New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Washington QB Michael Penix, Oregon QB Bo Nix (USA Today)

This weekend is a big one in college football, with conference championships on the line across the country. For the heavy majority of college football teams, winning a conference championship is the overarching goal for the season. Only a few schools truly compete for a National Championship, with the College Football Playoff being more like the Champions League in European soccer. Winning the conference title is hardly a consolation prize.

While that will be the immediate focus for all of the players in action this weekend, this is also a big few days for NFL talent evaluators. It’s a chance to see this year’s prospects against some of the toughest competition they’ll face all year, meaning the tape from these games holds a big more weight than that from any average Saturday.

In total, 22 teams will compete for 11 championships this weekend between Friday and Saturday. Here’s a look at the schedule…

These games will feature a number of the top prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft class, including the majority of the currently projected first-round picks and top-50 prospects. In addition, six of the projected top nine quarterbacks will be in action this weekend.

Let’s take a look at the top quarterbacks in action this weekend, and what to watch for with each – including video breakdowns. We’ll also get into some of the other top non-quarterback prospects in action this week as well.

  • Michael Penix, Washington

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 25: Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies passes during the second quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Husky Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 25: Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies passes during the second quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Husky Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    In a year that has been a roller coaster for many of the quarterbacks in this class, Penix has been as steady as any. That consistency has been a big part of the reason he’s viewed as a first-round pick and Heisman candidate, despite a history of knee injuries and the fact he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie.

    Now, coming off of what was as much of a ‘down’ week as he’s had last week against Washington State. Penix has a chance to really put himself in the national spotlight and make his case as potential NFL franchise quarterback. With a win over No. 6 Oregon in the National Championship game, No. 4 Washington would be undefeated and virtually locked into a playoff spot – a chance for Penix to further show scouts what he can do against the top defenses in the nation.

    It’s also another chance for Penix to duel against another projected first-round pick in Oregon QB Bo Nix. Penix got the better of Nix in the teams’ regular season meeting in October, when he threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns, eventually leading a game-winning drive in a 36-33 Washington win.

    Penix has arguably the best arm talent in this entire class. He can dot the ball and put in on a guy at any spot on the field, and does a great job of throwing his receivers open. Throughout the year he’s also shown excellent poise and an ability to create under pressure and in clutch situations.

  • Bo Nix, Oregon

    Nov 18, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Mountain America Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Mountain America Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    On the other side of the Pac-12 Championship is Nix, who is one of if not the Heisman favorite and another projected first-round pick. Nix has been arguably the best quarterback in the country over the last month. In his last four games he’s averaging 392.3 passing yards per game, throwing for 16 touchdowns (with another three rushing) while throwing just one interception in that span.

    Another older prospect with over 50 collegiate starts under his belt, Nix needs to flex his NFL-readiness as much as anything. Getting a chance to face a defense like Georgia or Michigan in the College Football Playoff would be a great way to do that, but Nix will need to win this game to get that chance. A win for one-loss Oregon would mean the Ducks have beat every team on their schedule.

    Nix has been an excellent conductor of the Oregon offense this year, getting the ball in-and-out quickly and placing the ball well. However, within that a big knock on Nix’s game has been the kind of throws he’s being asked to make. While he has completed 78.6 percent of his 401 pass attempts this year, 27.6 percent of all his pass attempts have targeted pass-catchers behind the line of scrimmage, while another 39.4 percent have traveled less than 10 yards. His average depth of target (ADOT) is 7.0 yards this year, which ranks 37th among all qualified draft-eligible quarterbacks.

    Against Washington back in October, Nix’s single-game ADOT was down a full yard at 6.0 yards per attempt. Expect Washington to sit on the short stuff more in this game, and see if Nix does more to test the defense deep.

  • J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

    Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy looks to pass against Ohio State during the first half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (Junfu Han/USA Today Network)

    Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy looks to pass against Ohio State during the first half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (Junfu Han/USA Today Network)

    Michigan’s unbeaten record has given McCarthy plenty of spotlight in the draft conversation, but he hasn’t put together a game yet to really pick up on that hype individually – especially against the best defenses Michigan has faced. Three weeks ago he threw just eight passes against Penn State. Last week against Ohio State he was more involved but still threw the ball just 20 times, with 15 of those 20 passes comings within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage leading to a 7.0 yard ADOT, capitalizing on Michigan’s tremendous talent at the skill positions. That’s often been the case this season, and McCarthy actually hasn’t attempted enough passes to qualify as an ADOT leader nationally.

    Despite all of that, McCarthy shot up draft boards early in the season. His age (he’ll turn 21 in January) and athleticism suggest significant upside, even if he’s incredibly raw at that point.

    If McCarthy wants shed that ‘raw’ label, he’ll need to go out and win a game himself at some point. This week against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship will be a great chance to do that. The Hawkeyes have the fourth-best defense in the country allowing 12.2 points per game, and have only allowed one team to score more than 16 points in a single game (Penn State put up 31 in late September).

    The Wolverines will likely go to a run-heavy attack again this week, but against a defense like Iowa some plays will need to be made through the air. McCarthy needs to step up in those spots, and then do the same in the college football playoff to re-enter any kind of top-50 conversation.

  • Quinn Ewers, Texas

    FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 11: Quinn Ewers #3 of the Texas Longhorns looks to pass against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 11, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    FORT WORTH, TX – NOVEMBER 11: Quinn Ewers #3 of the Texas Longhorns looks to pass against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 11, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    There’s been some reporting that Ewers, a redshirt sophomore, could return to school after seeing his draft stock slide this season. Once projected as a first-round pick he’s now looking like more of a Day 2 option if he does come out.

    Ewers was the top overall recruit in his high school class in 2020, and was viewed by some as a potential generational quarterback talent. His first season as a starter in 2022 was cut short due to injury, and he’s dealt with another injury this year while having up-and-down performances on the field. He’s split his two spotlight games this year – throwing for 349 yards and three scores in a win against Alabama in Week 2, but then turning the ball over multiple times in a loss to rival Oklahoma a few weeks later.

    A statement win to close the season – or perhaps even deliver a CFB berth – would be massive for Ewers. He should have plenty of chances to show off his athleticism, big arm, and creative playmaking against an Oklahoma State defense that has struggled to defend the pass this season. Maybe if he plays well enough this week and gets another shot to impress at the CFP, he’ll raise his stock enough to forgo his remaining college eligibility and turn his focus to the NFL.

  • Michael Pratt, Tulane

    Nov 11, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) looks to pass in first quarter action at Yulman Stadium. Credit: Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 11, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) looks to pass in first quarter action at Yulman Stadium. Credit: Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

    Now we’re on to some of the late-Day 2, early-Day 3, fringe-top 100 quarterbacks. There are two guys playing this weekend that can make a push to be true Day 2 picks.

    We’ll start with Pratt, whose standout trait is his experience. He took over as Tulane’s starting quarterback as a true freshman, and in total has started 43 games over the last four years. The last two years combined (23 games) he’s led the Green Wave to an impressive 21-2 record, averaging 225 passing yards per game while accounting for 62 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.

    Pratt sees the field well and can carve up a defense underneath throwing a quick, accurate ball. He handles pressure well, although hasn’t had to deal with it too much recently. He’s at his best in the short and intermediate parts of the field, but doesn’t have the top-tier arm strength to be a regular downfield threat. As a runner, he’s a functional enough athlete to make an impact with his legs improvising at the college level, but that likely won’t/shouldn’t be a big part of his game as a pro. Overall, his prospect makeup is somewhat similar to Bailey Zappe’s when he was coming out of college.

    In the AAC Championship Pratt will face a tough test in an SMU defense that is tied (with Alabama) for 15th in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 184.2 passing yards per game. Additionally Pratt missed SMU’s game against Ole Miss earlier this year due to injury. A win on Saturday could set him up to face another Power 5 opponent in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game next month.

  • Carson Beck, Georgia

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 25: Carson Beck #15 of the Georgia Bulldogs passes during the first quarter against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 25: Carson Beck #15 of the Georgia Bulldogs passes during the first quarter against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Entering the season, Beck was somewhat of an afterthought as far as the NFL Draft was concerned. In his first year as a starter, Beck was expected to assume the ‘conductor’ role Stetson Bennett held down for the Bulldogs the last few years.

    Beck has gone well above and beyond that expectation. He was able to keep Georgia’s offense on track as key pass-catchers tight end Brock Bowers and wide receiver Ladd McConkey missed time. Now that both players are back the offense is really clicking, and Beck is putting together some NFL-caliber tape.

    With his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and mechanics, Beck throws an NFL ball with plenty of zip to all three levels on the field. If he can improve his accuracy, he can be a plus pure passer as a pro. He just turned 21 last week, so age shouldn’t be a factor in his development. Beck has functional athleticism, but in the NFL his path to success is as a pocket passer.

    The question is, will he return to school, or take his development to the NFL? If he lights up Alabama and has a strong showing in the College Football Playoff, he could raise his stock enough to the point where it makes more sense for him to declare. A fringe top-100 pick right now, with the right performances he could work his way into being a Day 2 lock by the time the pre-draft process begins.

  • Other players to watch

    Sep 4, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman JC Latham (65) blocks against the Miami Hurricanes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 4, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman JC Latham (65) blocks against the Miami Hurricanes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    In addition to the quarterbacks, here are other draft prospects to keep an eye on in this weekend’s games:

    CUSA Championship: New Mexico State at No. 25 Liberty

    –QB Kaidon Salter, Liberty*

    Pac-12 Championship: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 4 Washington

    –RB Mar’Keise ‘Bucky’ Irving, Oregon*
    –RB Dillon Johnson, Washington*
    –WR Rome Odunze, Washington*
    –WR Ja’Lynn Polk, Washington*
    –WR Jalen McMillan, Washington*
    –WR Troy Franklin, Oregon*
    –C Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon*
    –OT Troy Fautanu, Washington*
    –DE Brandon Dorlus, Oregon
    –DE Bralen Trice, Washington*
    –CB Jabbar Muhammad, Washington*

    Big 12 Championship: No. 20 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7  Texas

    –WR Xavier Worthy, Texas*
    –WR AD Mitchell, Texas*
    –TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, Texas*
    –DT T’Vondre Sweat, Texas
    –OLB Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State*
    –S Jalen Catalon, Texas
    –S Kendal Daniels, Oklahoma State*

    MAC Championship: Miami (OH) vs. Toledo

    –CB Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo*

    Mountain West Championship: Boise State at UNLV

    –RB George Holani, Boise State

    AAC Championship Game: SMU at No. 23 Tulane

    –CB Jarius Monroe, Tulane

    SEC Championship: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 8 Alabama

    –WR Ladd McConkey, Georgia*
    –WR Jermaine Burton, Alabama
    –TE Brock Bowers, Georgia*
    –OT J.C. Latham, Alabama*
    –OT Amarius Mims, Georgia*
    –DT Nazir Stackhouse, Goergia*
    –DE Dallas Turner, Alabama*
    –OLB Chris Braswell, Alabama
    –CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama*
    –CB Terrion Arnold, Alabama*
    –CB Kamari Lassiter, Georgia*
    –S Malachi Moore, Alabama
    –S Javon Bullard, Georgia*

    Sun Belt Championship: App State at Troy

    –RB Kimani Vidal, Troy

    SWAC Championship: Prairie View A&M at Florida A&M

    –LB Isaiah Major, Florida A&M

    ACC Championship: No. 10 Louisville vs. No. 4 Florida State

    –RB Trey Benson, Florida State*
    –WR Keon Coleman, Florida State*
    –WR Johnny Wilson, Florida State*
    –WR Jamari Thrash, Louisville
    –TE Jaheim Bell, Florida State
    –DE Jared Verse, Florida State*

    Big Ten Championship: No. 17 Iowa vs. No. 3 Michigan

    –RB Blake Corum, Michigan
    –RB Donovan Edwards, Michigan*
    –WR Roman Wilson, Michigan
    –TE Luke Lachey, Iowa*
    –DT Kris Jenkins, Michigan
    –DB Mike Sainristil, Michigan
    –S Rod Moore, Michigan

    *Player is an underclassman

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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