The Watch List: 2018 Conference Championship Previews

Updated: November 30th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks and observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

It’s been awhile, dear readers.  My apologies for the long lay-off between articles, you can blame my now-wife for that!  College football was a welcome, albeit infrequent, reprieve from our ever-encompassing wedding duties, but I was just not able to find the time to sit down and put flesh to keyboard.  What better time to get back into the swing than the week of conference championships!  For each matchup, I present a draft-eligible name you should know as well as my take and prediction.

MAC: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs Buffalo (10-2), 7:00pm Friday on ESPN2

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch:
    • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Johnson was one of my top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  He was shortly derailed by a hamstring injury but is back in the fold now.  Johnson’s numbers have been disappointing (45-820-9) compared to last season (76-1,356-14).  The explanation is likely the injury plus the fact that the Bulls are averaging nearly 60 yards per game more rushing this season.  Johnson has the ability to dominate lesser, in size and skill, defenders.  Whether his skills are dominant enough for the NFL remains to be seen but I think he has a shot at being a mid-rounder if he shows out in the last two games.
  • Prediction:  Buffalo -4.  Buffalo’s closest win this season was by seven over Temple and Eastern Michigan (two other bowl teams), so when they win they usually win big.  The Bulls have more potential NFL talent on both sides of the ball (don’t forget about QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I don’t expect this to be particularly close.

PAC-12: #17 Utah (9-3) vs #11 Washington (9-3), 8:00pm Friday on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: #DraftTwitter seems to hate Gaskin. I don’t think he’s the next coming of Saquon Barkley but the hate has probably gone too far. You can nitpick and say he’s not very big (5110/193) or could be more involved as a receiver (53 combined receptions over the last three seasons). However, it’s hard to argue with somebody who has 5,131 career rushing yards which is 18th best in the NCAA dating back to the 1950s. He’s the first back in PAC-12 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in four plus seasons. I’d like to see him more decisive hitting the hole but he does have good feet that are always moving. He has enough speed and power to be an every-down back in college but his NFL role will be more limited.
  • Prediction:  Utah +5.  This one feels like a trap game for casual bettors (myself included).  Washington is a big name in recent college football seasons and will get attention.  Utah is without its best pro prospect in RB Zack Moss but I’d still expect them to keep it close.  They’ve scored 35+ in seven of their last eight games so the offense can score.  Washington was favored in six of their last seven and lost to the spread in five of those contests.

Big 12: #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #14 Texas (9-3), 12:00pm Saturday on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Brown is a dynamo.  Despite his diminutive size (5110/168) he often lines up outside and instead uses motion and his route running ability to avoid contact and get open.  Once he has the ball in his hands it’s nearly impossible to catch him.  Brown was quiet through the middle part of the season but he exploded last week against West Virginia for 11-243-2.  The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a viable NFL receiver is going to help boost Brown’s stock.  He won’t be a first rounder but I feel pretty confident that a team will fall in love enough to reach for him on Day Two.
  • Prediction:  Texas +7.5.  The Sooners won their last four games by a total of just 24 points, while they were favored by a combined 73.5.  Their defense has appeared to be a liability this season and that is borne out in the stats: their defense is dead last in the conference in points and total yards.  I would take OU straight up but Texas with the points.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), 12:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State: Duck had a strong freshmen and sophomore seasons with a combined 11 interceptions, 14 passes defended and 107 tackles. His numbers decreased this season (1-4-44), so this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel!  (Unfortunately, the best prospect on either team is hurt and out for the season, ‘Neer RB Jalin Moore.  Moore is good in pass protection and was on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season before dislocating his ankle.  If he’s not fully recovered to take part in the draft process, a team is going to get a bargain.)
  • Prediction:  Appalachian State -18.  This one is a rematch from October which App State won 27-17.  The Mountaineers lost their succeeding game but rebounded with four wins to end the season, including three big wins (two pushes, one cover).  I admit that part of this pick may be name recognition more than anything else but if I had to pick against the spread I would take App State to cover.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee (8-4) at UAB (9-3), 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee: It feels like Stockstill has been a Blue Raider for most of my adult life.  He grayshirted in 2013 then redshirted in 2014.  In 2015 he started 13 games but then missed chunks of 2016 and 2017 due to injury.  He’s stayed on the field thus far in 2018.  The positive vibes continue with his stat logs: he is completing 71.1% of his passes, has improved his rate stats and has a career low of interceptions (6).  Stockstill throws with good touch but his accuracy is inconsistent.  His age and injury history likely make him a priority UDFA but in such a weak quarterback class, who knows?
  • Prediction:  UAB +1.5.  I was very surprised to see the Blazers as a home underdog in this one.  They are 6-0 at home this season (5-1 ATS).  A big part of that line may be the uncertainty surrounding RB Spencer Brown’s availability (996-15).  I’ll take the gamble that he plays.  He’s just a sophomore and not yet draft eligible so there’s some incentive to shine in a big game, and throw down a few bucks on UAB with the points.

AAC: #8 UCF (11-0) vs Memphis (8-4), 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis:  Henderson led a dominant Tigers rushing attack this season.  His regular season totals ended at: 1,699 yards, 19 TDs, 8.6 yards per carry, 17 receptions, 286 yards  and 3 TDs.  That’s impressive even before you consider that he’s splitting touches with Patrick Taylor (894-14) and Tony Pollard (398-5).  Henderson measures in at 5090/200 and yet runs with an upright, downhill style.  You can feel his momentum when he’s on the move.  He may be too small for an every down role in the NFL but he runs with a physicality that belies his height and that will endear him to his teammates.
  • Prediction:  Memphis +3.  It’s hard to write the narrative for this game right now.  Does UCF rebound and battle for their fallen quarterback?  Or do they collapse with a backup signal caller under center?  Considering their last matchup was a 31-30 victory for UCF, I’ll take Memphis and the points here because I think McKenzie Milton is worth way more than a few points.  (I do hope I am wrong on this one though because I am wishing for CFP mayhem.)

SEC: #1 Alabama (12-0) vs #4 Georgia (11-1), 4:00pm on CBS

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: This game is obviously chock full of pro talent so why am I highlighting a tight end? Because you’ve probably missed Irv Smith’s ascension amidst the Alabaman domination this season. I am here to tell you that he should be on your radar as a potential rookie draft target for 2019. Smith has a good 35-613-7 line thus far, despite inconsistent production (five games with 2 or less receptions). In three of those games he managed to score a touchdown so he can still be a difference maker without a high target share. He’s listed at 6040/241 and has the speed to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers. If he shows consistency in Alabama’s biggest games, we’ll see his draft stock skyrocket. While your friends are waxing poetic about Tua and Quinnen, you can drop some knowledge about Irv, who will factor into next year’s rookie draft.
  • Prediction:  Alabama -13. ‘Bama has covered big numbers in its last five SEC games. The only one in the last six games that they didn’t cover was -53.5 against doormat foe Citadel. I see no reason to believe that the Tide won’t roll again. They are just too talented all over the field, probably the most talented team I’ve ever seen.

Mountain West: #25 Fresno State (10-2) at #22 Boise State (10-2), 7:45pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State:  Rypien is a name that you should monitor closely throughout the draft process.  The 2019 quarterback class is weak so it’s possible that somebody like Rypien emerges to become a first rounder just by virtue of scarcity.  He has average size at 6020/202.  He shows good pocket presence and above average short and medium accuracy.  He needs to show more consistency with his mechanics because he often lets himself throw off-platform, off-balance or with his feet unset.  In a previous film study, I noted that Rypien does not feel blindside pressure well which will be a problem in the NFL.  He’s probably a Day Two guy with the potential to land higher if teams are desperate.
  • Prediction:  Fresno State +2.5.  I’ve almost convinced myself that Fresno will win this one straight up because I’ve followed them closely this year after I stacked QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson in my college fantasy league.  So I’ll have to take the points.  The Bulldogs have lost their last three ATS but before that were on a seven game winning streak.  Bonus tidbit: the last four games for both teams went under (including their November 9 matchup).

Big Ten: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8:00pm on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins is a fast-rising redshirt sophomore who got his chance to lead Ohio State this season after JT Barrett’s graduation.  Haskins checks in at 6030/220 but I think that might be a slight exaggeration.  He’s not small but he does lack elite size.  He’s not a burner as a runner but he’s recently shown that he can be effective and clutch in short yardage situations.  It’s hard to find fault when looking at his statistics because he’s setting numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records.  He topped 4,000 yards (4,081) and has tossed 42 TDs to just 7 INTs.  His rating (171.7) and completion percentage (69.0%) are phenomenal.  Haskins has seen a meteoric rise to his draft stock, in fact, The Draft Network now projects him as QB2 in the 2019 eligible class.
  • Prediction:  Ohio State -14.  As a Michigan fan, it was particularly hard to watch the 62-39 drubbing last weekend.  I’m a firm believer in rooting for the team that beats you (if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the eventual champion) so I’ll be all-in on the Buckeyes.  Northwestern has a top third defense in the conference but their weak spot is against the pass (ranked 11th) so they will not be able to slow Haskins enough to keep it close.

ACC: #2 Clemson (12-0) vs Pitt (7-5), 8:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • The Entire Defensive Line, Clemson:  There are so many “brand name” players on the Clemson defense that it would be impossible to single one of them out.  The fact that their biggest offensive stars are underclassmen (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins) also helps concentrate focus on the defense.  Clelin Ferrell has distanced himself as the best prospect on the line with 10.5 sacks this season.  Interior linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are a dynamic duo who both feature rare combinations of size and athleticism (notably they have a combined 3 rushing TDs this season).  Austin Bryant, playing fourth fiddle, would probably be the defensive leader for most teams (19 career sacks and 116 career tackles).
  • Prediction:  Clemson -26.5.  What a snoozer in the 8:00pm window, I bet ABC is not happy.  Clemson is only 6-6 ATS this season while Pitt is 8-4 but I won’t let that sway my thinking.  I’ll be okay with losing this one if Clemson doesn’t cover but my gut tells me they run up the score to prove that they belong in the conversation with Alabama.  Give the points and switch the channel.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of, as of 11/27.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats:,,,,,,
  • Recruiting:,,,
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos:, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats:

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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