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Five prospects to watch for Week 8

Five prospects to watch for Week 8

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

For the rest of the 2012 college football regular season, I will be listing "Five prospects" each Friday that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend.

Aaron Dobson

*Photo courtesy of Brett Davis, US Presswire.

In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, not just the five I've highlighted below. The players listed are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.

Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores as the season goes on. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.*

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*: Blessed with a similar combination of size and athleticism that helped former Southern Cal junior left tackle Matt Kalil rise to be the No. 4 overall pick last year (Minnesota Vikings), Joeckel has been my top-rated blindside pass blocker all season long. He'll get arguably his toughest test of the year in a showdown against LSU's supremely talented pass rush duo of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Breakout star quarterback Johnny Manziel leads an Aggie offense that ranks sixth in the entire country in total yard average per game (543.7) but the team will be hard pressed to post anything close to that total should Joeckel and the Aggies' similarly highly regarded right tackle, Jake Matthews, be unable to slow down the Tigers' vaunted pass rush. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by ESPN.

Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Despite few outside of the SEC knowing his name until halfway through the 2011-12 season, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox emerged as the country's top defensive tackle prospect largely due to his unique pass rush skills. Short has demonstrated similar agility and explosiveness throughout his career, enjoying a breakout campaign a year ago that saw him post 54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Short's production speaks for itself and he's been even more explosive this season, already blocking four kicks. Short and the Boilermakes were destroyed by a rejuvenated Wisconsin rushing attack last week and the competition gets even tougher Saturday against undefeated Ohio State. Short will have his hands full against a talented Buckeye offensive line and their Heisman candidate Braxton Miller. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by ABC/ESPN2.

Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida: Like the afore-mentioned Joeckel, Nixon and his Gator linemates have been overshadowed by the surprising play of their young star quarterback, but much of undefeated Florida's success thus far in 2012 can be directly attributed to their dominance at the line of scrimmage. Defensively, junior run-stuffer Shariff Floyd is moving up draft boards with his impressive play. Scouts, however, are still trying to get a handle on what they can expect out of Nixon. At 6-5, 314 pounds Nixon possesses not only the size but the athleticism to consider keeping him at left tackle at the next level. He has struggled -- at times mightily -- with consistency, however, and he'll be facing a huge test this week against South Carolina sophomore sensation Jadeveon Clowney, the top defensive end in the country. There may not be an offensive tackle in the country who can handle Clowney one on one all game long, especially not one coming off an upper body injury like Nixon. He'll need to at least slow down Clowney and the rest of a talented South Carolina defense for this battle of top 10 teams for Gators' quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Mike Gillislee to continue their breakout campaigns. This game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 pm eastern and will be televised by CBS.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: NFL scouts I spoke with prior to the start of the 2012 season were intrigued by Smith's size, mobility and accuracy. Many cited his dominating performance against Clemson in the Orange Bowl as a potential springboard into this year as reason to believe he could ascend into first round consideration. As such, when Smith and his Mountaineers exploded early this season, the WVU passer's stock skyrocketed. Last week against Texas Tech, however, Smith was befuddled by a Red Raider defense that, frankly, is lacking in top prospects. Therefore, scouts remain quite leery about Smith and his ability to transition into a more traditional pro-style attack against NFL competition, especially when he doesn't have two dynamic slot receivers in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to help rack up ridiculous yards after the catch. In the opinion of some veteran talent evaluators, Smith will not play a more important game during the regular reason (other than a potential Big 12 title game berth, bowl game and/or all-star game) than tomorrow's matchup against undefeated Kansas State. Not only do the Wildcats present a tougher matchup than the Red Raiders, scouts simply want to see how Smith responds to the humbling loss last weekend. Smith entered last week as NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated quarterback. He remains so. Should he fail to step up his level of play this week, however, his stock could slip significantly. This game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm eastern and will be televised by FOX.

Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall: Whereas most of the prospects on this list are currently earning top 50 grades from scouts, Dobson's stock fluctuates depending on the talent evaluator. Dobson (pictured above) entered the 2012 season being hailed as the second coming of Randy Moss by some but hasn't been nearly as statistically impressive this year as expected. While his catch totals are up, he has largely been shut out in the red zone where the 6-2, 204 pounder had previously dominated. A season ago Dobson ranked second in Conference USA play with 12 touchdown receptions (behind then Houston Cougars' star Patrick Edwards). This year he only has two despite catching 42 passes for 483 yards thus far. With eight more grabs Dobson will surpass his previous career high for receptions in a single season so this isn't a case of his not getting the ball. His opponent this week, Southern Miss, has struggled this year but nonetheless is physical and athletic in the secondary. This is precisely the type of game in which Dobson needs to dominate if he is to resurrect his stock and pique the interest of talent evaluators assigned with choosing rosters for the top senior all-star games. This game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm eastern and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

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