Rivalry weekend almost always delivers, and it certainly did over Thanksgiving. And the relatively new championship weekend has provided amazing moments too, often with top draft prospects clashing in title-game contests that determine bowl games.
This year, we'll get Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, the entire Georgia defense, Alabama, and Kenny Pickett on championship weekend. But you've already watched them closely. You know them. How about highlighting the lesser-known prospects playing in the title game of their respective conference?
Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe
Zappe transferred from Houston Baptist and set Conference USA aflame with nearly 5,000 yards passing and 52 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Zappe's a unique passer in that he throws with a noticeably quiet lower half. But the ball comes out in a hurry with solid velocity and accuracy to all levels. Zappe is a smaller quarterback by NFL standards, but his extraordinary production -- operating Western Kentucky's Air Raid offense -- has put him on the draft radar.
UTSA RB Sincere McCormick
McCormick has averaged 5.4 yards per carry on almost 700-career rushes for the Road Runners. His listed height of 5-foot-9 might be generous, but he looks every bit of his listed 205 pounds, making him the ideally compact type to bounce around as a runner. McCormick has also caught 63 passes in his UTSA career and plays with good vision to avoid tacklers and balance because of his low center of gravity. He feels like that late-round or UDFA back who well outplays his draft position in the NFL.
Oregon CB Mykael Wright
Wright had nine pass breakups in seven games a season ago and has a pick with four defended passes this season. A perimeter corner by trade, Wright did a fine job against Chris Olave of Ohio State early in the season, keeping everything in front of him until a longer reception on a perfect throw midway through the fourth quarter. Wright has the hip fluidity to turn with shifty wideouts and solid speed down the field.
Utah LB Devin Lloyd
Lloyd is the best prospect in this article, potentially destined for the first round. But he needs more pub. He has 100 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three INTs, and six pass breakups this season. Insane stat-sheet stuffing. And that's all not simply schemed-up production. He makes a sizable impact in every single contest. Plus, he's a fascinating linebacker at 6-3 and 235 pounds. Lloyd plays to every inch of his frame and has a unique, uncanny knack to pick off passes at the line of scrimmage. He glides down the field in coverage, too.
Northern Illinois RB Clint Ratkovich
Ratkovich, a Western Illinois transfer, has 11 TDs on the ground this season for the Huskies at 4.8 yards per carry, which includes a 96-yard touchdown last week against Western Michigan. Ratkovich has 13 receptions for 113 yards on the season, too.
Kent State QB Dustin Crum
Crum has an unorthodox delivery but, somehow, it works. The 6-foot-3 quarterback has 47 touchdowns to only eight interceptions during his Kent State career. His arm strength is right around average to maybe a tick above average for the NFL level, and he's dropped a plethora of passes in the bucket down the football field. He doesn't hesitate to take off, either. Crum has a chance -- albeit a small one -- to get picked in the draft but should garner some training camp looks around the league.
Baylor S Jalen Pitre
Pitre has played the "star" position in Dave Aranda's defense this season, and he's excelled in the spot that gives him more free rein to roam. Pitre has 15.5 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions, five pass breakups, and three forced fumbles on the season. On film, his athleticism immediately pops. He's sudden and pairs that twitch with serious speed to the football. Pitre feels like a Day 2 pick.
Oklahoma State S Kolby Harvell-Peel
Harvell-Peel is only a junior but has been on the draft radar for years. He has 10 interceptions and 19 pass breakups in three seasons for the 'Pokes at an NFL-caliber 6-0 and 207 pounds. He looks like an old-school strong safety -- and plays like one against the run -- but has good coverage capabilities.
Utah State LB Justin Rice
The former Fresno State and Arkansas State star transferred to Utah State racked up 105 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and three interceptions during the regular season. Rice epitomizes what it means to have "range" as a tackler, and he's smooth in coverage at 6-2 and 225 pounds. Because he's been in college for a while, he'll be dinged as an older prospect, but Rice absolutely has the skillset that should help him make a lightning-quick transition to the NFL.
San Diego State EDGE Cameron Thomas
I could've listed the Punt God, Matt Araiza, but chances are you probably already know about him. Thomas is a 6-5, 270-pound relentless rusher who's never complacent in hand-to-hand combat. Beyond legitimate NFL defensive end size, Thomas boasts a developed array of pass-rushing moves. He has 10.5 sacks along with 20 tackles for loss this season. It's conceivable he sneaks in the back portions of Round 1. Get to know him.
Appalachian State LB D'Marco Jackson
Jackson's kind of a throwback type, as he's best in the box, thumping downhill. He has 103 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, along with five sacks on the season. Jackson is good as a blitzer, and despite his shorter arms, he is keen at dispatching blockers in tight quarters. There's also some twitch to his game to mirror running backs or hold up in underneath coverage.
Louisiana OL Max Mitchell
Mitchell is an athletic tackle prospect who's been a full-time starter in each of the last three seasons for the Ragin' Cajuns -- best mascot name in college football by the way. At 6-6 and around 300 pounds with long arms, he has the perfect developmental frame. Does he need to add strength? Absolutely. But the way he patrols at the second level and the ability to get outside speed rushers make him a worthwhile mid-round pick who has starter upside.
American Athletic Conference
Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers
Beavers is genuinely a hybrid player -- part edge rusher, part off-ball linebacker -- who has 79 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three sacks on the season. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he's an intimidating specimen on the field. Beavers routinely makes plays around the corner against tackles, inside as a blitzer, or ranging toward the sideline on outside runs. There's some coverage ability to his game, too. Beavers feels like someone who's going to test well and land somewhere in the middle of the draft.
Houston DL Logan Hall
Hall is next in line at Houston after Ed Oliver went in the top 10 in 2019 and Payton Turner was picked by the Saints in Round 1 in 2021. At 6-6 and 260 pounds with positional flexibility -- and production at multiple positions -- Hall will be coveted by many teams across the league with the amount of nickel that's being played in the league today. He has five sacks and 12 tackles for loss along with a very respectable 28 quarterback pressures. His most likely landing spot is somewhere on Day 2 of the draft.
Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr.
Going way under the radar here, as no team is spotlighted more than Alabama (and rightfully so). Robinson has been taking handoffs at Alabama since 2017, when Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs, and Najee Harris were ahead of him on the depth chart, and he's always been efficient. Finally in a lead-back role, Robinson has compiled over 1,000 yards at 4.9 yards per carry, and like essentially every Crimson Tide runner during the Nick Saban era, he's a large back with scat-back feet. Robinson's chipped in with 30 receptions in 2021, too. Don't be shocked when he's picked late in April and makes a team as a deceptively nimble power back.
Georgia OL Jamaree Salyer
Let's talk about an offensive player for Georgia for once. I mean, whole damn defense might get drafted. But the offense has some impressive pieces, especially up front. Salyer's play in pass protection this season should extinguish some preseason thoughts that he'd have to bump inside to guard at the NFL level. And, of course, he's a bulldozer for the run game. But that's expected when you're an offensive lineman at Georgia. He could land on Day 2 of the draft.
Michigan DB Daxton Hill
It's difficult to find a more twitched-up, clean athlete than Hill at the defensive back position in this class. The former five-star recruit and No. 1 safety recruit in the country has slowly but surely met the lofty expectations that came with him to Ann Arbor years ago. He's spent time at safety but has flourished his season in the nickel corner gig, setting career highs in tackles, interceptions and pass breakups. He could sneak into Round 1 but feels like a lock for the second round.
Iowa LB Jack Campbell
Campbell is quicker than he is fast, and that's not the worst trait for a linebacker given the coverage responsibilities that come with the job title today. To date, he has 121 tackles, six pass breakups and one interception. His instincts are fantastic -- which really means he reads play designs in a hurry. He feels a lot like former Iowa star linebacker Josey Jewell, who's become a quality starter in Denver.
Pittsburgh DB Damarri Mathis
Mathis is a fifth-year senior, and he plays like one. On the perimeter, at nickel, he flies downhill against the run or makes plays in coverage. He had 11 pass breakups and a pair of picks in 2019 before a preseason injury kept him off the field in 2020. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Mathis has ideal size to be a versatile piece to any defense.
Wake Forest WR Jaquarii Roberson
Roberson is that bouncy, lanky type of wideout who projects well to the next level. He's springy in jump-ball scenarios and clearly can take the lid off a defense. He averaged nearly 15 yards per grab with eight scores last season and has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark at 16.5 yards per reception in 2021. The Demon Deacons star is creative after the catch, too.