Missouri's offense knew it was going to have its hands full in the trenches against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. The Tigers were well aware that Oklahoma possesses one of the best young defensive tackle tandems in the country with sophomore DeMarcus Granger and redshirt freshman Gerald McCoy. Add sophomore defensive end Auston English to the mix and you have an extremely young and talented defensive line.
But what Missouri couldn't have anticipated was the play of redshirt freshman Jeremy Beal (6-4, 265), a lesser-known backup defensive end. Beal displayed impressive explosiveness off the edge, accounting for six tackles and two tackles for loss.
With the game tied in the third quarter and Missouri at Oklahoma's 25-yard line, it was Beal who stepped up and sacked QB Chase Daniel for a 10-yard loss. On the very next play with the pocket collapsing, Beal tackled a scrambling Daniel before the quarterback could make anything happen and Missouri was forced to punt two plays later. Beal also made his presence felt in the first half. Combine the promise he shows with Granger, McCoy and English, and Big 12 offensive coordinators are going to have many a sleepless night trying to find a way to hold off the Sooners' front four next season.
• A young man whom NFL scouts were interested to see this season was Tennessee's senior tight end Brad Cottam (6-7, 271). Until this season, Cottam's numbers were nothing to get excited about (just 16 career catches), but he showed promise in 2006. Unfortunately, a wrist injury in August sidelined Cottam until November. Ideally, it would have been nice to see him return in 2008 and play a full season, but the NCAA was unwilling to give him a sixth season of eligibility. Cottam has managed just four receptions since his return. Nevertheless, Cottam is a player I would be interested in adding to a roster late in the draft. He possesses exceptional size, pretty good overall athletic ability and intriguing long-range potential.
• Leading the way on defense once again for Virginia Tech was senior middle linebacker Vince Hall (6-0, 239). After missing the first meeting against Boston College due to a wrist injury, Hall made sure in the ACC championship game that he was heard from early and often. It's hard to view a Virginia Tech game and not come away impressed by what Hall brings to the field: great read-and-react skills, solid tackling, and the ability to make his presence felt both attacking the line of scrimmage and working in reverse. Against BC, Hall finished with a game-high 11 tackles and a key interception late in the fourth quarter to preserve Virginia Tech's lead. It was the type of effort that has defined his career.
• There were some terrific efforts for Pittsburgh in its 13-9 victory over West Virginia. On offense, what more can you say about RB LeSean McCoy (5-11, 210)? The true freshman had been held in check in the Panthers' previous two games, combining for just 115 yards on 40 carries. But against the Mountaineers, he rushed for 148 yards on 38 carries, showing all the attributes (vision, balance, ability to run tough between the tackles, body lean) that you look for in a topflight feature back. On defense, senior DE Joe Clermond (6-2½, 256) ended his career in fine fashion. A difference maker off the edge the past two seasons, Clermond had two sacks on Saturday, bringing his total to 10½ for the season -- that ranks him in the top five in the nation among seniors. The Panthers' lack of team success this season kept him from garnering much notoriety, but Clermond is someone who should interest NFL teams as a late-round addition or a priority free agent.
• Colorado State was in the news last week for letting coach Sonny Lubick go. And while the Rams' season is over, I liked what I saw in two of the last three games from their senior QB Caleb Hanie (6-1½, 235). He's smooth in his drop back, has good mechanics and a strong arm. After struggling to put together a good stretch of games for most of the season, Hanie came on strong down the stretch. In each of the Rams' last three games, he produced a passer rating over 185.0, seven touchdowns and just one interception. While he figures to be an undrafted free agent, it wouldn't surprise me if Hanie ended up pushing his way onto an NFL roster.
• Colorado State's final game of the season was against Wyoming, which has one of the most improved sophomore defensive tackles in the country, John Fletcher (6-5, 277). He had 2½ sacks and finished the season leading the Cowboys in both sacks (10½) and tackles for loss (14).