Scouts Inc. will be at Heinz Field for the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh showdown, which will determine the Big East champion and which team represents the conference in a BCS bowl game. A win could also keep alive the Bearcats' slim hopes for a berth in the national championship game.
The Cincinnati offense has been a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators all season, but Pittsburgh has one of the deepest defensive lines in the nation and can generate enough of a pass rush, potentially, to slow down coach Brian Kelly's fast-paced attack.
I spent time at Pittsburgh's facilities this week, watching game film and talking to coaches, and got a good look at plenty of prospects. Here's a look at the top pro prospects taking the field for both teams, many of whom are underclassmen who do not yet have a draft grade but all of whom have some level of pro potential:
Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard (6-0, 182); Grade: 79 -- Gilyard is a productive receiver who shows good savvy and has a feel for finding open areas against zone coverage. He is also elusive after the catch and could offer an NFL team something in the return game as well. He is undersized, though, and despite his ability to get open underneath, there are concerns about his lack of ideal top-end speed. Gilyard projects as a second- or third-round pick.
Pittsburgh TE Nate Byham (6-3¾, 262); Grade: 71 -- One of the better blocking tight ends in the nation, Byham essentially serves as a sixth offensive lineman in Pittsburgh's power running game. He is a limited athlete but does have sure hands and the ability to find voids in underneath zone coverage. Overall, Byham projects as a midround prospect.
Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull (6-2¾, 216); Grade: 68 -- New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has done wonders for Stull, who is running a pro-style system and doing a good job with anticipation and spot-throwing before receivers are out of their breaks. Stull has a shaky outing last week against West Virginia and needs to get into a comfortable rhythm early against Cincinnati, but he has shown improved awareness and mechanics overall. There are still concerns about his ability to read the field, his arm strength and his overall accuracy, but a team willing to develop a late-round pick could end up getting a good bargain by taking Stull.
Cincinnati QB Tony Pike (6-6, 207); Grade: 67 -- Pike began the season as a fifth-round prospect and worked his way into the second- or third-round area after a hot start, but durability issues and questions about the scheme he plays in have dropped him back to the fourth round. Pike has a very lean frame and missed three games with a forearm injury, so there are questions about whether he can hold up physically in the NFL. He must also prove that he can make all the NFL throws, and because backup Zach Collaros was so successful in his absence, some wonder whether his numbers are merely a product of coach Brian Kelly's offensive system.
However, Pike sees the field well and makes sound decisions, throws with timing and accuracy and shows good mechanics, and he has underrated pocket presence when sidestepping and avoiding the pass rush. Overall, he has the tools to develop at the next level, provided he can add some bulk to his frame.
Pittsburgh TE Dorin Dickerson (6-1½, 225); Grade: 61 -- Cignetti says Dickerson will be the hardest player on the offense to replace after this season. Dickerson is an impressive athlete who is a bit undersized and will likely be an H-back at the next level, but he excels at getting a fast, clean release off the line of scrimmage, has reliable hands and ball skills, and is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Look for Cignetti to use creative formations to get Dickerson some favorable matchups against the Bearcats.
He has gone from a free-agent grade before the season to a late-third round projection currently, and if he tests as well as his coaches expect (42-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-5 broad jump, 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash) Dickerson could work his way into the second round.
Pittsburgh DT Mick Williams (6-1, 269); Grade: 37 -- Williams is undersized but plays with as high a motor as any player we've seen this year. He shows good lateral movement and is relentless running stunts and twists, and he also uses his hands well. A perfect example of his nonstop motor came on a screen pass against Notre Dame when Williams got into the backfield and disrupted QB Jimmy Clausen, then fell back into the play and still was able to tackle the running back for a loss. He could be a good fit as a one-gap penetrator at the next level and could come off the board in the middle rounds.
Cincinnati WR Armon Binns (6-4, 200) -- Binns has opened some eyes this season with his combination of size, athleticism and ability to stretch the field, and he tracks the deep ball well. He could be a problem for a Pittsburgh secondary that has had awareness issues and allowed a lot of big plays this season. Binns is still raw in his route-running and transitioning out of breaks and will be back for his senior season, but he is a prospect worth watching next season.
Pittsburgh DT Gus Mustakas (6-3, 285) -- An undersized defensive tackle who plays with good leverage and counters well, Mustakas plays with good hand use as well. He disrupts plays with his effort and the team that uses a late-round pick on Mustakas or picks him up as a priority free agent should end up being very happy with him.
Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus (6-6, 270) -- Romeus has impressive size and has been an effective power-to-speed rusher at times this season, and he has gotten himself into the third-round area as a junior. However, he is not a finished product and would be wise to stay for his senior season. Romeus lacks explosion at the snap and does not counter effectively once an offensive linemen has stopped his first move, flaws that were exposed in a big way against Rutgers OT Anthony Davis.
Davis consistently stoned Romeus at the line of scrimmage, and Romeus appeared to become frustrated and wave the white flag in the third quarter, sometimes giving up after his first move was stopped, and that film will scare NFL talent evaluators. He should return to school in order to maximize is draft potential. Davis, on the other hand, is a top-tier prospect with impressive size, athleticism, footwork and strength, and despite minor character concerns he could challenge Oklahoma State's Russell Okung as the top offensive lineman on the board if he leaves Rutgers as a junior.
Pittsburgh DE Jabaal Sheard (6-4, 260) -- Because of his relative lack of size, Sheard will likely convert to a 3-4 rush end in the NFL. He is quick off the edge and disengages from blocks quickly as a pass rusher, and he has also shown fluid hips and adequate awareness when dropping into coverage. Another junior who is expected to return, Sheard could make some noise and move up boards next season.
Pittsburgh FB Henry Hynoski (6-2, 260) -- Hynoski is just a sophomore but is one of the most versatile players Cignetti has at his disposal. Hynoski has good point-of-attack skills as a lead blocker in the running game and is excellent with picking up and anchoring against the blitz in pass protection. He also provides Stull with a good checkdown target in the flats when he is able to leak out of the backfield.
MAC championship game
Central Michigan takes on Ohio in the Mid-America Conference title game Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2), and the Chippewas have a pair of prospects to keep an eye on.
QB Dan LeFevour has all the intangibles. He is an impressive leader who makes good decisions, and he is adept at making plays with his feet when the pocket breaks down. LeFevour is a bit mechanical in his delivery, and scouts question his arm strength and his accuracy under pressure, but overall he is a third- or fourth-round prospect who will be fighting with Western Michigan's Tim Hiller to be the first MAC quarterback off the board.
LeFevour's favorite target is WR Bryan Anderson, a big receiver (6-4) who can get down the field and shield the ball from defenders with his frame. Anderson also high-points the ball very well in jump-ball situations, but concerns that he is a straight-line receiver who has trouble transitioning out of breaks will land him in the middle rounds.
Around the nation
• Tennessee S Eric Berry (Scouts Inc. No. 1) made the first of what will be many All-America teams when he was named to the American Football Coaches Association team. Berry, who needed 15 interception return yards to become the all-time leader, finished eight yards short. If there was disappointment in not setting the mark, Vols defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin tried to reassure Berry.
"I put my arm around him, after the last game [against Kentucky] and I said, 'You're awesome and I love you, Eric.'" Kiffin told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "But you know, you can't necessarily plan these things. People might say you put him in the box too much or whatever [but] Eric made a lot of tackles for us. He played deep. He played Cover 2. He played three-deep. He was in flats and curls and stuff. I just think a lot of it is they're not throwing it toward No. 14."
• The honors continue to roll in for Texas QB Colt McCoy (No. 44), who won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, the first Longhorns quarterback to do so. "With all of the great quarterbacks around the country, it's definitely humbling to be picked as the winner. But like I told them last night, this is an honor I can't wait to share with my teammates and coaches," McCoy told the Austin American-Statesman. "Without them, I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything."
• Clemson RB C.J. Spiller (No. 13) has racked up the yards this season. Now he's cleaning up in the awards. Spiller was named ACC Player of the Year, and the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier reports that "when C.J. Spiller heard he was named the ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, the Lake Butler, Fla., native "broke down emotionally."
"Just the things I had to go through in January," Spiller said, "deciding whether to go or come back, it's an honor."
• Spiller and his teammates are well aware of whom they'll be facing in the ACC title game, and they're building a game plan to avoid Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan (No. 6). "Morgan is the best player we've played the whole season," Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He is a dominant player. He is a top-10 NFL draft pick. He has a great motor, great fundamentals, size, quickness and plays well with his hands. He is a guy we will have to have a plan for."
• Everyone, including the Arizona team that will face him this week, knows what USC S Taylor Mays (No. 17) is all about. After all, it's tough to miss him. "Really, I've never seen a guy who's as physically imposing as he is," UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes told the Arizona Daily Wildcat. "That's the thing that separates him: He looks like a defensive end playing free safety, you know? I think not only is he a good player who makes plays, but he's just such a big, physical guy that you always notice where he is."