Marvin Austin, one of America's premiere interior defensive linemen, will have an opportunity to showcase his skills against a smaller Florida State offensive line Thursday night (ESPN/ESPN360.com, 8 p.m. ET).
Projected as a late-first-round pick, Austin should be a force against the run -- especially considering that FSU doesn't have an interior offensive lineman bigger than the 285 pounds. Austin weighs 303 pounds and does a good job staying low coming out of his stance. We expect him to control the middle of the line of scrimmage when FSU runs inside. We've also been impressed with the way Austin gets his hands in passing in lanes when he isn't going to get to the QB -- he can be very disruptive that way.
On the other hand, it'll be interesting to see how he performs against a mobile QB like Christian Ponder. On film, Austin doesn't appear to have great closing speed -- he's more of a power rusher than a speed rusher. If he can get to a QB like Ponder, who is very athletic, it's going to improve his stock.
Austin can be disruptive against the pass as a bull rusher, but we don't expect him to put up big sack numbers. If he shows us something different, that'll be a big plus for him.
• When Miami OT Jason Fox and Clemson DE Ricky Sapp square off Saturday, we will be treated to a power versus finesse matchup, but it might not be what most onlookers are expecting. I expect Sapp, an early-second- or late-first-round prospect, to get the better of this matchup because of his initial power. Although he's only 245 pounds (going up against the 300-pound Fox), Sapp can rock offensive tackles back on their heels with his explosive first step, and he does a great job of attacking offensive tackles' outside shoulders. In spite of the fact that Fox, who projects to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round, does a good job with his first step to protect the corner, his lack of initial punch will make it tough to keep Sapp from getting by on the outside. Look for Sapp's speed and explosive power to give him an advantage Saturday.
• We currently have listed Penn State LB Sean Lee as a solid second-round pick, but durability concerns could cause him to fall. He's missed three games with a knee injury that limited him last week. He also missed all of the 2008 season after tearing his ACL in his right knee during spring ball. Lee is expected to play a much bigger role as the season progresses. The biggest concern with him before the knee injury was his stiff hips in space. We're concerned about his athletic ability in coverage, as well as his lack of ideal fluidity when he defends a run.
There are few schemes that will test a linebacker's ability in space as much as Michigan's spread offense. Saturday's contest between Penn State and Michigan will give us a chance to see whether Lee's natural ability will put him in a position to make a play. He's an excellent tackler who takes the right angles and gets in good position, but he has to show the ability to change directions in space and close quickly.
• Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty has already helped himself considerably with his performance this season. He faces a significant test Saturday when his Vols go up against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama's defense is extremely effective playing against the run. The Tide have a physical D-line, a disciplined and talented LB core that won't get caught out of position, and a secondary in which their corners and more importantly their safeties aren't afraid to play run defense. Facing this talented Alabama unit means that a huge day for Hardesty is unlikely. However, this is an important game for him on film. What we want to see is his making crisp cuts in the backfield and continuing to get downhill and take what the defense gives him. If he can consistently get the 3- and 4-yard runs, his stock will be helped.
Around the Nation
• When Alabama hosts Tennessee on Saturday, each team will have a Cody on one side of the line. Crimson Tide DT Terrence Cody (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 27) will face off against Tennessee C Cody Sullins. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sullins can't wait for the meeting. "Honestly, I'm looking forward to it," Sullins said. "It's a great challenge, and I like challenges. I'm not one to really back down from challenges, but you know, he's a great player, and he's going to be a tough challenge. He's really big and really talented, and he's a great competitor.
"I'm just going to have to work my tail off this week preparing for him and bring my best to the game on Saturday."
• The death of Connecticut CB Jasper Howard has affected college football players across the country, including fellow Big East competitor, Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard.
"Who knows, two inches to the left and Jasper could still be here," Gilyard told the News Record, a student publication at the University of Cincinnati.
Gilyard, who has a background similar to Howard's, said his heart goes out to Howard's mother.
"She's so heartbroken, this is her baby. I really feel like I lost a best friend and we weren't even close like that," Gilyard said. "I guess football keeps everybody close."
• Florida State is hurting, and no more so that on defense. According to the Miami Herald, CB Patrick Robinson (No. 29) and LB Dekoda Watson (No. 99) are questionable for the Seminoles' contest Thursday: "According to the team's official injury report, which was released Tuesday night, three regular starters are out because of injuries, and four others are listed as questionable. The biggest question marks are on defense, where senior linebacker Dekoda Watson has a groin injury and senior cornerback Patrick Robinson is recovering from a sprained ankle.
"Watson and Robinson are considered the best players on a defense that struggled when it was at full strength. If Robinson is limited, most of his snaps will be taken by freshman Greg Reid. Sophomore Nigel Carr will start at strong-side linebacker if Watson is held out."
• Northwestern hosts Indiana on Saturday in a matchup of two teams with 1-2 records in Big Ten play. The Wildcats had hoped for a better start to the conference slate, but suffered injuries to the defense, including Corey Wootton (No. 57). The Chicago Tribune reports: "Although Wootton has not appeared on NU's injury report, the one-time All-America candidate has played sparingly the last two weeks because of a sprained ankle. Less than a year past knee surgery, Wootton has yet to register a sack."
• TCU DE/LB Jerry Hughes (No. 35) will be very much on the minds of BYU players Saturday. The question is: Will he be in their backfield as well? "If Jerry is actually able to know it is a pass and is able to come off the ball like he would like to, it is very difficult for any one player to be able to block him," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I know there are teams that have used running backs to chip him, I know there have been teams that have used max protection. We would like to just be able to play offensive football the way we are accustomed to, with no change. That would be the ideal. But most likely that is not going to happen, because he is, I think, an exceptional talent."