Several captivating matchups are on the slate for Week 8 of the college football season, including a rematch of embattled South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson, the Nos. 1 and 11 prospects on my Big Board.
The 6-foot-6, 332-pound Richardson held Clowney largely in check last season, allowing one sack in 44 pass attempts, due to a great blend of size, agility and power. Richardson has played well in 2013 and could boost his stock with another impressive showing against Clowney, who remains a blue-chip prospect despite disappointing production this season.
Only the Clowney-Richardson rematch trumps the showdown between star redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) in the Pac-12.
The prime ACC clash between No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State also features several exciting prospects, including three Tigers in wide receiver Sammy Watkins, quarterback Tajh Boyd and defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley. Left tackle Cameron Erving, the man in charge of protecting the blind side of freshman Heisman candidate Jameis Winston while working against Beasley, is the Seminoles' lone prospect currently in the top 50, checking in at No. 23.
The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the projected selection order. It is simply a ranking of the 32 best prospects potentially eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
1. Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 268): Clowney has failed to live up to our astronomical expectations, but scouts aren't as concerned with his mediocre production as the media seems to be. When on the field, Clowney remains a dominating presence capable of making a game-changing play on each snap of the ball.
2. Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville (6-3, 220): In an era in which college quarterbacks' numbers are often inflated by short passing and relatively simplistic schemes, Bridgewater's sparkling production is due to Pro Bowl-caliber accuracy. His success (71 percent completion rate with 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions) comes out of a pro-style offense that forces him to make tough throws. Bridgewater's slight frame and level of competition are concerns. He showed toughness and poise with multiple NFL general managers on hand to watch him beat Rutgers on Oct. 10.
3. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 238): A former running back, Barr exploded onto the Pac-12 scene last year to the tune of 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. Through five games this season, he has been just as dominant, posting 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles to earn my top grade among all senior prospects. His ability to make impact plays against the Pac-12's most talented offensive line could play a critical role against Stanford.
4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305): Any question about Matthews' ability to hold up at left tackle may have been answered with dominating performances against Arkansas' speedy Chris Smith and Mississippi's powerful Robert Nkemdiche. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake proves the cliché true -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
5. Marcus Mariota*, QB, Oregon (6-3, 214): In completing a season-high 77.4 percent of his passes against a talented Washington defense in Seattle, Mariota demonstrated great accuracy and poise. Moments after the loss, Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian assessed the redshirt quarterback as a "top-five pick." Couldn't agree more, coach.
6. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 310): With an incredible combination of size and athletic ability, Lewan has earned comparisons to former Michigan standout Jake Long throughout his career with the Wolverines. Lewan has been the obvious bright spot up front for Michigan, which has struggled with injuries and penalties.
7. Brett Hundley*, QB, UCLA (6-3, 227): Another in the extraordinary redshirt sophomore class of quarterbacks, Hundley has an ideal blend of size, athleticism and arm talent. He's a fluid athlete with an easy throwing motion whose success comes from a pro-style attack, making him an easy projection to the NFL. Hundley is tough, but he'll be tested by Stanford's front seven -- among the stoutest in college football.
8. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232): While a bit undersized, Mosley might be the best pound-for-pound player in the country. Athletic and instinctive, he is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against both the run and pass.
9. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (6-1, 225): Boyd's stout frame, toughness and dual-threat capabilities have earned him comparisons to Russell Wilson and the late Steve McNair. He has shown improved vision and accuracy in the pocket as a senior, but will be facing a fast Florida State defense that is allowing an average of just 149.0 yards a game, second in the country.
10. Sammy Watkins*, WR, Clemson (6-1, 200): Boyd's dual-threat capabilities, leadership and value at the game's most important position make him the top Tiger, but the playmaking Watkins is a close second. A lanky athlete with explosive speed, Watkins is a threat to go the distance on every snap.
11. Antonio Richardson*, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 332): Nicknamed "Tiny," Richardson and his game proved anything but last season at left tackle for the Vols. Boasting an exciting combination of size, athleticism and power, he looks like the second coming of former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl tackle Erik Williams. His matchup against Clowney will be closely monitored by every scouting department in the league.
12. Marqise Lee*, WR, Southern Cal (6-0, 195): Lee has been hampered by a knee injury and unsteady play at quarterback this season. A year after scoring 14 touchdowns as part of a Biletnikoff-winning campaign, Lee only has one this season and missed USC's Oct. 12 win over Arizona. The Trojans would love to have their explosive playmaker against Notre Dame.
13. Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245): Ebron doesn't get nearly the national attention of Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins or other highly regarded tight ends, but scouts are fascinated with his rare combination of size and speed. The UNC staff was so enamored with Ebron's athleticism and physicality that they lined him up at defensive end at times a year ago. The junior needs polish but is precisely the type of physical mismatch the NFL is looking for in today's tight end.
14. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248): With an eye-popping 56 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles already on his résumé entering the 2013 season, rest assured that scouts knew Mack well. The best player outside of BCS schools, he stepped up with dominating efforts against Ohio State and Connecticut this year to establish himself as a legitimate top-20 prospect.
15. Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M (5-11, 210): After the season scouts will poke holes in Manziel's grade due to less-than-ideal size and the distraction he may prove to be off the field. During the season, however, it is impossible not to simply marvel at his magical ability on the field. Showing the same remarkable elusiveness as a year ago and improved arm strength, Manziel is a first-round pick whenever he elects to leave College Station.
16. Cyrus Kouandjio*, OT, Alabama (6-5, 312): Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's best lineman) to center in 2012. The reason for the switch was Kouandjio, a physically blessed athlete who some have compared to former Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.
17. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (6-5, 335): A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic. Scouts love Richardson's talent but the extended splits in Art Briles' scheme fooled us before with former first-round picks Jason Smith (No. 2 overall in 2009) and Danny Watkins (No. 23 in 2011).
18. Cameron Erving*, OT, Florida State (6-5, 310): Erving played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, but looked like a natural when he moved to left tackle a season ago. Long, balanced and athletic, he's a hidden factor in Winston's impressive early play. He'll have his toughest matchup of the year against Clemson's Beasley, among the nation's elite speed rushers.
19. Ryan Shazier*, OLB, Ohio State (6-2, 226): Shazier may be 10-15 pounds lighter than scouts would prefer but his instincts, speed and bone-jarring hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap. His athleticism made Shazier equally effective against Wisconsin's power running Sept. 28 (nine tackles, 2½ for loss) and Northwestern's up-tempo passing attack (10 tackles, one for loss) Oct. 5.
20. Cedric Ogbuehi*, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 300): Overshadowed by all of the talent on the Aggies' roster, Ogbuehi is an exciting prospect in his own right. A standout at right guard a year ago, Ogbuehi (pronounced ah-BOO-hee) stands to make a lot of money if he continues his stellar play at right tackle.
21. Vic Beasley*, OLB, Clemson (6-3, 235): Beasley led Clemson with eight sacks in limited duty as a sophomore and already has nine through six games in 2013. Drawing comparisons to surprise 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin (Seattle Seahawks) for his slim frame and explosive burst, Beasley is enjoying a similar leap up draft boards as one of the year's biggest risers thus far.
22. Louis Nix III*, DT, Notre Dame (6-3, 326): Possessing broad shoulders, a thick lower half and surprisingly quick feet, Nix III is a classic run-stuffer with enough burst and determination to threaten the pocket. The junior hasn't been as dominant in 2013 as he was a year ago but remains a standout in a less-than-inspiring crop of defensive tackles.
23. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (5-10, 182): Verrett lacks the size so en vogue in today's NFL but agility and ball skills never go out of style for cornerbacks. Verrett led the Big 12 with 22 passes defended and six interceptions in 2012. His stellar coverage (six tackles, two passes broken up) against Oklahoma on Oct. 5 made him the Top Prospect of Week 6.
24. Stephon Tuitt*, DL, Notre Dame (6-5, 303): Offseason sports hernia surgery may have played a role in Tuitt weighing 20 pounds more this season than a year ago, and early on the extra weight seemed to be slowing him. He has played much better in the Irish's past three games, however, and is simply too gifted to fall far on draft day, should the junior elect to leave South Bend early.
25. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford (6-6, 261): A true outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4 scheme asked to not only rush the passer but also drop into coverage. He recorded two sacks in the Cardinal's win over Washington on Oct, 5 but it was his tipped pass leading to a fourth-quarter interception that was his biggest play of the night.
26. Mike Evans*, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 225): Like his famous QB, Evans is a redshirt sophomore but he could have quite the decision to make after the season if he continues to dominate the SEC. Evans is averaging an astounding 23.0 yards per catch through six games this season.
27. Bishop Sankey*, RB, Washington (5-10, 203): Leading the country with an average of 149.8 rushing yards per game, Sankey is winning over scouts with his vision, balance and surprising combination of power and speed. He displayed toughness against Stanford's physical defense and big-play ability against Oregon's speed, and is a true three-down back due to excellent hands and awareness in pass protection.
28. HaSean Clinton-Dix*, FS, Alabama (6-1, 208): Death, taxes and a Nick Saban-coached defensive back earning first-round grades from NFL scouts are among the sure things in life. Clinton-Dix has an exciting combination of athleticism and instincts but scouts may have to rely on his previous game tape. The star was suspended indefinitely from the team on Oct. 2, reportedly for accepting a loan from an Alabama assistant strength and conditioning coach.
29. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 235): While Ziggy Ansah received most of the hype at BYU last season, Van Noy was far and away the more consistent defender, registering an eye-popping 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. Van Noy isn't as physically dominating as his former teammate, but his instincts and agility make him a playmaker.
30. Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, TE, Washington (6-6, 267): His combination of size, body control and soft hands made Seferian-Jenkins an immediate standout each of his first two seasons at Washington. However, an offseason arrest for DUI and a broken pinkie served as an inauspicious start to his junior season, and the Huskies have featured other playmakers thus far in 2013.
31. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State (6-3, 333): Jones was the Nittany Lions' most dominant player in a four-overtime, instant-classic victory against Michigan on Oct. 12. Stout but athletic enough to handle duties all over Penn State's defensive line, Jones' strength and quickness are tough to handle.
32. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 311): Penn State's Jones may be the Big Ten's most impressive defensive lineman so far, but Hageman may be its most gifted. The Golden Gopher's length and athleticism make him a fit in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes alike. He flashes dominant ability but has struggled with consistency.
Just missed the cut
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Lache Seastrunk*, RB, Baylor
Kevin Hogan*, QB, Stanford
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Jordan Matthews, WR, South Carolina
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Denzel Perryman*, OLB, Miami
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon