|Lamar Miller showed his breakaway speed against Boston College. (US Presswire)|
Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could affect the 2012 draft rankings:
• Two big-time NFL talent producers saw their seasons end in November. Due to mistakes off the field, there will be no bowl games for Miami (Fla.) and Southern California, making their Thanksgiving weekend games the final opportunity for some players to make an impression on scouts.
USC's talented trio of quarterback Matt Barkley, offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry played well against UCLA, but they've earned plenty of national attention, including being highlighted by NFLDraftScout.com.
On the other hand, it has been a stormy first season for Al Golden's Hurricanes. The play of a few underclassmen offered a bit of a silver lining to the dark clouds that have accumulated this season, including during a 24-17 home loss on Senior Day to Boston College.
Redshirt sophomore running back Lamar Miller has been Miami's most consistent weapon on offense. In refusing to commit to return to school in a postgame interview, he gave credence to the rumblings that he might leave early for the NFL.
If Friday night's game was the last for Miller in a Miami uniform, scouts will have plenty of praise-worthy game film.
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There is a lot to like about Miller. The most obvious is that Miller has the trait that every team in the NFL is looking for -- the breakaway speed to make big plays on his own, which he displayed in the first quarter. Miller attacked the line of scrimmage, broke right and out-ran BC defenders to score a 79-yard touchdown and give the Hurricanes an early 14-7 lead.
The run was the longest against a BCS opponent for a Miami back since James Jackson's 79-yard scamper against the Eagles back in 1998.
Miller also had a 63-yard run taken back due to a holding penalty. Had he been credited with the run, Miller would have registered 177 rushing yards -- the most allowed by Luke Kuechly and Boston College to a back all season long. Perhaps most impressive, Miller would have accomplished the feat on just 12 carries. Miller has a lean, athletic build at 212 pounds and makes up for a lack of true power with determined running. The competitiveness carries through in Miller's pass blocking -- he's willing to face up defenders.
In rushing for 114 yards against the Eagles, Miller finished the year second in the ACC in rushing (1,272 yards), moving past Clinton Portis and Ottis Anderson with the third highest single-season rushing total in Miami history.
Trent Richardson is the elite running back in the country. Scouts will tell you there isn't yet a consensus No. 2 back behind him, however. Miller's speed and the fact that he has fresh legs after only one season as a starter could help convince teams he's an ascending star and worthy of late first- to mid-second-round consideration.
• As it does every year, rivalry weekend produced some of the more memorable games and performances of the year. One such performance was the North Carolina State Wolfpack overcoming a 27-point second-half deficit to beat Maryland and earn bowl eligibility.
Several N.C. State players deserve kudos for scoring 42 unanswered points, but the athlete who left scouts gawking was senior linebacker Audie Cole.
At 6-4 and 240 pounds, Cole is a stout presence at inside linebacker. He is quick to attack gaps and has the strength to fight through blocks and make the play at the line of scrimmage. Cole's quickness toward the line isn't as impressive as his speed running parallel to and through the line -- which could lead to a position change in the NFL.
When allowed to rush off the edge, Cole can beat opponents with his burst, a powerful bull rush and some legitimate pass rush technique, including an effective swim move. He's a bit tight-hipped but his very good speed makes him effective in coverage. He is a physical player who'll knock off receivers and backs off their routes as they cross his zone. These skills make him a better fit outside, as he had played throughout his career prior to moving inside as a senior to help NC State offset the loss of Nate Irving, the Denver Broncos' third-round pick last April.
Cole registered nine tackles against the Terrapins. Though he never got home as a pass rusher in this game, he did pressure Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown on multiple occasions, including on the decisive touchdown scored on a 59-yard interception return by Wolfpack cornerback C.J. Wilson with just 27 seconds remaining.
Cole hasn't received a great deal of national attention -- certainly not as much Zach Brown of North Carolina. Some scouts, however, feel the gap between the two is next to nothing and it could be Cole, not Brown, who flies up the board during the all-star game and workout portion of the pre-draft process.
• North Carolina State's Audie Cole could rise up draft boards in part due to the fact the 2012 class of outside linebackers appears to be a weak one. Arkansas' Tramain Thomas is rising despite the fact that scouts say this year's crop of safeties is shaping up to be a pretty solid one.
It would have been easy to look past Thomas' contributions to the Razorbacks defense against top-ranked LSU. The Tigers scored 42 points on Arkansas and LSU's tandem of Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu certainly left little limelight for anyone else to enjoy.
The 6-foot, 204-pound Thomas was one of the few Razorbacks to match the Tigers' physicality Friday night. His big hit forced a fumble by LSU running back Michael Ford in the second quarter that Razorback linebacker Alonzo Highsmith returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
In the third quarter, Thomas ended a promising LSU drive by stepping in front of a Jordan Jefferson pass for an interception defending the Arkansas 12-yard line.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Thomas' performance was that the flashy plays just described accompanied steady open-field tackling and sound coverage. Despite this, Thomas was inexplicably kept on the sideline for a few snaps later in the third quarter. Not surprisingly, the Razorbacks paid the price. Shoddy tackling and poor angles helped Ford break free for a 49-yard run to the Arkansas 6-yard line in the closing minutes of the quarter.
The Razorbacks shuttled Thomas back onto the field and watched as their senior all-conference defender helped keep LSU out of the end zone. Thomas provided a physical pop to running back Kenny Hilliard to on second down and sliced in front of star wideout Rueben Randle to prevent a touchdown reception on 3rd down, keeping the game within one score as the game entered the final quarter.
• Upon Further Review highlights a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment.
The 2011 Ohio State-Michigan game may not have roused the media hoopla past editions of this fabulous rivalry once did, but scouts long ago circled Saturday as a prime opportunity to scout prospects from both schools under optimum conditions.
Just as how a win over a hated rival can earn a struggling coach another year at the helm, a strong performance in a big rivalry game can help fans and scouts look past a disappointing season.
At least, Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey can only hope that's true.
Posey was suspended for the first 10 games of this season by the NCAA and Ohio State for accepting improper benefits, first in the infamous tattoo scandal and also for being overpaid for a summer job. As such, the 6-2, 210-pound Posey, who ended his junior season with 16 touchdowns on 124 career receptions, entered the Michigan game having only caught four passes (for 66 yards) this year.
Posey only caught three more passes Saturday against the Wolverines, but showed the speed to get deep, catching a 43-yard toss from Braxton Miller just before halftime to give the underdog Buckeyes a 24-23 lead. The big play will leave a positive impression on scouts which could help Posey land an opportunity in a prominent senior all-star game.
If given the chance to do so, the senior could use the fact that he's not as physically worn down as most to enjoy a strong week of practice and see his stock rise as the draft approaches.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.