Tonight's "Monday Night Football" matchup between Boise State and Virginia Tech is a fascinating one for many reasons.
The most obvious is the national title implications. If the perenial BCS busting Broncos beat the Hokies on the east coast (game is playing played at Fed Ex in Landover, Md) they'll be in position to not only return to a BCS game (would be the third in five years under HC Chris Peterson), they would rank as one of the favorites in the race to the national title game. The stakes are just as high, of course, for the Hokies (No. 10) would leap up the polls with a win over Boise -- rated No. 3 in the country.
Secondary is the Heisman race in which the Hokies' sophomore running back Ryan Williams and Broncos' junior quarterback Kellen Moore are legitimate players. Williams ran for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, breaking the ACC freshman records. Moore, 26-1 as a starter, threw for a video game-like 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions last year.
And of course, for scouting, the big game atmosphere only makes the game that much better of an opportunity to see how these young players will react to the pressure.
NFLDraftScout.com has a long-standing policy of not grading underclassmen, but obviously I'll be keeping an eye on Williams, Moore and the rest of the talented young players in this game. For now, however, I'm focused on the seniors.
For tonight's game, the senior prospects I'll be scouting are:
QB Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, 6-1/216/4.55 : Taylor's mobility and strong arm certainly make him an intriguing Wildcat option. If he is to improve his grade as a regular dropback passer, he'll need to show improved accuracy and recognition of the defense.
CB Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech, 5-10/182/4.38 : Seemingly every year the Hokies have a top-rated defensive back. Carmichael just missed the cut of my Top 10 ACC Seniors article. He certainly deserved the consideration. Blessed with great speed and agility, he led the Hokies with six interceptions last year.
DT John Graves, Virginia Tech, 6-3/285/4.90: Graves flashed last year despite battling through a nagging ankle injury. Healthy for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Tennessee, Graves beat up a talented Vol offensive line for three tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. He also forced and recovered a fumble. One of the ways of disrupting Boise QB Kellen Moore's timing is to attack the middle. Graves' ability to push the pocket could have a big impact on which team wins tonight.
WR Austin Pettis, Boise State, 6-3/201/4.61: Pettis lacks elite speed, but he is a consistent route-runner and further, is able to use his size to generate separation. Most importantly to this offense, he has reliable of hands as any receiver I've scouted this summer. He caught 63 passes for 816 yards and 14 TDs in only 12 games last year.
WR Titus Young, Boise State, 6-0/170/4.48: The more dynamic athlete of Boise's senior receivers. Young earned First-Team All-WAC honors last year at wide receiver and kick returner. Scouts would like to see more route-running and hands-catching consistency out of Young.
DE Ryan Winterswyk, Boise State, 6-4/298/4.76: The Broncos have featured legitimate NFL talent at nearly every position at one time or another during Boise State's rise to national prominence. Rarely, however, have they boasted a defensive lineman worthy of sincere NFL scouting. (In fact, the last Bronco DL drafted was Kimo von Oelhoffen in 1994 .) They appear to have one in Winterswyk (pronounced winter-Swike). Winterswyk has earned First Team All-WAC honors after each of the past two years. Last year he posted 41 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks. The Hokies are blessed to have QB Taylor's mobility, as they lost standout left tackle Ed Wang to the NFL and have been hit with injuries at the position this summer. Like Graves, for all of the pregrame the skill position talent will earn for this game, Winterswyk could play a significant role tonight.
SS Jeron Johnson, Boise State, 5-10/195/4.53: Johnson has led the Broncos in tackles each of the past two seasons. If he's going to convince NFL scouts that he can hold up inside at that size, he'll likely have to do it again.