The second half of the college football season begins with several top match-ups between conference foes. Scouts have also witnessed a number of outstanding performances from lesser-known prospect and even a few players they ignored entering the season. (* - underclassman)
Giovani Bernard*/RB/North Carolina: Bernard turned in a premiere performance during the Tar Heels loss to interstate rival Duke. His stats included 160 yards rushing on 24 carries (6.1 yard average) with a score. Bernard also added five receptions for 63 yards with another touchdown. He's a patient ball carrier with outstanding vision and football instincts. Bernard runs with great balance and easily strings several moves together over the course of a run, eluding defenders and creating yardage. He's a terrific talent with a bright NFL future.
Tavarres King/WR/Georgia: King suffered from a string of subpar performances before his breakout game against Kentucky. The sure-handed pass catcher hauled in nine passes for 188 yards and two scores during the Georgia victory. He has flashed skill throughout his college career but has yet to pull the pieces together. King offers potential as a fifth receiver at the next level and can climb into the middle part of the draft's final day if he builds upon the Kentucky contest.
Josh Evans/S/Florida: Evans continues to prove himself to be one of the better run defending safety prospects in the nation. He lead the Gators with seven tackles during the victory over South Carolina, which gives him a team-leading 44 tackles this season. Evans is a hard-hitting prospect who covers well between the numbers. He's a good fit as a late-round pick for a team which will employ him in a zone system.
Luke Joeckel*/T/Texas A&M: The Aggies suffered a devastating loss against conference foe LSU, yet Joeckel stood out. The junior left tackle shut down Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, a pair of Tiger pass rushers destined to be first-round picks next April. Handling Mingo and Montgomery was impressive, yet Joeckel's ability to stop the oncoming blitz really stood out. He's a tall blind side protector who plays fundamentally sound football. Joeckel is a prospect who should quickly start at the next level.
Alec Lemon/WR/Syracuse: Lemon, considered a late-round pick by NFL scouts, shook off an early-season leg injury and has come into his own the past few weeks. His performance against Connecticut was his most impressive this year as the sure-handed wide out finished with eight receptions for 166 yards and a score. The Huskies line up a pair of talented cornerbacks in their secondary, two players expected to be top 100 choices (Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz) yet they were unable to stop Lemon at any point. Lemon offers the skill level to line up as a fourth receiver at the next level and his fast 40 times prior to the draft could push him into the middle rounds.
Joseph Randle*/RB/Oklahoma State: NFL scouts have been disappointed by the play of this year's running back class, but Randle is one ball carrier meeting expectations. He's rushed for more than 100 yards in all but a single contest this year. His most recent effort included 151 yards and two scores on 24 carries (6.3 yard average) against Iowa State, which boasts one of the better run defenses in the Big 12. Randle plays with an explosive style, quickly getting through the running lanes then beating defenders into the open field. He lacks the size desired for a feature runner in the NFL, yet possesses enough skill to produce as a rotational ball carrier.
Will Davis/CB/Utah State: The senior was graded as a free agent prior to the season yet scouts are rethinking that opinion. Davis has done a terrific job shutting down opponents all year and has 11 pass defenses to his credit. He's also a cornerback who is not afraid to mix it up and has registered 30 tackles in seven games this season. Davis possesses the size/speed numbers necessary as well as the skill to play on Sundays. He's moved into the later rounds and offers possibilities in nickel/dime coverage.
Taylor Reed/LB/SMU: Reed was barely mentioned in scouting circles entering the season, a surprising development considering the linebacker posted 145 tackles as a sophomore then followed it up with 101 as a junior. This year the feisty defender has improved his play in coverage and has been a nuisance rushing the passer. This was evident during Mustangs' blowout victory over Houston as Reed intercepted two passes, one which he returned for a touchdown, then forced another interception when he blitzed the quarterback. He lacks classic size for the next level. He shows outstanding skill in pursuit and plays smart, disciplined football. Reed will be a good addition in the late rounds for any team needing depth at linebacker and a special teams ace.
Travis Long/DE-OLB/Washington State: Long is another who was overlooked by scouts entering the season yet he's been ascending draft boards in recent weeks. He's a natural pass rusher that consistently creates havoc in the opponents backfield. Seven games into his senior season Long has already registered 7.5 sacks, 10 tackles and has broken up three passes. His dismissal by scouts entering the season is head-scratching considering Long won all-Conference honors as a junior after totaling 12 tackles for loss last year. Solid pre-draft workouts could help him land in the early part of the draft's final day.
Justin Hunter/WR/Tennessee: Hunter was featured during this week's NFLDraft Watch and his struggles this season against top competition were highlighted. Facing off against Alabama's talented secondary, his woes continued. He was shut out during the first half and did not catch a pass until late in the third quarter when the outcome of the contest was already in hand. Hunter had a long gainer bounce off his hands in the waning minutes of the second quarter as Tennessee attempted to mount a comeback. He's a prospect with incredible physical skills, but Hunter has yet to prove he's a big time player when the pads are on.
Eric Reid*/S/LSU: Reid entered the season with high grades, yet his undisciplined play has thrown up red flags. He posted 11 tackles during the victory over Texas A&M but struggled against the pass and seemed very one-dimensional. Reid was also flagged for two bad penalties, including a 15-yard late hit penalty during the closing stages of the fourth quarter which kept the Aggies in the game. The junior possesses the skills necessary to be a big-time NFL prospect but has not shown the ability to play at a consistently high level.
• It was another terrific day for the top underclassmen at the tight end position. Tyler Eifert came up big for Notre Dame, totaling four receptions, 73 yards and a touchdown in the team's three-point victory over BYU. Stanford's Zach Ertz fared even better with six receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinal won "The Big Game" over California. Though there's been no official announcement, sources say the Stanford coaching staff is preparing for life without Ertz in 2013, a sure sign he'll enter the draft.
• Entering the season reports claimed NFL scouts had stamped LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger with a first-round grade based on his play during August camp. Scouts have reevaluated their initial grade as the junior college transfer has been spotty in the teams eight games. Mettenberger seems unsure of himself in the pocket and the accuracy of his passes leaves a lot to be desired. He offers a tremendous amount of upside, but needs a lot of work on his game.
• The consensus in the scouting community is two more junior signal callers, Tyler Bray of Tennessee and Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech, would be wise to return for their senior seasons rather than opt for the NFL draft. Neither has developed as scouts expected entering the season.