Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2012 draft rankings:
• Southern Cal faces sanctions from the NCAA that keep it from participating in a bowl game again this season. That made the biggest game of the year for junior quarterback Matt Barkley last week's showdown against Stanford.
Facing Andrew Luck and the No. 6 Cardinal, Barkley exhibited the rare ability to step up his play with the lights at their brightest, matching the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. In doing so he made believers out of skeptics and solidified his own grade as an elite NFL prospect.
The knock on Barkley heading into the game was that he was a game-manager whose average talent had been exaggerated by a talented supporting cast, not the least of which was sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and the coaching he'd received under Pete Carroll and current head coach Lane Kiffin.
While not possessing the type of bazooka for a throwing arm former No. 1 overall picks Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton have shown, Barkley proved to have more than adequate arm strength, firing the traditional deep-outs, square-ins and deep crossing routes through tight windows that should hush critics who questioned him in that area. More importantly, Barkley matched Luck in many of the traits that have rendered scouts (and draft analysts) speechless about the Stanford product's NFL potential -- anticipation, accuracy and poise in a muddied pocket.
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What's more, Barkley showed the command in the huddle and fiery leadership skills that pro teams are looking for at the quarterback position.
Barkley completed 28 of 45 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. He was significantly better than his statistics indicate, however, as there were at least five occasions when his talented receivers -- including Woods -- dropped catchable balls. If Barkley's fantastic performance had been a one-time thing it would be easily dismissed. While the Stanford defense entered the game rated highly, no one would confuse the Cardinal secondary with that of LSU. Considering that Barkley was just as good a week earlier in another nationally televised performance against Notre Dame (24-of-35 for 224 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions) and now has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,290 yards and 22 touchdowns against only five interceptions in 2011, it is undeniable that Barkley's efficiency rivals that of some of the nation's top spread offense quarterbacks. To the delight of NFL scouts, Barkley (like Luck) is achieving his production in a pro-style scheme that should make his transition to the NFL a smooth one.
• Overshadowed throughout much of his career by Jake Locker, Washington junior running back Chris Polk may finally get the national attention that his consistency and tough running deserves. The 5-11, 225-pounder shredded the University of Arizona for 145 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards and a career-high five touchdowns late Saturday night. The Huskies struggled to do much else offensively against Arizona and essentially rode Polk (34 carries) to victory. The strong effort put Polk at 1,016 yards for the season, making him the second running back in UW history to reach that plateau in three consecutive seasons (Napoleon Kaufman).
The win over Arizona put the Huskies at 6-2 and bowl-eligible. With five games (including a bowl) left to play this season, Polk is on pace to break Kaufman's career rushing record at Washington of 4,106. Polk, who has 3,577 yards for his career, thus far, would need 529 yards to reach Kaufman's record. While their numbers are comparable, Polk and Kaufman couldn't be more different as NFL prospects. Kaufman, at 5-9, 185 pounds, boasted breathtaking pure speed. His big-play potential was so obvious the Raiders made him the No. 18 pick of the 1995 draft, the last running back they've drafted in the opening frame. Polk, wearing the No. 1 on his jersey, looks slighter than he actually is -- and certainly plays with greater physicality than you might expect. Rarely was Polk taken down by a single defender against Arizona. While he lacks the breakaway speed of Kaufman, Polk has enough burst to gain yardage in chunks, making him a significantly better "bell-cow" candidate at the next level than the former Husky great.
Alabama junior Trent Richardson has a firm hold on the top spot among pro running back prospects. Polk, while not as chiseled or explosive as the Crimson Tide junior, has become a more consistent receiver and pass blocker in 2011 and, as such, has a proven track record of all the traits NFL teams are looking for.
Ironically enough, it is that track record that could ultimately keep Polk from joining Kaufman (and presumably Richardson) as a first-round pick. Considering Polk's trademark physicality, 755 career touches (rushing attempts and receptions to date) and two shoulder surgeries, teams may worry that some of the tread on his proverbial tires have already begun to wear.
• Last September, Mike Pouncey struggled mightily making shotgun snaps in the first start of his collegiate career at center for the Florida Gators. Pouncey improved as he gained experience at his new position and ultimately went on to be the Miami Dolphins' first-round pick in April. Playing against Pouncey's former team, Georgia left tackle Cordy Glenn may have proven that he's made the same rapid progress at his new position. Glenn played only at guard before this season. He struggled in the season opener against Boise State, surrendering numerous big pressures and a couple of sacks. Clearly much more comfortable protecting the blindside at midseason, Glenn and the rest of the Georgia offensive line controlled an athletic Gators' front seven, leading to a comeback victory that might just save coach Mark Richt's job.
Glenn, 6-5 and 348 pounds, is certainly much bigger than teams generally want at left tackle. He quickly gains depth in pass protection, however, and has long, strong arms which he was consistently able to latch on to pass rushers.
The power and nastiness Glenn had shown as an All-SEC guard was obvious when Georgia asked him to drive block from the left tackle position. Most impressively, Glenn was able to block on the move, adjusting to Florida's active linebackers and making blocks that helped spring the Bulldogs for 185 rushing yards. At this rate, Glenn is going to wind up mimicking his former opponent Pouncey in another way -- when he hears his name called in the first round of the NFL draft.
• Upon Further Review highlights a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment.
Some NFL scouts ranked Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard as the elite senior prospect in the preseason. A slight tear in his left quadriceps in August kept the 5-10, 205-pounder out of the Huskers' first three games and limited his effectiveness in the first few games he played. In four games, the preseason All-Big 12 cornerback had recorded just 10 tackles with no interceptions or even a pass defended.
With a host of junior cornerbacks emerging this fall, Dennard's stock was slipping.
Against Michigan State on Saturday, however, Dennard was clearly full strength, demonstrating the combination of physicality, fluid hips and short-area quickness that caused some scouts to grade him favorably to his former teammate Prince Amukamara, who the New York Giants selected with the 19th overall pick in April. Dennard has a uniquely stout build that would appear better suited to running back than cornerback. His bulk gives him a chance to compete with bigger receivers in the NFL and made him effective when lining up opposite the Spartans' 6-2, 216-pound star B.J. Cunningham.
Providing a strong initial punch, Dennard was able to disrupt the timing between Cunningham and Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, resulting in a season-low 86 passing yards for No. 11 MSU and not a single catch for Cunningham. Dennard legitimized his place among the elite defensive backs in the draft and a rock-solid first-round pick.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.