While most would be quick to pencil in Baylor as the favorite and likely winner, I would be careful in evaluating this matchup. Baylor enters this game after facing an inferior Wofford opponent, while Buffalo traveled to The Ohio State University and gave a national title contender a good fight. The individual matchup to be excited about involves the best named offensive tackle and the best non-AQ draft prospect in America –Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango will likely be facing a heavy dose of Buffalo hybrid backer Khalil Mack.
While Drango is just in his second season as a starter, he is a third year, draft eligible sophomore that displays sound footwork, good functional strength in his pass set and the length to punch, lockout and ride speed rushers out of the pocket. Senior linebacker Khalil Mack reminds me of the Oakland Raiders most recent draft choice Sio Moore, whose adaptive and explosive skill set made him a fit in nearly any NFL system. Mack is that type of unique linebacker that can play off the edge in a 3-4, rush the passer with his hand in the dirt or operate from a 4-3 Sam linebacker alignment. At any rate, Mack simply makes plays and should give Drango all he can handle.
The highest rated prospect in this game is left guard Cyril Richardson. Just as an aside, when I pulled up an Art Briles led coaching clinic video on Baylor’s zone read rushing attack, head coach Briles said of Richardson, “Yeah, he’s kind of a man-eater.” An apt description of the overpowering guard prospect, Richardson mauls defenders at the initial point of attack and can toss defenders back a few yards with a simple roll of the hips. His aiming points and first step footwork can get him into trouble against quicker defensive tackles, however, his combination of athletic movement skills and dominant power should make him the highest rated interior offensive line prospect in next April’s draft.
Leading the Baylor offense are quarterback Bryce Petty and halfback Lache Seastrunk. While most have heard of Seastrunk’s self proclaimed Heisman campaign, some are sleeping on quarterback Bryce Petty and his potential to win a Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award. Petty, who spent his first two seasons on Baylor’s sidelines, enters the year with promise as a big, physical runner that boasts a natural throwing motion and plus arm talent. Because he’s so physically gifted, Petty can get away with some inefficiencies in his lower half mechanics, and ideally he’ll show more consistency in aligning himself to his target and working his back hip through the throw with proper weight transfer. Able to snap off throws to either boundary and deliver while on the move, Petty looks primed for a breakout season in Art Briles-quarterback friendly system.
Petty’s top vertical threat is senior Tevin Reese, who looked far more controlled in his route running to start the season and more comfortable in catching passes away from his body. Streaky with his hands a year ago, but gifted with rare explosiveness and long speed, Tevin Reese has a chance to climb draft boards with a strong senior season. Baylor’s possession receiver this year looks to be junior Antwan Goodley. Given his hulking 5’10, 225 pound frame and ability to run through arm tacklers after the catch, it’s no surprise that Goodley is a converted running back; however, his deep speed shouldn’t be overlooked and, if given a crease, Antwan can take it the distance. Watch out for #5 this season.
On Buffalo’s sideline, they’ve got a running back prospect of their own in senior Branden Oliver. Cousin of NFL wide receiver Roscoe Parrish, Oliver has an ideal body type at 5’8, 204 pounds, displays quick, sudden footwork to and through the hole, and has proven to be more than a one-trick pony. Breaking school records a year ago with 1,760 all purpose yards and 306 total carries in 2011, Oliver is workhorse back that has toted the rock more than 20 times in 13 career games (including five games of 30 or more carries). He’ll be facing a much-improved Baylor defense that features legit prospects to watch at all three levels of the field.
Starting on the defensive line, end Chris McAllister isn’t a flashy player but he does play the game with a high level of intensity, excellent point of attack fundamentals and overall impressive functional strength for his size. Able to land his hands and collapse inside after setting a hard edge against the run, McAllister plays off blockers very well and should be viewed as an early day three prospect. At the second level, Mike backer Bryce Hager is as instinctive and active a defender you will find in the Big 12 this season. Wasting no time in running to flow, Hager quickly reads, reacts and works himself into position to make a play on the ball carrier. You won’t have to look too hard to find him, as he just finds a way to get into the action on every snap.
Finally, safety Ahmad Dixon could end the season as our top rated senior safety thanks to his elite level athletic traits, relentless pursuit skills and outstanding slot cover ability. Playing a Nickel linebacker/safety role as the “Bear” defender in Phil Bennett’s 4-2-5 defense, Dixon moved back to his future NFL position at safety for his senior season. Showcasing the same intensity and aggressive pursuit skills that made him a fun player to watch as a nickel defender, Ahmad Dixon dropped the hammer a few times last week against Wofford and was used quite a bit as an underneath, robber defender in cover 1.
Others to Watch:
Alex Nuetz, WR, Buffalo - #19, 6’3, 205
Jimmy Gordon, TE, Buffalo - #81, 6’5, 260
Colby Way, DE, Buffalo - #34, 6’4, 276
Naija Johnson, CB, Buffalo - #22, 6’0, 182
Glasco Martin, RB, Baylor - #8, 6’1, 220
Jordan Najvar, TE, Baylor - #18, 6’6, 260
Terrance Lloyd, DE, Baylor - #11, 6’3, 235
Sam Holl, OLB, Baylor - #25, 6’2, 210
Eddie Lackey, OLB, Baylor - #5, 6’0, 220
Joe Williams, CB, Baylor - #22, 5’11, 190