There are several noteworthy senior prospects who will be on the field tonight when Cincinnati travels to North Carolina State.
Senior Bearcats' pass catchers Armon Binns and Ben Guidugli will certainly get a great deal of the attention, but it will be a player on the other side of the line of scrimmage that I -- and many NFL scouts -- will be keying in on.
North Carolina State inside linebacker Nate Irving appeared to be on the fast track to stardom in 2008. Despite missing a handful of games due to a nagging leg injury, Irving earned Honorable Mention All-ACC honors with 84 tackles and a school-record (for linebackers) four interceptions.
A horrific car accident, however, robbed Irving of his 2009 season and he's struggled so far this year in his quest to regain his all-star status.
Through the first two games, in fact, Irving has only three tackles. Those stops came last week against Central Florida, as Irving was surprisingly held without a tackle in the season opener against Western Carolina.
When healthy, Irving, 6-1, 235 pounds, has demonstrated a legitimate NFL combination of speed, explosive hitting ability and range in coverage.
The defending Big East champion Bearcats are not the explosive offense this year they were last -- considering the loss of quarterback Tony Pike and wideout Mardy Gilyard -- but they still spread the field well, as evidenced by the 40 points they put up last week against Indiana State.
It will be interesting to see how Irving does in this contest. Scouts and those close to the NC State program are certainly pulling for him. The injuries he suffered in the accident (collapsed lung, compound fracture in his leg, broken rib, separated shoulder) were enough to end the career for most players. Irving not only has come back, he's doing it while explaining his progress in a weekly journal for NC State's Technician Online.
If he is to re-emerge as a legitimate pro prospect, however, Irving will need strong performances in high profile games just like the one tonight.
Count me among those rooting for him...
The game begins at 7:30 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN.