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College football players to watch for: Championship weekend

Related: Patriots bolster wide receiver position in new 2021 mock draft

Kentucky vs Florida Photo by Alex de la Osa/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

The college football regular season has officially come and gone. We saw a total of 525 games played over the last 15 weeks, which will culminate in the best two-day stretch the sport has to offer, Conference Championship Weekend!

10 conferences will decide on their champions on Friday or Saturday, something that seems impossible considering the path we took to get here.

Covid-10 cancellations, delayed starts, and stupid self-imposed rules (I’m looking at you Big Ten) made it look like we would be missing a few games, but alas cooler heads prevailed and we’re set for a beautiful slate.

We are going to do a little something different this week and profile one player from each game that would fit best with the New England Patriots. That’s right 10 profiles! I’m punishing myself for your benefit, you’re welcome. So without wasting any time let us get straight into the profiles.

Conference USA Championship Game: UAB vs. Marshall

  • Date: Friday - 12/18/2020
  • Time: 7:00pm
  • Network: CBSSN

Player: Jordan Smith, EDGE, UAB

There is no prospect in this draft that could benefit more from the coaching and culture of the Patriots than Jordan Smith. Smith is a 6’7”, 255lb game wrecker that plays on the edge of the UAB defense. He has 23.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in 20 career games with the Blazers.

Originally landing at the University of Florida as a 4-star recruit, Smith was suspended from the team for the 2017 season following an arrest. He and eight other Florida players were running a credit card fraud scam and were caught, he ended up pleading no contest to a third-degree felony charge for scheming to defraud. Smith said this about the situation, “[football] got taken from me for just a small amount of time and that drove me to be better. I had to better myself because something I cared about was taken away because of a bad decision.”

Smith is an incredibly raw talent who will need some work to thrive at the next level. He has limitless potential but needs the right coaching to unlock it. He didn’t get that coaching at UAB, who’s football program was defunct just four years ago. Check him out on Friday, he’s good enough to make you watch this football game.

MAC Championship Game: Ball State vs. Buffalo

  • Date: Friday - 12/18/2020
  • Time: 7:30pm
  • Network: ESPN

Player: Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

This one is a bit of a treat for you guys.

Jaret Patterson isn’t going to be a New Enlgand Patriot. Not only are the Patriots all set with early-down backs, Bill Belichick hasn’t drafted a player out of the Mid-American Conference since Taylor Price in 2010.

This guy is just fun to watch.

MAC-tion’s offensive player of the year is averaging 8.3 yards per rush, totaling 1,025 yards and 18 touchdowns in only FIVE games this season. His best performance came three weeks ago against Kent State, where he had 409 yards on 36 attempts with 8 (eight!) touchdowns. Watching him is like watching a real life video game and this could be your last chance to do so before he hits the NFL.

Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon vs. USC

  • Date: Friday - 12/18/2020
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Network: FOX

Player: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

You want wide receivers? You got ‘em.

Amon-Ra St. Brown has done a great job of improving his draft stock in 2020. I had this to say about him before USC started its season:

Amon-Ra St. Brown is a separation machine. He’s played primarily in the slot for USC and proven to be a big play threat for them while showing the ability to beat both man and zone coverage. He understands leverage very well which contributes to his ability to create separation. He’s got strong hands and can create YAC. Not the best underneath route runner but he’s been limited by USC’s offense. Allowing him the opportunity to expand his route tree would be a risk for any team that drafts him.

St. Brown took on an expanded role in 2020 and completely erased that worry. He’s become a more complete receiver and climbed not only the big boards but mine as well. If the Patriots don’t land one of the top three receivers (Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith) then I think St. Brown, along with the next man, are primed to end up in New England’s second round range.

Big Ten Championship Game: Northwestern vs. Ohio State

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 12:00pm
  • Network: FOX

Player: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

If you were reading these lists back in Week 9 then you know I LOVE Chris Olave. He’s incredibly smooth in his routes and can create separation on a dime. He’s more quick than fast, and has a really diverse skill set, playing both inside and outside. He brings special teams value as a gunner on kickoffs and punts. Hands won’t blow you away but rarely needs to win contested catch scenarios as defensive backs have trouble sticking with him. He’s ready to play in the NFL right now.

Like I mentioned above, the Patriots could, and most likely will, be looking for a wide receiver in the second round. These guys, along with Terrace Marshall from LSU will be the top options in that range.

UPDATE: Chris Olave will be inactive for the Big Ten Championship Game. There has not been a reason given for his status. Some players to watch for during this game are Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner and Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher.

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma vs. Iowa State

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 12:00pm
  • Network: ABC

Player: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

If not for incredible jumps made by Brevin Jordan and Hunter Long, Charlie Kolar could have easily been a top-three tight end in the 2021 class. Despite the emergence of others, Kolar was rock steady in the regular season, with stats that were on par with his 2019 through nine games.

I don’t believe Kolar has the same amount of upside as the Patriots two current rookie tight ends, he does however provide a high floor, and looks to be a guy who could come in and contribute right away.

In all honesty, I think if they don’t land a certain someone we will talk about later, the chances are the Patriots steer clear of the tight end spot all together. However, there is little chance they enter the 2021 season with the same group they currently boast. Either way this is an intriguing prospect to watch as he’s been the model of consistency in his career, and the Patriots would do anything for some consistency at the tight end position.

Sun Belt Championship Game: Louisiana vs. Coastal Carolina

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 3:30pm
  • Network: ESPN

Player: Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina

Tarron Jackson is the star defensive player of College Football’s 2020 darling, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.

Not only is he built like a brick outhouse (6’2”, 270lbs), but Jackson is a production machine with 49 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks on the season. He provides positional versatility along the defensive line as he’s lined up everywhere in his college career and played well. His best attribute is his raw strength, something you won’t find in all EDGE prospects nowadays.

Not only do I like Tarron Jackson in this spot, having the ability to play in a big game with a New Years Six bowl spot on the line, but I think his current projected draft position (5th/6th round) is a tremendous value for the Patriots.

UPDATE: The Sun Belt Championship Game has been canceled.

ACC Championship Game: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 4:00pm
  • Network: ABC

Player: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

Back in September I had this to say about Owusu-Koramoah:

Owusu-Koramoah is the classic guy who over produces at a top program but slips in the draft because he doesn’t ‘have all the tools.’

With a stellar 2020 season, not only has Owusu-Koramoah proven me wrong and climbed the draft boards, he’s pretty much a top three LB prospect according to everyone who matters. He’s been great in 2020 but there is one specific reason I think he fits on this list. He’s been groomed by Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame staff like Bill Belichick and his staff groom their own players.

Owusu-Koramoah took time to carve out a spot on the Irish defense but once he did, he was the bonafide leader. He was molded into that spot over time. He sounds like a Patriot already.

Mountain West Championship Game: Boise State vs. SJSU

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 4:15pm
  • Network: FOX

Player: Ethan Aguayo, LB, San Jose State

In what is perhaps our most unknown name on the list, Ethan Aguayo reminds me a lot of the Patriots’ UDFA linebackers from 2020. Kyahva Tezino and De’Jon Harris were both undersized but productive prospects coming out of underperforming programs. Check, check, and check.

Aguayo only stands at 6’2” and weighs in at 220lbs. He did however start 39 games in his time at San Jose State, totaling 345 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and a pair of interceptions over the course of his career.

I really like Aguayo as a flyer type player, he’s led a defense and produced. This will be his last chance to do so at the college level.

American Championship Game: Tulsa vs. Cincinnati

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Network: ABC

Player: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

It hasn’t been long since we talked about Collins the first time so I will refer you to what I said a couple weeks ago:

[Collins] is an extremely versatile player who can line up at any linebacker spot, off or on ball. He has necessary length and pass rush skills to play on the edge with the IQ and instinct of an off ball linebacker. He is very good at keeping an outside shoulder free and works well through traffic, he has fluid hips that will help him in his coverage drops. The biggest red flag in his game is whether or not he could fully develop into an every down player at one position.

I did also mention that Collins may be a reach for the Patriots as they have some more glaring needs. Though if he falls into the second round he is definitely an option for New England.

SEC Championship Game: Alabama vs. Florida

  • Date: Saturday - 12/19/2020
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Network: CBS

Player: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

We saved the best for last.

Not only should Kyle Pitts win the Heisman Trophy, he should be a top-five pick.

I’ve contended throughout the 2020 season that passing on Kyle Pitts will be a mistake regardless of positional need, thankfully for the Patriots, they need an elite pass catcher. Pitts pairs the skills of a top wide receiver prospect with the frame and playing style of an elite tight end.

My best approximation of an NFL comparison for Pitts would be the receiving skills of Darren Waller with the blocking skills of everyone’s favorite Patriot tight end Ryan Izzo (he could use some work).

I will leave you with two things, Kyle Pitts is the best possible player in the Patriots reach and if they do not draft him in April, they will regret it for the next decade.