2014 NFL Draft: Key Early Season Pac-12 Matchups

Posted by John Middlekauff On July – 5 – 2013

"DeForest Buckner"

The sophomore DL is one to keep your eye on for the future

NFL scouts always love to watch players against the “best competition.” Early season matchups that put different conferences together are always great opportunities to see players in uncomfortable environments.

Unlike games within the conference, players don’t have the same familiarity with opponents, and get to test themselves against top players around the nation. It’s always good when a wide receiver matches up against the SEC or an OLB goes against an offensive lineman from the BIG-10.  These games will often come up in NFL draft meetings when discussing or arguing over a player’s value – Did he separate from Alabama’s Dee Millner? Could he beat Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson around the corner?

These are questions scouts must be aware of when fighting for players they like with their GM and other decision makers. Below are five early Pac-12 matchups that are already circled in NFL buildings, and will inevitably be discussed as the draft process takes shape.

Oregon vs Tennessee – September 14

This game is littered with NFL talent. A former Tennessee coach under Dooley said that all five offensive linemen could be drafted from the 2013 team. With their left tackle, Antonio Richardson being a potential first round pick.

Oregon has recruited some elite players up front the last couple years, and their development will be on full display against Tennessee’s OL. Despite Dion Jordan departing to the NFL, the front should be the strength of Oregon’s team.  Senior Taylor Hart should be the leader of that group, followed by sophomore Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

One Pac-12 coach described Buckner to me as a “Freak.” Former Oregon DL coach Azzinero, now with the Eagles, felt he had a chance to be special.  Armstead is no slouch himself; he was one of the biggest recruits in the country back in 2012.

This should be a heavy weight battle in the trenches, and one that could propel Oregon’s youth to reaching its scary potential heading into conference play.

UCLA vs Nebraska – September 14

"Anthony Barr"


UCLA will have more hype coming into 2013 than it has had in years, maybe since the Bob Toledo Days. Westwood is buzzing because of star quarterback Brett Hundley, who might help UCLA become a football school for a year or two. But Jim Mora is a defensive guy, and Anthony Barr is the best player on his team.

Mora told scouts at the pro day in March how much work Barr still had to do, and how he had only touched the surface of his ability. Scary thought if I’m a Pac-12 coach.  If Barr wants to cement himself as a top 10 pick in the draft he must show he can be a complete player.  

Nebraska was eighth in the country in rushing offense – averaging over 253 yards a game. Taylor Martinez also has some traits with his feet that Barr will see at the next level (Russell Wilson, RG3, Kaepernick). Barr ran in the 4.4s for NFL scouts during the spring, so teams will expect to see him run with Martinez.  

This should be an early test for Barr, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t make his case for the number one player out west – if he hasn’t already.

Stanford vs. San Jose State – September 7

In 2012 San Jose State almost shocked the college football world by beating Stanford early in the season. It turned out San Jose State was really good, winning a program record 11 games and with top quarterback prospect in David Fales. In 2012 Fales led a passing offense that ranked sixth in the country, and was third in the country in passing efficiency.

Stanford is returning some high-level NFL prospects in OLB Trent Murphy, ILB Shane Skov, and FS Ed Reynolds. Coach Shaw said Reynolds has some Ed Reed to him in terms of his football instincts, who Shaw was around as an assistant in Baltimore.

Scouts will be locked into this game: Can Murphy land Fales?  Has Skov’s  ACL injury fully recoveredHow will Reynolds play against SJSU new west coast offense?  Is Fales a blue-chip talent? A game that previously just held local ramifications now moves the NFL needle. While they’re varying opinions on Fales, this game will assist scouts in making the proper evaluation.

Arizona State vs. Wisconsin – September 14

William Sutton shocked many within NFL circles deciding to return to school. After his dominant pass rushing year (12 sacks), scouts expected the undersized DL (6’0) to declare. He was arguably the best defensive player in the conference last season. We know Sutton can rush the quarterback, but can he consistently play against the run?

NFL scouts put a lot of stock in Wisconsin offensive lines, and will focus in on Sutton in this matchup. Wisconsin has always been able to run the ball, ranking thirteenth in the country in rushing offense last season. Wisconsin has a relatively unknown coach, Gary Anderson, when it comes to national relevance. Anderson was as an impressive of a coach as I met last season on the road, and has the respect of NFL personnel around the country.  Anderson’s teams play hard and have always loved to run the football. 

Sutton will be tested early and often in this game, potentially holding the keys to his draft status with a prime time performance. 

Washington vs. Boise State – August 31

This is a very big season for the University of Washington and majority of the pressure will fall on quarterback Keith Price. Coming into 2012 many scouts thought Price was poised to become a top prospect after a big sophomore year. But he struggled in 2012, throwing too many interceptions combined with poor play against the likes of USC  and Oregon.

Boise has gone (3-1) in openers the last four years vs BCS opponents. Their scoring defense ranked eighth in 2012, and the defensive staff is familiar with Price after playing him in a 2012 bowl game. Price will need to lean on two juniors: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and RB Bishop Sankey. 

These underclassman are already on scouts radars, and could be the keys for Prices potential resurgence. There will be a lot of pressure on Price, the NFL looks at Boise State like a BCS level program – and a good to start to the season could send a positive early impression league-wide.