of attention on, however, lies up front in the trenches with USC left tackle Matt Kalil, also a junior, lining up against Cal's talented duo of defensive ends, Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu.
Guyton played second fiddle to New Orleans' first round pick Cameron Jordan last season, only starting four of the 11 games in which he played. Despite this fact, he finished third on the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (4.5). He did this despite playing defensive end in the 3-4, which typically places its outside linebackers in position to make plays behind the line of scrimmage but not the defensive linemen.
At 6-3, 280 pounds Guyton lacks the classic size and arm length most NFL teams prefer for 3-4 defensive ends, though scouts for some teams running odd man fronts still like him. His burst and strength, however, could make him a nice middle round option for 4-3 clubs looking for a three-technique defensive tackle or for a strongside defensive end. As such, the versatile defender currently ranks 10th on NFLDraftScout.com's list of 2012 defensive ends.
Owusu started nine games last season (playing in all 12 contests) but wasn't very impressive statistically-speaking. However, a strong performance thus far this season has him moving up draft boards. The 6-5, 270 pound Owusu currently leads Cal in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (2.5) and has a forced fumble to his credit, as well. Considering his size potential and "breakout" season thus far, he could surprise as the higher of the two Cal defenders selected if he can continue his early success.
The Cal defenders will, of course, have a tough task playing against Kalil. The younger brother of former USC standout and current Carolina Panthers' center Ryan Kalil, Matt was the reason why USC elected to keep Tyron Smith playing at right tackle over his career. At 6-7, 295 pounds Matt has prototypical size and eases off the snap quickly. I've been impressed with his athleticism and physicality before, but both elements of his game will be tested tonight against Cal's unique pair of defensive ends. Perhaps even more intriguing will be how Kalil handles the blitzes Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (formerly the defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals) throws at him.
Tonight's game will begin at 9:00 pm Eastern and will be televised by ESPN.