One high-profile quarterback is staying put and facing the biggest game of his college career. Another is transferring, forced out by a talented freshman. Adam Kramer explores these storylines, previews the week's must-watch games, makes his picks and more in his weekly college football notebook: the Thursday Tailgate.
The All-Pro cornerback couldn't believe what he was seeing. Shawn Springs didn't expect to unearth the next great college quarterback at a middle school passing camp in Hillsborough, New Jersey. He was there to watch his son, Skyler. But that's what he did.
At the time, Dwayne Haskins was just a seventh-grader. The starting quarterback at Ohio State who is lighting up box scores—having thrown 16 touchdown passes in four games and emerged as an early favorite for the Heisman—was learning the nuances of the position.
"I see this little kid throwing the hell out of the ball," Springs recalls of watching Haskins. "I knew he was going to be special."
So an unlikely bond between a Pro Bowl cornerback and a young QB was formed.
Haskins would ask Springs about what it was like to guard Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Additionally, the cornerback who thrived in the NFL for more than a decade would dissect Haskins' performances from the point of view of a defensive back.
The two grew close. So close that Springs felt comfortable enough to suggest to Haskins' parents that they relocate from New Jersey to Maryland, in large part because he felt it would benefit Haskins' football profile.
The family relocated, and Haskins settled in at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. The move elevated Haskins' football profile. He was seen by some of the brightest talent evaluators in the country and became the 247Sports composite's No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016.
"Dwayne is very similar to Deshaun Watson in how he looks at the game, his poise, his composure, his maturity, his passing proficiency," says former NFL QB Trent Dilfer, who worked with Haskins at the Elite 11 recruiting camp. "The only difference is Deshaun's an elite athlete and Dwayne's a very good athlete. But I have no doubts Dwayne is going to remain wildly successful in college and be successful at the next level as well."
Springs, who starred at Ohio State, didn't attempt to funnel Haskins to the Buckeyes. Haskins verbally committed to Maryland, although he eventually decommitted after head coach Randy Edsall was fired.
He made his pledge to Ohio State, a school he visited 10 years earlier. Back then, as he bounced around the facility in his white headband and red Ohio State uniform, there was a sense that this could ultimately be a place he landed if things went right.
Ten years later, Haskins is a budding star. He's accounted for 17 touchdowns and thrown only one interception, completing nearly 76 percent of his passes. For Springs, this sudden rise to stardom was not unexpected.
"I've played with two quarterbacks in my life that I feel are better than him," Springs says. "Tom Brady and Warren Moon. I know how that sounds, but I truly believe it."
Last year, we saw glimpses of Haskins' potential. When quarterback J.T. Barrett was injured against Michigan, Haskins relieved him and played well in Ohio State's 31-20 road win.
This week, Haskins will face his most accomplished opponent to date. After looking like a top-tier college QB against Oregon State, Rutgers, TCU and Tulane, Haskins will head to Penn State and be asked to thrive in what could be college football's most difficult road environment.
Springs is confident the moment won't be too much for Haskins. "I've seen it enough because I've studied enough quarterbacks in my lifetime and chased them around." Haskins, he says, "is what a calm, cool, collected pro quarterback looks like."
Welcome to the Wild, Wild West of College Football Transfers
Quarterback Kelly Bryant led Clemson to the College Football Playoff last season. Now, after being benched for super-frosh Trevor Lawrence, Bryant is transferring, head coach Dabo Swinney confirmed Wednesday, salvaging his final year of eligibility. He has not decided where he will spend it.
He is not alone. Oklahoma State wideout Jalen McCleskey, who caught 17 touchdown passes in Stillwater, also made the decision to transfer this week after a slow start this season.
This is not a coincidence. Players are taking advantage of college football's new redshirt rule that allows them to appear in as many as four games without losing a season of eligibility. While the working theory was that this rule would help underclassmen see the field earlier without burning their redshirt status, others are taking advantage of the flexibility to transfer.
It's an even bigger deal for juniors and seniors who are nearing graduation. (Players can leave for a new program as graduate transfers and play right away.)
Unless this redshirt rule is tweaked after this season—and it might be because college football coaches are upset about how it is being put to use—expect this trend to not just continue but also amplify in the years ahead.
Related: The Trevor Lawrence Era Arrives at Clemson
Kelly Bryant is gone, which means the Trevor Lawrence show is here.
I first watched Lawrence throw footballs in Beaverton, Oregon, two summers ago at The Opening, Nike's recruiting camp that brings together many of the best high school football players in the country.
Despite being surrounded by a talented class of quarterbacks, Lawrence stood out. He is every bit the 6'6" listed on his official Clemson bio, and his throwing mechanics and footwork were superb for someone who was entering his senior year in high school. Even after seeing him live for only a few hours, it felt like I was witnessing something special.
With that as a preface, I was not surprised that Clemson named Lawrence the starter this week against Syracuse. In a number of ways, it was simply a matter of time. Despite sharing snaps with Bryant the first month of the season, Lawrence already has thrown nine TD passes. That number will likely skyrocket over the coming weeks, given what appears to be a manageable schedule.
He's going to be an even bigger deal than he is right now. Get ready.
Five Games to Watch This Weekend
Here's what you should watch this weekend, in tweet-length form (all times Eastern):
No. 12 West Virginia at No. 25 Texas Tech (Saturday, noon): Two spectacular, underrated fanbases. Two offenses capable of lighting defenses on fire quickly and without warning. Two coaches with brilliant offensive minds and wildly different haircuts. This is going to be fun and will probably finish around 5:30 or so. Enjoy.
South Carolina at No. 17 Kentucky (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.): I want to live in a world where Kentucky is good at football and others genuinely fear the Wildcats. We're basically there, by the way, after Kentucky handled Mississippi State in Week 4. Parlaying this into a victory over a quality South Carolina team would be quite a moment.
No. 19 Oregon at No. 24 Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.): Let's play a game. Can you name at least two players on Cal's roster? Fine. Can you name one? OK, how about the head coach? Can you at least name him? His name is Justin Wilcox, and he has his team off to a lovely 3-0 start despite few seeming to notice. A win over Oregon would change that.
No. 7 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.): This might make Irish fans angry, but look at the rest of the schedule and tell me where the challenges lie. Playing at Virginia Tech is never easy, although it looks less intimidating after the Hokies' upset loss to Old Dominion. USC? Syracuse? I say all that to emphasize the importance of this game for the Irish.
No. 4 Ohio State at No. 9 Penn State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.): One team is averaging 55.5 points per game, the other 54.5. While we don't usually look at Ohio State-Penn State as a game that could deliver a basketball score, it seems possible, if not likely. Without question, it is the most important game of the college football season to date.
What Else to Watch This Weekend
First: The sneaky-good game of the week, NC State vs. Virginia
NC State feels like a team we will start talking about if it can win this game. The team's quarterback, Ryan Finley, has gotten some NFL draft chatter, while the defense has played well. It's a shame the Wolfpack's game against West Virginia was canceled, because that would've been a fabulous measuring stick. Virginia, the team leading the ACC Coastal, is a good test as well. The game starts at 12:20—an odd 20-minute stagger from the normal noon kick. We'll be watching regardless.
Second: The magnificent Darrell Henderson
I know what many of you are thinking: Who is Darrell Henderson?
Fabulous question, and thank you for asking. He is the starting running back at Memphis. He's also the nation's leading rusher and is tied for second in the nation in rushing touchdowns.
But here's the kicker. He is averaging an outrageous 12.2 yards per carry.
This week, Henderson gets a crack at Tulane. The game will be played at 8 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. Cancel dinner with your loved one or friends. Remove all plans from your schedule. Give this kid a watch.
Third: Let's talk about Alabama and one of the season's most hilarious point spreads
Even though Alabama failed to cover for the first time all season last week, that hasn't stopped the oddsmakers from anointing it a 48-point favorite this week against Louisiana-Lafayette, according to the Westgate odds on OddsShark.
That is a lot of points. A LOT. And yet, if you're a gambler, this may still be a game to avoid. However, for those who can't resist, here are the pros and cons of taking the points and playing the underdog.
— ULL head coach Billy Napier spent years on Nick Saban's staff, and the Alabama coach is normally much less likely to run up the score on his former assistants.
— With the meat of the SEC schedule still to come, Alabama is likely to put the reserves in sooner than later.
— You are getting the equivalent of a seven-touchdown head start.
— ULL is 1-2. The Ragin' Cajuns gave up 56 points to Mississippi State and recently lost to Coastal Carolina.
— This is Alabama. Saban can essentially pick a score, and if he decides to pick a big score, his team will cover.
— See above.
Gambling Locks of the Week
Last Week: 4-2
Season to date: 11-11
That's back-to-back 4-2 weeks for those keeping score—a cozy little two-week stretch that gets me back to .500 after an abysmal start. As Nick Saban would say, it's a matter of trusting the process.
There is still work to be done. At 11-11, we're still losing money given the sportsbook's cut. We can't have that. Here's to pushing well over .500 and into far more comfortable, profitable territory.
Here are the picks, using lines provided by the Westgate odds on OddsShark.
Buffalo (-7.5) vs. Army: A CLASSIC overreaction and a letdown game? I'm in. Sure, Army pushed Oklahoma to the brink, but Buffalo is actually good-to-quite-good.
Nebraska (+3.5) vs. Purdue: This is my favorite contrarian stance of the week, and it's not even close. The Cornhuskers find life in a big way at home. The moneyline looks tempting here as well.
Virginia Tech (+5) at Duke: We're rounding up the misfit teams and throwing money at them. Hokies respond, even without their starting QB.
Louisville (+6) vs. Florida State: This game would've been awesome two years ago, no? Anyway, both teams are sorta broken, but Louisville manages to hang tight.
Arizona (+3.5) vs. USC: The most compelling game involving 2-2 teams this season, Kevin Sumlin gets his breakthrough against the Trojans.
TCU (-10.5) vs. Iowa State: The Horned Frogs are reeling, which is precisely why we buy this stock when everyone else is ditching theirs. Big bounce back.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.