The pivotal four-week stretch that will decide which programs will earn a spot in the College Football Playoff has arrived, and six undefeated teams remain near the top of the discussion.
Beyond the criticism of the rankings and whether or not a given squad will remain unblemished for the rest of the year lies a generally common theme: Most showcase one of the best NFL draft prospects.
Houston Cougars (9-0, No. 24): William Jackson III, CB
Believe it or not, Houston doesn’t have the worst of the best. The last unbeaten team from the American Athletic Conference boasts a second-day pick in William Jackson III.
Jackson has 97 career tackles and six interceptions—three of which were returned for a touchdown. The senior has established himself as a lockdown cornerback in the AAC, adding 31 pass defenses. Jackson isn’t a popular prospect, but you’ll definitely hear his name leading up to the draft.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-0, No. 8): Emmanuel Ogbah, DE
The explosive offense in Stillwater receives most of the little attention directed at Oklahoma State, so Emmanuel Ogbah is an unfamiliar prospect. Rest assured, Pokes fans, opposing coaches and NFL scouts know all about the junior defensive end.
Ogbah is a fringe first-rounder, so he might return for one more college season. But if the Cowboys pull off another upset like they did last week against TCU, Oklahoma State will step into the spotlight—and Ogbah will be the star. He’s tallied 36 tackles for loss (24 sacks) and 22 quarterback hits.
Baylor Bears (8-0, No. 6): Andrew Billings, DT
Standout wide receiver Corey Coleman will garner first-round talk because of his record-setting season. However, the conversation at Baylor should start with space-eating junior defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
Yes, 6-foot-8, 278-pound behemoth Shawn Oakman is also there, but he’s a polarizing player. Some analysts will label him overrated and others will call those people crazy. On the other hand, the biggest question surrounding Billings is how high he’ll be drafted in the first round. He’s notched 20.5 tackles for loss since the beginning of 2014.
Iowa Hawkeyes (9-0, No. 5): Jordan Lomax, S
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the lowest-rated prospect comes from the team no one even considered as a realistic candidate to start 9-0 or seem destined for 12-0. Iowa just doesn’t do this kind of thing.
Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes are here, and senior safety Jordan Lomax has earned the nod. In 2014, he registered 92 total tackles and six pass defenses. This year, he’s managed 55 and five, respectively. Lomax will probably at best be a fourth-round pick, but he’s still Iowa’s best prospect.
Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0, No. 3): Joey Bosa, DE
The first round of the 2016 NFL draft will be loaded with Buckeyes, and Joey Bosa will lead the way. A first-team AP All-American last year, Bosa’s numbers have noticeably dropped because opponents are paying more attention to the junior defensive end.
In two-plus seasons of action, the junior has racked up 132 tackles—36.5 for loss (24.5 sacks)—as well as 21 quarterback hits. He demands extra attention on the field and in the draft room. Get ready to hear Bosa’s name thrown around as a top-three pick, perhaps even No. 1 overall.
Clemson Tigers (9-0, No. 1): Shaq Lawson, DE
While cornerback Mackensie Alexander—a terrific redshirt sophomore who certainly could ascend to this spot—and safety Jayron Kearse are a lethal and potential first-round tandem in the secondary, Shaq Lawson is a dominant force for the Clemson defense.
Despite being a backup for most of his first two seasons, he logged 79 tackles (21 for loss) and managed seven sacks. As a junior, Lawson already has 13.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks. Having a disruptive player like Lawson at the line of scrimmage can do wonders for the back end of a defense, so he’s a mid-first-round talent.