Six players to watch in Thursday's games
North Carolina vs. South Carolina
UNC player to watch: DT Nazair Jones
Sophomore Nazair Jones was the only North Carolina defensive lineman to rate about 70 last season as he finished at a respectable 78.1 on only 405 snaps. He picked up four sacks, two hits, seven hurries and four batted passes on his 203 rushes while posting a 78.3 grade against the run. Jones steps into a starting role this season, and the 6-foot-5 295-pounder has a chance to turn some heads — starting tonight.
South Carolina player to watch: WR Pharoh Cooper
With a new quarterback at the helm and running back Mike Davis moving on, the Gamecock offense has to run through Cooper who comes in at No. 33 in our top 50 players for 2015. He was extremely elusive with the ball in his hands, forcing 17 missed tackles to tie for sixth in the nation, and he tacked on 202 yards on the ground on 27 carries. Look for South Carolina to get even more creative getting the ball in his hands against the Tar Heels.
Michigan vs. Utah
Utah player to watch: DT Lowell Lotulelei
Another sophomore defensive tackle to keep an eye on tonight, Lotulelei was the most stout interior run defender for the Utes last season at 82.1 and he tied for 17th in run-stop percentage at 8.9. He wasn’t nearly as productive as a pass rusher (70.3 rating, four sacks, two hits, five hurries on 225 rushes), but look for him to make a big impact up front for the Utes.
Michigan player to watch: DB Jabrill Peppers
Michigan fans have been waiting for Peppers to be unleashed, but where will it be? The former five-star recruit will likely see snaps in the defense backfield as he did last season before getting hurt (92 snaps, 70.9 overall), but there’s still a chance that we’ll see him take some offensive snaps as well. Whether at safety, slot, running back, or even another position, Peppers’ versatility will be one of the biggest storylines in Ann Arbor this season.
TCU vs. Minnesota
Matchup to watch: TCU C Joey Hunt vs. Minnesota DT Steven Richardson
Best center in the nation? We think Hunt is the favorite for the Rimington Award as his ability in the run game and in pass protection is among the best-balanced in the nation. Last season, Hunt went head up with players like second-round pick Jordan Phillips and our No. 9 player heading into this season, Andrew Billings, and he more than held his own against that top competition.
Hunt will see a lot of DT Steven Richardson tonight, Minnesota’s best interior pass rusher at 82.6. Richardson picked up two sacks, three hits, and 18 hurries on 248 rushes last season as he graded better than the raw numbers will show. He’s an undersized rusher at 6-foot, 291 pounds, so it will be a different matchup for Hunt, but a viable one nonetheless.