Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma: Power Ranking Top NFL Talent in Week 9's Best Game
The Oklahoma Sooners are set to host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday night in a rare midseason non-conference matchup featuring a handful of NFL-caliber talent on each sideline.
Led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o, the undefeated Fighting Irish (No. 5 in BCS Standings) and their second-ranked defense will be tasked with slowing star quarterback Landry Jones and the Sooners' (No. 8 in BCS Standings) potent offense, which is currently scoring 44.7 points per game.
The previously mentioned names are all but locks to go in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft, but they're far from the only players taking part in Saturday night's showdown that will hear their names called next April.
In the name of our love for the list, we've decided that power ranking the top NFL talent set to take the field in Norman, Okla. this weekend was a must.
7. Braxston Cave, C
The center of Notre Dame's offensive line also happens to be the unit's strongest link.
6'3", 305-pound senior Braxston Cave is an exceptional drive blocker that effectively powers Notre Dame's dominating ground game. He's a leader up front and doesn't have many holes in his game to speak of.
Injuries, however, have hampered "The Cave-man" much of his collegiate career. Cave missed all but one game as a freshman due to a season-ending injury and missed the final portion of 2011 as well.
A lengthy injury history can often spell doom for an offensive lineman's draft status, but finishing off a strong senior season in South Bend could help him find a home in an NFL city as early as the third round.
6. Trey Millard, FB
Not only is Oklahoma's Trey Millard a powerful blocking fullback, he's also extremely athletic and capable of making things happen with the ball in his hands.
He proved as much in the Sooners' 63-21 thrashing of Texas when he caught a pass from Jones, hurdled a defender on the sideline and then scampered 77 yards into the end zone.
Check out the video here.
The 6'2", 256-pound junior may or may not enter the 2013 NFL Draft, but you can bet scouts are already drooling over his versatility and he'll be the top fullback of his class when he does decide to go pro.
5. Landry Jones, QB
At 6'4", 229 pounds, Oklahoma's star signal-caller certainly fits the description of a prototypical NFL QB when it comes to size.
Jones is also an accurate passer equipped with a strong arm that can spray the ball all over the field. With 44 previous starts and 14,023 passing yards under his belt, the 23-year-old senior has all the collegiate experience one could ask for.
In his sophomore and junior seasons alone, Jones passed for over 9,000 yards, including 4,718 yards and 38 TDs just in 2010. He does struggle with turnovers on occasion, having thrown 44 interceptions in 45 college games.
A solid finish to what has, for the most part, been an excellent career should keep Jones in the discussion to fall somewhere in the second or third round. A lack of mobility and the occasional disappointing performance throughout his four years at Oklahoma may wind up keeping him from being a first-round option for teams in need of a QB.
You can bet scouts will be digging up film from this game to see just how well the NFL prospect fared against Notre Dame's second-ranked defense.
4. Kenny Stills, WR
Jones will need his top target, junior wideout Kenny Stills, in top form Saturday night if the Sooners are to find any open grass against Notre Dame's smothering defense.
Stills wasted no time making an impact in Norman, setting freshman school records in 2010 for both receptions (61) and receiving yards (786). The 6'1", 190-pound junior hasn't exactly gone crazy since then, but he remains a talented, well-rounded prospect who could likely do some damage out of the slot in the NFL.
Through six games in 2012, Stills has 38 catches for 471 yards and four TDs. Saturday's matchup against the Irish serves as an excellent time for the youngster to boost his draft status, but for now you can consider him a mid-round pick, falling somewhere in the second or third round if he enters the 2013 draft.
3. Tony Jefferson, FS
Another junior, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson is a hard-hitting free safety who already has three double-digit tackle performances to his name this year.
A dynamic threat in pass defense as well, the Chula Vista, Cali native has seven interceptions and 6.5 sacks during his three years starting in the Sooners' defensive backfield.
Jefferson excels in all phases of the game, and even at 5'10", 212 pounds, has exceptional speed. He'll be a coveted athlete at the next level with the ability to play either safety position. If he decides to enter the 2013 draft, he's a safe bet to be one of the first five safeties off the board and will likely find a home as early as the second round.
If Jefferson returns for another season of college football, he could easily become a first-round pick in 2014.
2. Tyler Eifert, TE
Tight ends do not typically put up eye-popping numbers at the collegiate level, but that standard does not necessarily apply to Notre Dame senior Tyler Eifert.
After taking over the starting tight end position a year ago, the Mackey Award finalist broke the school's single-season records for receptions and receiving yards by a tight end, with 63 grabs for 803 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2012, the 6'6", 251-pound monster is at it again.
Eifert has been huge for the Irish in recent weeks, scoring in each of Notre Dame's past two games and piling up a combined 130 yards on eight catches in that span. He fits right in with the body type of NFL stars Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, and his hands are up there with those two, as well.
Tight ends aren't typically drafted in the first round, but Eifert should prove to be an exception. If he can continue to improve his blocking skills, I'd be shocked to see him fall to the second day of the 2013 draft.
1. Manti Te'o, ILB
By all accounts, Notre Dame's All-American linebacker is an unstoppable force.
He's tackled adversity in his senior season with the same demeanor that he tackles opponents, overcoming the loss of both his grandmother and girlfriend in the same week to continue leading the Irish to their 7-0 start.
Te'o has double-digit tackles in five of Notre Dame's seven games this year and four interceptions to his credit, as well.
The results speak for themselves; Te'o's flawless play has not only thrust him into the Heisman Trophy debate, he's become one of the frontrunners.
As far as leadership goes, nowhere else in college football will you find a more capable leader than in South Bend with No. 5. Te'o is the heart and soul of the Irish defense and they would not be anywhere close to where they are without him.
I have no doubts Te'o could step in as a starter at inside linebacker in the NFL today if given the chance. He's a lock to go in the first round next April, and if his position held more value at the pro level he'd probably be a top-ten pick.
That said, he'll gladly finish out his career with the Irish, starting with the all-out brawl that will ensue Saturday night in Norman.