Michigan State vs. Oregon Preview: NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Ryan McCrystalFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

Michigan State vs. Oregon Preview: NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan State travels to Oregon in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the college football season. 

    While the game will have significant national title implications, the stadium will also be filled with NFL scouts checking out a wide range of talent on both sidelines. 

    The following slideshow highlights 10 of the most highly touted prospects who will be featured in this game, and details how they will have a chance to impact their draft stock in Saturday's showdown in Eugene.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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    Associated Press

    As a redshirt sophomore, Marcus Mariota was a candidate to enter the 2014 NFL draft and may have even been in consideration for the Texans with the No. 1 pick. As a result, he enters the 2014 college football season as one of the most hyped prospects in the nation. 

    ESPN's Todd McShay recently placed Mariota atop his preseason draft board (Insider subscription required), while Mel Kiper ranked him No. 2 overall

    While Mariota has excelled under pressure in the past, the Spartan front seven has the experience and the talent to throw new looks at the Oregon signal-caller.

    How Mariota performs under duress in this game could play a significant role in determining how he's viewed by NFL teams next May.

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

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    In 2013, Connor Cook was the college version of Alex Smith. 

    Cook played a safe style of football, allowing his running game and defense to do most of the work but occasionally coming up with big plays late in games when his team needed him. 

    This matchup against Oregon may be the first time in his career the Spartans ask Cook to put the team on his shoulders. 

    To keep pace with the Ducks offense, Cook will need to make plays throughout, and a successful showing could vault him up the early draft boards.

Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

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    Unfortunately, we may not see Jeremy Langford at full strength on Saturday.

    The MSU workhorse running back left the season opener twice with an ankle injury, but head coach Mark Dantonio has stated that he expects Langford to play, according to Brian Calloway of the Lansing State Journal

    Oregon's defense is known for its athleticism, which may give Langford the ability to exert his strength as a power runner by simply lowering his shoulders and driving straight up the middle. 

    If the game turns into a shootout, it will also be interesting to see if Langford takes on a more prominent role in the passing game. Langford caught just 28 passes for 157 yards in 2013.

Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon

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    Byron Marshall has already made a splash this season, catching eight passes for 138 yards in the Ducks' season opener—just five fewer receptions than he had during the entire 2013 season. 

    By developing his presence in the passing game, Marshall can elevate his stock significantly should he choose to enter the 2015 draft. 

    Michigan State may struggle to match up with Marshall's explosive ability, so it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi game-plans for Marshall. 

    Another dominant performance could lead to Marshall's name shooting up draft boards.

Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Tony Lippett certainly isn't one of the bigger names in this game, but this is the type of stage that could allow him to begin his rise up draft boards. 

    With 167 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener, Lippett is already on his way toward a breakout season.

    Lippett has the size (6'3") to be a weapon down the field, and he will have the opportunity to prove himself in this game against a strong Oregon secondary. 

    Pay close attention to his battles with Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. If Lippett can compete against a near first-round lock, his stock will certainly be on the rise.

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Shilique Calhoun made a splash in 2013 with 7.5 sacks, and he has the strength and athleticism to continue to build upon that production during his junior year. 

    While Calhoun's pass-rushing ability is obvious, this game will give him the ability to showcase his skills against the run. 

    If Calhoun can make some plays in pursuit and help contain Mariota and Marshall in the backfield, it will help to establish him as a more well-rounded lineman. 

    Given Oregon's creativity on offense, it will also be interesting to see if the Michigan State coaching staff moves Calhoun around on the defensive side.

Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon

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    Arik Armstead, son of longtime NFL linebacker Jessie Armstead, has fallen short of expectations through his first two years at Oregon. However, his elite size and raw talent still have him viewed in high regard as an NFL prospect. 

    Armstead may not pad the stat sheet in this game, but his presence as a run-stuffing lineman could play a significant role in the game. 

    On a defense that favors speed over size, Armstead stands out as one of the few Ducks truly up for the task of shutting down the Spartans' powerful running game. 

    It will be interesting to see how Michigan State attacks the Ducks defensive line in key short-yardage situations. It may choose to avoid Armstead's side of the line out of respect for his ability to hold his ground at the point of attack.

Tony Washington, LB, Oregon

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    Tony Washington stepped into Dion Jordan's role in the Ducks defense a season ago, and with a year under his belt, he may be ready to step his game up to Jordan's level. 

    While Armstead will be key to shutting down Michigan State's rushing attack, it will be Washington who is called upon to get pressure on Cook. 

    Washington's versatility is what makes him so dangerous, so the Ducks may use him in a variety of roles to keep Cook and the MSU offense guessing. 

    In obvious passing situations, however, expect Washington to simply pin his ears back and go full speed after Cook in an effort to force him into mistakes under pressure.

Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Trae Waynes steps into Darqueze Dennard's role in the Spartans defense as the new shutdown corner. 

    Unfortunately for Waynes, Oregon doesn't have a true No. 1 receiver for him to showcase his talents against. However, Oregon does have a stable of receivers capable of breaking free, and their speed will be a nice test for Waynes. 

    Look for Waynes to also match up with Oregon's 6'5" sophomore receiver Dwayne Stanford or 6'6" tight end Pharaoh Brown in the red zone.

    At 6'1", Waynes has the height to match up against the more physical receivers in Oregon's passing attack.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

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    Arguably the top defensive prospect in this game, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is another one battling injuries heading into the contest. 

    Ekpre-Olomu missed most of the season opener with an ankle injury, but Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal reported on Monday that he would "definitely play" on Saturday. 

    At just 5'9", Ekpre-Olomu may have his hands full with the 6'3" Lippett, and it will be a matchup that Michigan State may look to exploit, despite Ekpre-Olomu's credentials.