The second that Mr. Irrelevant gets picked in the NFL Draft world, the next draft cycle begins.
Summer is spent getting a feel for the players, seeing where they stand and what they need to improve on. Some give grades over the summer to give a metric sense of where they are, so fans can keep track throughout the year. Tracking progress is an important factor, as you want to continue seeing growth as they transition to the NFL.
When preparing for the season, there are certain games that you circle on the calendar. Sometimes it's a quarterback going against a great defense, or an edge rusher against a great tackle. A great performance can elevate a prospect's draft stock and potentially create a Heisman Trophy moment. I've identified a few games that you need to have circled on your calendar during the first month of the season.
A quarterback battle in Week 1 is interesting. It also paints a general picture for what this year's quarterback class might become. There is the top tier of CJ Stroud and Bryce Young followed by massive uncertainty, with a group of about 10 quarterbacks that could end up as the third QB off the board come April. Two of those quarterbacks face off in the Swamp in Week 1 of of the college football season.
Rising didn't start until after the Holy War last year against BYU, but once he got the job things took off for the Utes. Leading them to a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth, Rising provided both stability and dynamic playmaking for the Utes. Rising can make throws to all levels of the field and provides a true dual-threat rushing ability, having thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and running for a shade under 500 more.
Richardson is in a bit of a different situation. Having only ran and thrown the ball a combined 144 times in his career, the flashes have been on par with both Stroud and Young. Consistency however, hasn't been there. Former head coach Dan Mullen was steadfast in wanting Emory Jones to start despite his struggles. Richardson got the start against Georgia, but his inexperience was evident. He completed 12/20 for 82 yards and two interceptions. His biggest struggles were with pressure and working through progressions. Those will get better with time.
Both quarterbacks will be going against stout defenses, and the atmosphere in the Swamp will be electric. Putting on a great performance will go a long way to proving the growth of either player as they attempt to take the next step.
Foskey broke onto the scene last year in a big way. With Adetokounpo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes having moved onto the NFL, Foskey took the lead and kept the defense a formidable unit. His 10 sacks led the team and provided Marcus Freeman a weapon on the edge. Foskey projects right now as a potential first-round pick, and a performance like this can be make-or-break.
Johnson has had an interesting journey with the Buckeyes. A five-star recruit at tackle, Johnson has played guard for the majority of his college career. This is not the fault of Johnson, but rather the philosophy of the Buckeyes. They prioritize getting the best five players on the field instead of focusing strictly on positions.
While Johnson hasn't played LT at the college level, a move back to his natural position at LT should maximize his potential. His first matchup being against an established player in Foskey is a big test for both players, but especially for Johnson, who can really make a great first impression at LT.
September 10: Texas RB Bijan Robinson vs Alabama's Defense
According to ESPN's FPI, Texas is currently favored in 11 of their 12 games in the 2021 season. The only team that they aren't favored against? Alabama.
Coming off what Nick Saban described as a rebuilding year, the Crimson Tide came just shy of winning a national championship. On defense, they return two of their star players. Both Will Anderson and Henry To'oto'o man the front seven with dominance and contain opposing offenses.
Robinson is one of the best players in college football. The catalyst of the Longhorns offense last season, Robinson was dominant in every way possible. He average 142.2 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 touchdowns by using great vision, explosiveness, and physicality. Being in year two of Steve Sarkisan's offense, Robinson is primed to have an even bigger season. The challenge against Alabama will be his biggest test while at Texas, but a dominant performance could catapult him to a higher level of superstardom.
Every year, there is a game where a non-power five quarterback has an opportunity to prove himself on a national stage. A star-making performance outside of the bubble of college football analysts can make a major impact. Last season, Kent State's Dustin Crum had that chance against Texas A&M, but he turned in a less-than-desirable performance.
Last season Haener had a fantastic performance against UCLA, where he led two go-ahead drives with a hip pointer in a 37-33 win in the Rose Bowl. That raised some eyebrows, but wasn't quite that grab the brass ring performance. This year, he has an opportunity with a veteran receiving corps led by Jalen Cropper. Riley is one of the best offensive minds who will have a myriad of talent at his disposal in his first year at USC, including five-star QB Caleb Williams under center. If Haener can keep up with (and potentially outscore) the Trojans, his performance could catapult him to a much higher draft stock.