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College football Week 8: NFL scouts will be watching these top matchups
College Football

College football Week 8: NFL scouts will be watching these top matchups

Updated Feb. 16, 2023 3:30 p.m. ET

By Rob Rang
FOX Sports NFL Draft Analyst

After a fascinating Week 7 of college football in which there were several showdowns of top-tier quarterbacks — like Tennessee’s Heisman hopeful Hendon Hooker vs. Alabama’s reigning award-winner Bryce Young — Week 8’s top matchups are a bit more varied, with some top one-on-ones featuring players at less-glamorous positions. 

That isn’t to suggest that this week lacks firepower. In fact, the argument could be made that all four of the top-20 showdowns this Saturday boast the kind of battles that make football the ultimate team game, with showdowns along the line of scrimmage, slightly beyond it and deep into the secondary. Apologies for the lame rhymes, but if Week 7 was QB Heaven, Week 8 is also great — with its top matchups of future NFL starters spread out across the field. 

As such, some names listed below are not as recognizable as in previous editions of this feature. With all due respect to those flashy quarterbacks, these are the showdowns pro scouts will be watching — and that you should be watching, too. 


Ohio State-Iowa preview

RJ Young and Geoff Schwartz break down the Week 8 matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Iowa at No. 2 Ohio State (noon ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app

Given that the highly ranked Buckeyes boast our consensus top choice for the Heisman Trophy at this point — quarterback C.J. Stroud — it seems almost blasphemous to not list him as the player(s) to watch in this key Big Ten showdown. Scouts will look deeper than the most obvious matchups, however, especially with Stroud’s favorite target — sophomore Marvin Harrison, Jr. — likely to draw Iowa’s dynamic young defensive back Cooper DeJean much of this game.

Harrison is every bit as polished as one might expect from the son of an NFL Hall of Famer, demonstrating not only his father’s impressive straight-line speed but advanced route-running and ball-tracking skills. Further, the younger Harrison is much bigger than his father, who entered the NFL at a shade under 6-feet and just 181 pounds. In fact, it feels silly to call his son "Junior," given that the current star receiver is listed at a strapping 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and routinely uses his well-built frame and long arms to box-out defenders, winning with comeback routes and often fighting through arm tackles to generate yardage after the catch. The combination of Stroud’s pinpoint accuracy and Harrison towering over college defensive backs has made the Buckeye duo arguably the most dominant QB-WR duo in college football this year.

For as good as Harrison has been for the Buckeyes — and he currently leads the Big Ten with nine touchdown receptions in just six games — it was his teammate, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who entered the year with all the fanfare. Similarly, senior cornerback Riley Moss was expected to be Iowa’s top cover corner in 2022, but DeJean, a true sophomore like Harrison, has instead stolen the spotlight and, more importantly, the football, leading the Hawkeyes with three interceptions.

It isn’t just the ball skills that have Iowa fans so excited about DeJean. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder has lined up all over the secondary, showing exceptional instincts for such a young player, as well as grit and an accurate strike zone as an open-field tackler. A fluid athlete with the stop-start ability and steady acceleration to shadow receivers downfield, DeJean can cut the field in half, helping Iowa allow just 9.8 points per game so far this season, third in the nation. 

Why Ohio State should be ranked No. 1

Joel Klatt breaks down the Buckeyes, which he considers his top team so far in the season.

No. 14 Syracuse at No. 5 Clemson (Noon ET)

One might need the all-22 film to truly appreciate every battle between Harrison, Jr. and DeJean in the aforementioned showdown, but those willing to take their eyes off the ball and focus on the line of scrimmage in this game will be treated to a full-feature fight between Syracuse senior left tackle Matthew Bergeron and Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy, a true junior already boasting a résumé that demands scouts’ attention. 

The tale of the tape in this showdown proves that these two players could not be much more different — at least when it comes to their backgrounds. Bergeron, a Canadian who grew up and played his high school ball in Victoriaville, Quebec, earned a scholarship offer to Syracuse only after he and some teammates went there during an offseason camp. Murphy, on the other hand, was a five-star recruit out of the football-loving state of Georgia. He could have signed with virtually anyone — and has since proven why, collecting 33.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks (as well as six forced fumbles) in just 2.5 seasons for the Tigers.

While Bergeron might be perceived as the underdog in this matchup, he possesses an ideal skill set for the NFL, boasting exceptional athleticism for a 6-foot-5, 322-pounder. Syracuse head coach Dino Babers has made Bergeron run with his team’s wide receivers during sprints because he’s proven far too fast for other linemen, ruining the competitive balance. Bergeron is not just fast, he’s physical and balanced, showing very good lateral agility to mirror rushers, and terrific quickness and agility in adjusting to downfield targets in the running game.

Frankly, Bergeron is going to need it, as Murphy is also a future early NFL draft pick. Both, in fact, may wind up hearing their names called in the first round. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Murphy possesses a prototypical frame for defensive end with good initial quickness, bend to wrap the corner and the leg drive to challenge Bergeron as a bull rusher. For all of Bergeron’s talent, he does have a tendency to play high, which should make the punch and counterpunches from these two quite the heavyweight bout.

No. 9 UCLA at No. 10 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app)

With all due respect to the matchups above, the traditionalist in me still enjoys contests between dynamic running backs and glass-eating middle linebackers the most. These showdowns in the hole remain the very essence of football, in my mind.

It isn’t often that the most physical matchup between a back and a ‘backer come from the Pac-12, but then again, this is far from a normal season out West, with few anticipating that two teams from the conference would be ranked in the top 10 at this point — and that neither would be USC

My FOX colleagues and I agreed that few teams have surprised us more than the Bruins, though steady senior running back Zach Charbonnet certainly showed a year ago that Chip Kelly’s squad was on the verge of something special. Originally a highly regarded recruit (and very productive player) at Michigan, Charbonnet’s game vaulted to a new level for the Bruins in 2021, as the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder galloped for 1,334 combined rushing and receiving yards with 13 scores in just 12 games. So far this season, he’s been even better, averaging a career-high 7.1 yards per carry. Charbonnet offers an intoxicating combination of physical traits — size, power and instant acceleration — with fine instincts for the position, including the vision to locate cutback lanes and impressive spatial awareness of defenders around him. A true do-it-all back, he is equally comfortable lining up behind a fullback and running downhill right up the gut or dashing to the outside on a toss. He attacks would-be tacklers with his knees bent and shoulders leading the charge, delivering big hits and keeping his legs driving through contact — typically requiring multiple defenders to take him down — and finishing his runs with authority.

UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet

Stars Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet join Reggie Bush to talk about their friendship and the team's success.

If Oregon is to successfully defend Autzen Stadium against their former head coach Kelly and the visiting, undefeated Bruins, Noah Sewell will need to be just as impressive on defense.

Like Charbonnet, Sewell has demonstrated next-level skills from the get-go, earning this writeup back in Week 3. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder looks like he is straight out of Central Casting as an inside linebacker, offering not only an ideal frame and level of physicality for the position, but good instincts and plenty of speed to meet backs at the edge. 

Frankly, this game features several intriguing one-on-one showdowns, with some most excited about UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson attempting passes against Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez. The collisions (and races to the perimeter) between Charbonnet and Sewell are the sort that requires an extra buckling of the chinstraps, however. With those sorts of matchups so rare in the all-too-often passive Pac-12, my eyes will be focusing on the middle. 

No. 20 Texas at No. 11 Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET)

Even more dynamic than Charbonnet, Texas running back Bijan Robinson deserves top billing in this key Big 12 battle, but frankly, that is always the case. For the NFL scouts watching this contest, a more important evaluation might be whether Texas can create running lanes for their star behind veteran right tackle Christian Jones, the elder statesman of a Longhorns offensive line tasked with slowing down Oklahoma State’s Tyler Lacy, still a perennially underrated defensive lineman despite his entering this contest with 30 career tackles for loss. 

Both literally and figuratively, the "biggest" reason Texas nearly pulled off the shocking upset against Alabama in Week 2 was the shockingly effective play of a mostly very young offensive line. The Longhorns feature two sophomores and two freshmen up front, along with Jones, a 6-foot-5, 333-pound redshirt senior. This inexperience is something Oklahoma State is certain to try to exploit, moving Lacy around even more than normal. 

The Cowboys have shifted Lacy throughout his career because he possesses an unusual blend of initial quickness and flexibility to go along with grown-man strength. The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder is well on his way to obliterating his previous career-highs in tackles (34), tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (four) this season with 23-8.5-three through the first half of the season. He is not the second coming of Aaron Donald, needing to learn to string together moves and fight through blocks to make plays on effort as much as elite athleticism. But he pairs his hands and feet together nicely to win the technical battles and has the size to play up and down the line of scrimmage. 

Oklahoma State would be wise to keep him inside mostly against Texas, however, as Jones is a classic power-based right tackle at his best, generating movement at the point of attack. He is quicker than he looks in pass protection, anchoring quickly and showing an iron-clad grip to latch and control rushers. While Texas is best known for barbeque, don’t tell that to Jones, as he serves up pancakes in the running game with the best of them, and the Cowboys are surrendering nearly 140 yards per game on the ground.

Preview: Kansas State vs. TCU; Texas vs. Oklahoma State

Joel Klatt previews two huge Big 12 matchups — No. 17 Kansas State vs. No. 8 TCU and No. 20 Texas vs. No. 11 Oklahoma State.

No. 17 Kansas State at No. 8 TCU (8 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app)

There are all sorts of reasons to stay up late to watch Kansas State at TCU, not the least of which is the resilience of their respective quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Max Duggan, players who have endured more than their share of challenges. Meanwhile, pound for pound, Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn — all 5-foot-7, 172 pounds of him — is simply one of the best players in college football. 

And while each possesses the raw talent and desire to generate interest from pro scouts, the flashier, more prototypically-built talent is on the outside. 

Back in Week 6, we highlighted TCU’s playmaking cover-corner Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, so let’s switch our attention to one of Duggan’s best weapons in 6-foot-4, 193-pound wideout Quentin Johnston, who leads TCU with 34 receptions (a career-high already) for 500 yards and two touchdowns.

Under former head coach Gary Patterson, a defensive guru, Johnston’s size, high-pointing ability and smooth athleticism were rarely truly maximized. That has not been the case this year with Sonny Dykes, an offensive specialist who has led TCU to an unblemished 6-0 start and current No. 8 overall ranking. 

Under Dykes, several TCU skill position players have emerged as legitimately draftable prospects. Johnston is the most intriguing of the bunch, in part because he is one of the few big receivers who actually plays big, bullying opposing cornerbacks by consistently playing above the rim and demonstrating strong, reliable hands to snatch and control the ball with defenders draped all over him. 

What makes this game all the more interesting is that in 6-foot-3, 202-pound senior Julius Brents, Kansas State offers a big, sticky corner with the physicality to match up with Johnston. 

Brents originally played at Iowa and earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors a year ago in his first season in Manhattan. He uses his long arms to corral receivers and limit their releases, immediately throwing off the timing with their quarterbacks. Brents also accelerates smoothly for a big corner, showing good route recognition and physicality to slather receivers at the catch point. 

Brents entered the year already on the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl watch lists. He only possesses one pass breakup and one interception so far this season but should have plenty of opportunities in this contest. 

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Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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