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A Patriots fan’s guide to the bye week: Which college stars and NFL games to keep an eye on

USC quarterback Caleb Williams again is putting up big numbers, but is it enough for back-to-back Heisman wins?Ryan Sun/Associated Press

No Patriots this weekend? No problem.

Even with New England (2-8) on its bye week, there’s plenty to consider if you’re watching NFL and college games through a Patriots’ prism over the next few days.

UCLA at USC, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.: The best thing about the Trojans is quarterback Caleb Williams, and while last year’s Heisman Trophy winner is seeing his chances of going back-to-back start to fade, he remains a consensus top-five pick. Through 11 games, the 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pounder has completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,249 yards with 29 touchdowns and four interceptions. Regardless of his meltdown following a recent loss to Utah, the 21-year-old projects to be one of the first — if not the first — quarterback taken in the draft.


North Carolina at Clemson, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.: Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye, a 6-5, 220-pounder, doesn’t get the same ink that Williams receives, but his impressive career arc over the last two seasons will likely land him in the top 5-10 picks this spring if he decides to enter the draft. He’s completed 66 percent of his throws this season for 3,145 yards and 21 touchdowns. Earlier this month, the 21-year-old was coy about his intentions, but if he does declare for the draft, he’s almost certainly going to be considered high in the first round.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is among the top prospects at his position behind Caleb Williams.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Oregon at Arizona State, Saturday, 4 p.m.: Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is considered a first-round prospect. The 6-3, 214-pounder has astounding numbers the last year-plus, including a completion rate of 77.7 percent (best in the nation), 3,135 passing yards, and 29 touchdowns this season. One thing to keep in mind: Nix will turn 24 in February, the same age as Trevor Lawrence, who has been in the NFL for three seasons. I suppose with quarterbacks playing into their late 30s, it won’t have a huge impact on his NFL career. But it’s certainly part of the conversation when you talk about Nix as a prospect.


Minnesota at Ohio State, Saturday, 4 p.m.: Quarterbacks not your cup of tea? How about the best wide receiver in the college game? Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. (59 catches, 1,063 yards, 12 touchdowns) is almost certainly a top-five pick, which means he deserves the attention of a team such as the Patriotsin need of elite skill position players. The 6-3, 202-pounder, the son of the Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, has seven games of 100 or more receiving yards this season.

Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is one of the top NFL Draft prospects regardless of position.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Washington at Oregon State, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.: Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has Washington on the cusp of the College Football Playoff with a 10-0 start. He’s similar to Williams in that he’s probably been asked to do more than he should because of a leaky defense. And like Nix, he’s on the older side — he’ll turn 24 in May. But his 353.3 passing yards per game are best in the nation, and his 68 percent completion rate and 28 touchdown passes (with seven interceptions) are nothing to sneeze at either. He’s the only southpaw on this list.

Georgia State at LSU, Saturday, 8 p.m.: LSU’s Jayden Daniels is another quarterback who has made great strides in the last year-plus, but his performance last weekend against Florida was the stuff of legend: 372 passing yards and 234 rushing yards. (The 22-year-old became the first player in FBS history with at least 350 passing and 200 rushing yards in a game.) He has a 71 percent completion rate this season, to go with 3,164 passing yards (918 rushing yards), and 30 touchdown passes. My favorite stat? He has 76 plays of 20 or more yards this season. Easy to see why the 6-3, 185-pounder is an intriguing draft prospect who has pushed himself into the Heisman conversation.


Arizona at Houston, Sunday, 1 p.m.: At 2-8, the Cardinals are tied with the Patriots and Giants for the second overall pick in the draft. Following Kyler Murray’s return last week, another Arizona win would allow the Cardinals to put some distance between themselves and the Patriots, and give New England a greater chance at the No. 2 pick.

Kyler Murray made his season debut with the 2-8 Cardinals last week.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

NY Giants at Washington, Sunday, 1 p.m.: If the Giants find a way to knock off the Commanders, and the Cardinals beat the Texans, the Patriots would find themselves all alone in the race for the No. 2 pick. (One of the Giants’ two wins came against the Commanders.) Regardless, next Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Giants at MetLife Stadium could end up having sizable implications when it comes to determining the order at the top of the draft.

Dallas at Carolina, Sunday, 1 p.m.: Carolina (1-8) has the worst record in the NFL, but the Panthers dealt their 2024 first-round pick to the Bears, which means Patriots fans need to keep an eye on the Panthers. That being said, the chances of the Panthers upsetting the mighty Cowboys (and allowing the Patriots to creep closer to the No. 1 overall pick) are dubious at best.


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him @cpriceglobe.