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Playoffs Are Big Opportunity For Small School Prospects

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Sam Houston State's Timothy Flanders enters Saturday's playoff game against Southeastern Louisiana ranked 7th all-time on the FCS rushing list with 5,582 career yards. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Sam Houston State's Timothy Flanders enters Saturday's playoff game against Southeastern Louisiana ranked 7th all-time on the FCS rushing list with 5,582 career yards. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Traditionalists in college towns across the country -- especially the 52,000 square miles that make up the state of Alabama -- are singing a different tune this season. From Title Town to the Loveliest Village on the Plains, suddenly, the notion of a college football playoff system doesn't seem like a sacreligious idea. And instituting one next year doesn't feel soon enough.

In truth, FBS fans are coming to learn what fans of every other level of college football (and professional, and high school, even Pop Warner) have known forever. Playoffs are the only way to determine a champion.

While a bunch of otherwise insignificant conference championship games are played this Saturday, there are college football playoffs going on everywhere -- in the FCS, in Divisions II and III (albeit no longer with my Ithaca College Bombers) and the NAIA. The names -- neither of schools nor players -- aren't recognizable, but that doesn't mean there aren't NFL prospects out there, trying to win a title for the school and some attention for themselves.

Not so much in Division II, since Bloomsburg and defensive end Larry Webster were eliminated last week by West Chester. But there are at least a dozen prospects still playing for the FCS championship. Here are eight you might want to keep an eye on this weekend (listed alphabetically), most of whom are looking at Day 3 selections:

Dakota Dozier, OL, Furman: The winner of the Southern Conference's Jacobs Blocking Award just might be the best offensive lineman in all of the FCS. At 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, he has NFL size, though he probably projects as an NFL guard -- and quite possibly one of the top 10 guards in the 2014 draft.

Timothy Flanders, RB, Sam Houston State: We introduced you to Flanders in the early summer, when he was an off-the-radar running back prospect with the Barry Sanders build and aspirations. He's coming off his 30th career 100-yard game and came out of the win over Southern Utah with 65 career rushing touchdowns -- fourth all-time among FCS running backs. He's strong, sturdy, agile and is faster coming out of his cuts than a lot of backs are running straight ahead. One of his best games of the season (170 rushing yards, 2 TDs) came against the Bearkats' biggest opponent, Texas A&M.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois: Everyone keeps talking about the deep crop of quarterbacks expected to be available in the 2014 NFL Draft. And, yes, there are a ton of talented prospects -- most with great upside, but few already possessing the credentials of proven college passers. That's why Garoppolo has become such an intriguing prospect. His career passing numbers (12,595 yards, 113 TDs) compare favorably to the two most prolific passers in the draft: Aaron Murray (13,166 yards, 121 TDs) and Derek Carr (12,222 yards, 108 TDs). And Garoppolo (6-3, 222) has closer to the protoypical size than either of them. He is far more advanced in reading defenses and understanding progressions than any of the three redshirt sophomores, has a stronger arm than David Fales, and hasn't had the accuracy problems that have plagued Stephen Morris. When the conversation turns to the Quarterback Class of 2014, there's no reason Garoppolo's name shouldn't be right in the mix. 

Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina: The numbers are good but not gaudy: 58 receptions, 881 yards, 8 TDs. But when you factor in the balance that has defined the Chanticleers' offense (including the Big South's Offense Player of the Year, RB Lorenzo Taliaferro), and consider that Hazel surpassed Jerome Simpson this year as the program's all-time leader in receiving yards, you can appreciate that Hazel is more than some stat sheet suggests. He's a big target (listed at 6-3, 190, though it wouldn't be a surprise to learn he's shrunk come the Combine) who makes big catches at big times; 39 of his catches have gone for either first downs or touchdowns. His top-end speed may be a question mark; Hazel's hands are not.

Jordan Love, CB, Towson: It took him until the third game of the season to shake the affects of a lingering foot injury, but Love has been active and effective since his return to full strength. His nine pass breakups were second on the team, and he finished seventh on the team in tackles. Love, who played two seasons at Georgia before transferring, is listed at 6-1, 180 and reportedly has the potential to run a 4.5 at the Combine. 

Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana: The quintessential playmaker, Tripp is in his fourth year of starting at outside backer for the Grizzlies. He's racked up 324 career tackles, 29 TFL and six fumble recoveries. He could be a 4-3 Will backer or an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. But there's little reason to think Tripp won't continue to be a regular rotation contributor with solid play against the run and in coverage.

Billy Turmer, LT, North Dakota State: It's not easy to quantify an offensive tackle's effectiveness, but these numbers should shed a little light on the season Turner has had:

3: Turner has been named the Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week three times in NDSU's 11 games.

90: He's graded out at 90 percent for the season.

0: He's not allowed a single sack.

Turner hasn't faced elite pass rushers at the FCS level, but he has all the tools and the size (6-6, 314) to develop over time into a legitimate NFL tackle. 

Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota State: The Bisons' electric cornerback should be back in the starting lineup this Saturday against Furman after missing a couple of games with a knee injury. And if he doesn't add to his statistical totals (2 INTs, 6 PBUs), don't be alarmed; as we discussed with him before the season began, he expected few teams to challenge him in the passing game. Williams did have a pick in the Bisons' opening win at Kansas State, and he did return an interception for a touchdown against Delaware State, giving him a career six pack of Pick Sixes. Williams can play man coverage at the next level, and will also be a contributor on kick or punt returns.