When North Carolina visits Virginia Tech on Thursday night (7:30 ET, ESPN), six notable NFL prospects will take the field. Here's what we're looking for from each:
North Carolina DT Marvin Austin (6-2.5, 303); Scouts Inc. grade: 92 -- Austin did a good job last week of clogging the middle against Florida State's undersized offensive line, but he faces a much tougher test this week. Virginia Tech's interior offensive line is at its best driving defenders off the ball, and this shapes up as a strength-on-strength matchup. Austin is better against the run than as a pass-rusher and could have success against Hokies G Sergio Render, who does not use his hands as well as Austin. We also want to see how Austin holds up against the fair amount of double-team blocks we expect Virginia Tech to throw at him.
North Carolina SLB Bruce Carter (6-2¾, 223); Grade: 87 -- Carter has the potential to become a starting linebacker in the NFL and will be an immediate contributor on special teams. He blocked four punts and a field goal last season and has the tenacity and range to be an excellent punt and kick cover man. In terms of linebacker play, Carter gets good depth and reads quarterbacks and routes very well when dropping in zone coverage. And when Carter gets his hands on the ball, he is a threat to make something happen.
As a run-defender he plays from sideline to sideline, but his height and lean frame raise concerns about his ability to play low and hold up in phone booth situations right away in the NFL. However, Carter has room to add the necessary bulk and become better in that area. He currently projects as an early second-rounder if he chooses to enter the draft.
Virginia Tech OT Ed Wang (6-4⅝ 298); Grade: 76 -- Wang moves his feet well as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker so we expect him to seat the edge when zone blocking in the running game and protect the corner in pass protection against Tar Heels DEs E.J. Wilson and Robert Quinn.
After watching him on film, though, it is clear that Wang is a waist-bender who does not sink his hips low and get under the pads of defenders. With Wilson (280 pounds) and Quinn (270) both showing good power, it will be interesting to see how well Wang holds up against bull rushes and whether he can get movement in short-yardage situations. He is a solid third-round prospect but still must answer those questions.
Virginia Tech S Kam Chancellor (6-2, 225); Grade: 75 -- Expect North Carolina to try to isolate Chancellor in coverage and attack him over the middle because of his inconsistent footwork. And while we have praised Chancellor as a run-defender because of his size, his aggressive downhill style and willingness to take on contact, he could have problems this week.
Chancellor sometimes takes on backs with only his upper body because he takes poor angles and overruns plays at times, but he often gets away with it because his long arms and upper-body strength allow him to reach out and latch on to ball carriers. That won't work against 245-pound Tar Heels RB Ryan Houston, though. Houston will run right through those arm tackles, and Chancellor must take better angles and do a better job of wrapping him up down low. Chancellor gets a third-round grade at this point.
Virginia Tech G Sergio Render (6-3, 302); Grade: 73 -- Render is tough, comes off the ball hard and shows good strength at the point of attack. He can get movement in the running game, and his matchup with the very stout Austin will be entertaining.
We'll be watching to see whether Render can sustain blocks and how well he is able to get to the second level and get a body on linebackers, because there are concerns about his ability to keep his hands on defenders and his stiffness in space. Render is considered one of the top interior line prospects, and we currently grade him as a late-third-rounder, and he needs to show something against the Tar Heels if he is to start moving up the board.
Virginia Tech CB Stephan Virgil (5-10.5, 185); Grade: 57 -- Virgil has missed two games this season because of a knee injury and has not made as many plays on the ball as in the past, but in previous seasons he has shown a nose for the ball, strong hands and a shifty running style after making interceptions. North Carolina QB T.J. Yates has not protected the ball well this year and would be wise to not test Virgil too often.
And while Virgil does not appear as big as his listed size, he is not afraid to step up in run support and flashes the ability to make a big hit. How he fares against Houston and whether he begins making more plays could begin to affect his current fifth-round grade one way or the other.
Around the nation
• California RB Jahvid Best (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 17) will have his work cut out for him Saturday when the Golden Bears meet Arizona State, which has the sixth-best rushing defense in the nation at 83.4 yards per game. "I look at it as a great opportunity to show that our run offense is still able to kick some butt," offensive tackle Mike Tepper told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I want to put up some points against these guys, and do it in the run game."
• Florida DT Carlos Dunlap (No. 6) started this season slowly, but according to The Gainesville Sun, the Gators' coaching staff has been pleased with Dunlap's play of late. "He needs to keep it going," UF defensive line coach Dan McCarney said. "He's got that in him. He's got the ability, he's got the talent, he's got the experience. I just told him, 'We've talked about your dreams and goals and what you want to accomplish, and you need to start playing that way. That means practicing better.'"
"He did that the past couple of weeks, and he sure played that way (against Mississippi State). We hope it will continue. We think it will."
• With an 8-0 record and No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings, the Iowa Hawkeyes have drawn a lot of attention recently. OT Bryan Bulaga (No. 40) notes the team has tried to keep its focus on the games and not on the rankings. We heard a lot of people congratulating us on what we did," Bulaga told the Quad City Times. "But I think they forget about it and move on to the next game, just like we have to."
• • Oklahoma State has appealed the NCAA's decision to suspend WR Dez Bryant (No. 12) until next September. Bryant told The Oklahoman he's not sure whether he'll enter the NFL draft. "I'm just thinking about what's going on right now," he said. "That's what I'm focused on. I'm just going to let that all take care of itself. God has the best decision for me."
• It's not often a college football player's style of play gets mentioned at a congressional hearing, but the physical nature of USC S Taylor Mays (No. 11) was referenced by Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., in a hearing on concussions Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that "the congressman didn't identify the two-time All-American by name, but said that while attending a Notre Dame game a couple of weeks ago he 'saw a headhunter on the field' tear the helmet off a player.
"Lungren was referring to Mays' fourth-quarter hit on Notre Dame receiver Robby Parris, who lost his helmet on the play. Lungren said that no penalty was called on the play, but Mays was actually flagged for a personal foul."
Mays, for one, would rather get a call from different politician: "Maybe [President] Obama will give me a call," he said, chuckling. "I don't have any bad intentions. I don't know how it could get that far, but that's just the reality of the situation."