Welcome back for Week 6 of the 2015 college football season. Through the first four weeks, we put together a good list of prospects to track, which you can look back on here. Last week, our game thread included an early ranking of quarterbacks.
This week, Jake has his top five running backs. It's not a huge position of need considering the 49ers drafted Mike Davis this year, and Carlos Hyde last year. Nonetheless it is always an interesting position to consider. After all, the more running backs going ahead of the 49ers, the more players of other needs that can slip to the 49ers.
After that, Jake has a look at two rather notable games today. The No. 23 California Golden Bears go on the road to face No. 5 Utah at 7 p.m. PT. The Bears are off to a 5-0 start, but now face the tough part of their schedule. Jared Goff has established himself as a high draft prospect, but the next three games against Utah, UCLA and USC could cement himself in next year's draft.
Earlier in the day, the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines host the No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats at 12:30 p.m. PT. Jim Harbaugh has his Wolverines playing some good football. Their only loss is at Utah, and they are coming off a win over ranked BYU, and a road win against Maryland. They have an incredibly difficult two-game stretch now, facing Northwestern, and then No. 4 Michigan State. Both are winnable, but not easy. That all helps build toward their season-finale against Ohio State, who will probably still be No. 1 at that point.
Here are Jake's running back rankings through five weeks:
1. Shock Linwood, Baylor
Baylor's Shock Linwood has not "shocked" (pun intended) many people with his production this year. Linwood is one of the best, if not the best running backs in the draft class of 2016 in many people's minds. The Bear has has ran for 584 yards on 64 carries, adding six scores. Baylor's high-flying arial attack is making defenses respect it, opening up the ground game with ease. He stands at 5-foot-9, 195-pounds.
Baylor over Kansas: 31-20
2. Paul Perkins, UCLA
Perkins is in his junior year at UCLA, coming off of a prolific sophomore season, that was one of the best in the Bruins history. Last year, he ran for 1,575 yards on 251 carries along with 9 touchdowns, adding two through the air. Perkins is not on pace to topple his last years performance through 5 games, however, I think he will on the account he is liable to explode in any given game. Perkins is a down-hill runner standing at 5-foot-11, 200-pounds. Perkins is making a case that he needs to be drafted in the top 4 rounds of the draft.
Stanford on top UCLA: 24-20
3. Alex Collins, Arkansas
Collins will always put on a show, despite Arkansas being one of the worst teams in the SEC. He is having one of the most productive seasons by a running back thus far, garnering 656 yards, on 113 carries, adding six scores. Collins is not a complete bulldozer, but can definitely break tackles, while built at 5-foot-11, 215-pounds. Collins needs to improve on his catching out of the backfield, and if he does, he has chance to be scary at the next level.
Alabama victorious over Arkansas: 24-17
4. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Pumphrey runs with a certain kind of wiggle that is very hard to defend. He had a breakout sophomore season rushing for 1,867 yards, with an average of 6.7 per carry. The star San Diego running back is having an off year only managing 429 yards on the turf through their first 5 games. He rarely coughs the ball up which is an upside to his game, but he will never be a three-down back and your "work horse" in the NFL. He has great vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage.
SDSU over Hawaii: 35-7
5. Devontae Booker, Utah
Booker is an outrageously violent runner. The Utah offense is based around the running game, and his production in that spot showed last year, when he rushed for 1,512 yards, and added another 306 catching. Booker is not off to the best start, but his pace should pick up as we get into the middle part of the season. By no means am I saying Booker is an inconsistent or unreliable running back, but he needs to pick up his game if he wants to add to his already exciting draft profile. His hands out of the backfield, and being able to lineup in the slot, gives him an edge to some of their other draft-eligible backs.
Cal to upset the Utes: 27-24
No. 23 Cal at No. 5 Utah
Time: 7 p.m. PT
Online stream: Watch ESPN
Not too many people predicted the Bears to crack the top 25 this year (except for the Cal faithful, including myself). Nevertheless, if Sonny Dykes' underdogs can pull this one out somehow, they have a good chance to win the Pac-12 North. Cal is coming up on the "big 3" of their schedule (at Utah, at UCLA, vs. USC). They are going to have to take it one game at a time, starting with Utah, and cannot let a loss get to their heads. Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin and play-caller coach Dykes, are going to have to mix up the offense to keep a strong Utah defense on their toes. The Bears are going to have to rely on putting points on the board, and have to capitalize whenever they get a stop on the other side of the ball.
You cannot talk about Cal with out Jared Goff's name popping up. I think a lot of people want to see Goff play against a good defense and be under pressure, and those people will get the chance to see that today. Goff is one of the most highly-regarded players in the country, and can prove his case as the best QB for all the doubters. Having running back Daniel Lasco back will once again take Cal's offense to another level, after he had missed some time with a hip injury.
There is a lot of talk surrounding the California defense about how they cannot hold up against a good balanced offense, but their drastically improved secondary is bailing out the weaker run defense. Safety Stefan Mclure provides the physical aspect to the Bears defense, along with LB Jalen Jefferson. Sophomore CB Darius Allensworth is the leader in the back end, and Cal's lock-down defensive back. The defense will need to play their best game of the year so far, if they want to any sort of chance.
Art Kaufman (Cal D-coordinator) is going to have its toughest job yet, trying to contain Utah running back Devontae Booker. Booker has a great combination of power, vision, and balance, which creates an unstoppable runner, especially against the Bear's run defense. Utah is now the highest ranked team in the Pac-12 at no. 5, after UCLA suffered a loss at home to Arizona St. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is going to be the x-factor in the Utes success or failure.
I mentioned earlier that if Cal wins this game, they have a good shot to win the Pac-12, well this goes for the Utes as well. A high octane offense in the "Bear raid", taking on one of the dominating defenses, if not the most dominating, in the country. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Salt Lake City for the game, which starts at 7pm PDT.
Cal pulling the upset: 27-24
No. 13 Northwestern @ No. 18 Michigan
Game Time: 12:30 p.m. PT
Channel: Big Ten Network
Let's just say Northwestern wasn't supposed to be the no. 13 ranked team in the country before the season started, but they have earned that spot by having some impressive wins over Duke, Stanford, and a 27-0 defensive driven win over Minnesota last weekend. Their defense has let up only three touchdowns in the past 5 games, including holding the Gophers offense to 173 yards of total offense and zero points. The redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, who found himself in the end zone twice last weekend on runs of one and five yards, is going have to pick up his productivity as Big 12 play unwinds.
Pat Fitzgerald has this Northwestern team rolling, but they will be put to the test Saturday when they take on an Uprising Michigan football team. While riding a controlling defense, a steady rushing attack and some help on special teams, I still question their passing game going forward with Thorson. Sophomore running back Justin Jackson is juggling most of the work load on the offensive side on the ball, and he has been succeeding doing so. Jackson, who is coming off of a breakout freshman season, and a huge part of Wildcats 5-0 start, has 516 yards on 118 carries thus far this season.
Harbaugh, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, what are we going to do with you. Nevertheless, The Wolverines squad have some outstanding talent, highlighted by running back De'Veon Smith, and their stout defense, showcasing SS Jabrill Peppers and senior LB Joe Bolden. Passing isn't Michigan's strong suit, but receiver Amara Darboh could be one of the most underrated pass catchers in the country. Darboh has strong hands and the ability to blow the top of a defense. I'm not sure if it's the no. 82, but he sure reminds me of a young Mario Manningham in his mannerisms on the field.
This game is shaping up to be an old-fashioned, "run it up the gut" type of battle. The very strong run games from both teams will be interesting to watch against two stingy defenses. The two teams are firing on all cylinders, but the game is at the big house so Michigan should have the edge. But, there's only one question left to ask, will anybody score?
Michigan on top of Northwestern: 17-14