After a two-week hiatus, the column returns to once again assess the weekend that was in the college football world and discuss the players that impressed me or that I was disappointed in. Week 8 saw a heap of intriguing contests and a number of standout performers. Here are the draft-eligible winners and losers from Week 8 of college football:
WINNER: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
LSU’s star running back has been grounded for much of the season, suffering through injury, horrendous offensive play calling and poor offensive line play. Guice finally exploded against Ole Miss this weekend to the tune of 276 yards on just 22 carries. My second-ranked running back in the class, Guice displayed why many are touting him as a first-round prospect with his captivating blend of speed and power. My understanding is that his off-field presence is strong and he is a leader for the Tigers, and that only makes him a more attractive prospect.
Guice is firmly behind Saquon Barkley for me, who enjoyed a similarly explosive game against Michigan, but illustrated his skills well against the Rebels. Now back to close to full health, Guice faces the toughest test in college football against Alabama in LSU’s next game in two weeks. If he can torch ‘Bama’s defense, his stock will only continue to rise.
LOSER: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold failed to impress against Notre Dame this weekend, a further condemnation of the spiralling draft stock of the once consensus QB1. Darnold had a particularly mediocre first half in which he turned the ball over twice, again displaying inadequate decision-making and spotty accuracy. 15 turnovers on the year is a dire outing for a top quarterback and though the porous offensive line the Trojans trot out is partly to blame, Darnold has done little to capture the imagination. When he is in rhythm he looks like a number one overall pick but these moments have been fleeting this year.
Darnold should return to USC for his junior season and continue to develop as a passer and decision maker. Working on his mechanics and footwork would do wonders for his consistency when throwing the ball: arm strength is apparent but inconsistent. Rumours be that Darnold is likely to return next season: he would be wise to do so, barring a spectacular improvement in the second half of this season.
WINNER: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
I have gushed over Quenton Nelson in this column and my positional rankings previously but his game against USC might be the best performance I have seen from a guard, an absolute clinic that allowed Notre Dame to run the ball at will. Nelson has the remarkable ability to maintain leverage on every single play, dismissing any attempt at an interior pass rush or driving his opponent off the ball in the run game. The Fighting Irish ripped off 377 yards on the day and Nelson was a big reason why.
Nelson combines with Mike McGlinchey to form the best left-side in college football and the pair put on a clinic against the Trojans. It is hard to envisage Quenton Nelson slipping out of the Top-15 in the draft.
LOSER: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Oliver had been rising steadily in my cornerback rankings and this loser tag is a little unfortunate, although he did get flagged for a questionable pass interference against Washington State and get beaten deep for a TD. Furthermore, he also suffered an injury on that deep touchdown, and though the severity is unknown it is a setback for a rising commodity in the draft process.
I really like Oliver and this game was by no means horrendous. Long and agile he has ideal NFL size and will test well. He has had a strong first half of the year, and though the Cougars’ showed some weaknesses he still ranks highly. So a loser for the week but a winner overall in the season thus.
WINNER: Arden Key, DE, LSU
Key’s 2017 season really got going against Ole Miss. Key had gained significant weight to improve his appeal to NFL teams but this had handicapped his effectiveness after his return from injury this year. He has since dropped some of that weight, and that payed dividends as he was a constant menace for the Rebels offensive line, collecting two sacks and forcing a fumble. He looked back to his explosive self off the edge.
Key is a tough evaluation given his struggles after putting on the weight. 3-4 teams will certainly be interested in him as an outside linebacker, with his length and speed off the edge. However 4-3 teams will be questioning whether he can play true defensive end in a traditional system. Key is similar to Leonard Floyd, long, lean, explosive and flexible: Floyd went ninth overall to the Chicago Bears and Key may well go in a similar area.
Follow Harry Latham-Cole on Twitter at @HLC1221
College Football Week 8 Winners and Losers