As we near the end of a 49ers season that’s left a bitter taste in our mouths weekly, I’m personally thankful for the weekly refuge of college football. Rivalry Week started on Thanksgiving, and yesterday was filled with the upsets we crave yearly as bowl season approaches. While teams like Washington took care of business, NC State upset North Carolina and Mitch Trubisky, Iowa continued their vendetta against ranked opponents as they toppled Nebraska, Boise State fell to Air Force, Memphis beat Houston… to summarize: Friday was gloriously messy, let’s hope Saturday is too.
(3) Michigan at (2) Ohio State (9:00 AM PST - ABC)
The headlining act of the day starts bright and early, as the most important College Football Playoff matchup of the season kicks off. If nostalgia for Jim Harbaugh’s sideline antics aren’t enough to interest you in watching this Rivalry Week classic, the draft prospects should be. Jabrill Peppers is possibly the most versatile player in college football right now, projecting as a high first round pick. Whether that versatility translates to production in the NFL remains to be seen - we will no doubt hear about his lack of interceptions in the lead up to the draft, much like we did with Jalen Ramsey.
The same complaint can’t be made about ball-hawking Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. The redshirt sophomore has picked off five passes this season, returning two for touchdowns. He’s draft eligible, but with only one season of starting experience under his belt, whether or not he declares remains to be seen.
Since it’s no secret that wide receiver is a position of need for the 49ers, keep an eye on Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson of Michigan. Their production may suffer for what’s left of the season given the injury to starting quarterback and noted Harbaugh clone Wilton Speight, but they have ideal size at the position and would be great picks after the first round prospects are off the board.
(16) Auburn at (1) Alabama (12:30 PM PST - CBS)
Barring an unexpected field goal return weaving its way to the end zone, the Iron Bowl will likely play out as predictably as any game the Crimson Tide have played this season: Alabama will win and Nick Saban will be angry regardless. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and inside linebacker Reuben Foster have been two of the brightest stars of Bama’s defense this season and both have been top prospects at their respective positions. Personally, I don’t see Foster wearing a 49ers uniform in 2017, but Allen’s interior presence would be hard to pass up with the second overall pick.
If Auburn hopes to walk away with a win, their defense will need to set the tone. Looking to their star defensive end, Carl Lawson could improve his already high draft stock if he gets to Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts on Saturday. Lawson has faced injury issues throughout his college career, but this year’s performance has finally given us a long look at the junior as he’s tallied 9 sacks on the year. If the 49ers want to improve their pass rush in the first round and Myles Garrett isn’t available, trading back and selecting Lawson later on day one isn’t out of the question.