All eyes on Khalil Mack
Football Nation, meet University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.
You now know what many NFL scouts already knew -- and will now be watching more closely.
Mack's performance at Ohio State last weekend was one of the best, anywhere, on college football's opening weekend. Mack recorded 9 tackles, 7 solo, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown.
"His stock in the draft just went up a little bit after playing us," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He manhandled some guys."
This summer, Mack insisted that most football fans knew nothing about him and that he was fine working in anonymity -- even after NFL.com named him the No. 19 best player in college football eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
"Khalil is an outstanding football player who really showed he is one of the top linebackers in the country," Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn said after the Ohio State game. "His presence was noticed, without a doubt, against quality opposition. And I noticed a couple times where they had more than one guy searching Khalil out. He was great. He was very active in playing a ton of snaps. Only one time did he come out. He made great plays, behind the line of scrimmage plays.
"We're very blessed to have him and we're certainly excited about his playmaking ability. We'll continue to lean on him for those things."
As for what changes now that the word is out, Mack said he'll continue to be the same person and the same player. Another challenge at Baylor awaits this weeekend, probably with more NFL eyes watching. On Monday, Baylor coach Art Briles said of Buffalo, "it takes about one play to figure out who their guy is."
Said Mack: "I just have to keep working. I don't feel any different about myself or the season (after the Ohio State game). All I want to do is win. I don't mind being noticed but it's all about my teammates."
Mack didn't start a varsity football at Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., until he was a senior and was ready to accept an academic scholarship from a local community college and not play football at all. Buffalo was the only Div. I FBS program to offer him a scholarship.
He redshirted as a freshman in 2009 and has been an on-field terror ever since. He came into his senior season needing 19 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles to become the NCAA's all-time leader in both categories.
"He came to college at 210 pounds and now he's 250," Quinn said of Mack, who's listed by Buffalo at 6'3, 245. "I'm just glad he's with us. We had a great plan to develop him. Khalil has taken tremendous responsibility. He works year round with our strengh coach and has worked hard with (defensive coordinator Lou Tepper) learning the game and being more sound fundamentally.
"We're glad nobody else took him."
Ohio State jumped out to a 23-0 lead over Buffalo before the Bulls -- keyed by Mack's interception return -- made it too close for comfort in the middle quarters. The Buckeyes eventually won the game, 40-20.
"Give credit where credit is due," Meyer said. "There was issues (on our offensive line), and the biggest issue is a fantastic football player (on the other side). I mean, he could play anywhere at any school in America."