Rece Davis on Jadeveon Clowney, the NFL Draft, and year one of the College Football Playoff

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Houston still has a while to submit (or trade) the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft. But if ESPN's Rece Davis was running the Texans, he would have already made up his mind and initiated contract negotiations.

We recently caught up with Rece Davis, who hosts pretty much every show that you like on ESPN, to get his take on issues ranging from Jadeveon Clowney and the NFL Draft to the the first year of the College Football Playoff and the latest Capital One Cup standings.

Garnet And Black Attack: South Carolina fans have been on a bit of a wild ride where it concerns the perception of not just Jadeveon Clonwey's draft stock but, tied to that, his character and even his abilities as football player. In your eyes, where does he stand as we inch closer toward the beginning of the 2014 NFL Draft?

Rece Davis: Here's the issue, Connor. In the NFL, if you don't have a quarterback you're not winning. Period. End of discussion. If you don't have a quarterback, you don't have anything.

Houston doesn't want to be the team that passes on Johnny Manziel or, probably to a lesser degree, Blake Bortles and have Bortles turn into Ben Roethlisberger and have Manziel turn into the best quarterback ever, and they become the Portland Trailblazers who passed on Michael Jordan.

That said, to me, I would waste no time. I would already be negotiating. This would be over. I would pick Jadeveon Clowney No.1.

Here's why: If Clowney, for whatever reason, doesn't reach his potential as an NFL player and become a dominant, bigger version Derrick Thomas -- a Lawrence Taylor-type player, in terms of rushing the passer -- the floor for him, in my judgment, is to be a really good, solid, disruptive defensive end. When you look at a player in that context and the worst that can happen is that he's going to be an outstanding NFL-type starter -- and, in my judgment, the floor for him is just being really, really good -- you have to take him.

I would waste no time. I would already be negotiating. This would be over. I would pick Jadeveon Clowney No.1.-Rece Davis

My buddy Todd McShay raves about what he's seen and says he hasn't evaluated a prospect like him. Todd can evaluate the tough guys. I can pull a dude off the street to watch Jadeveon Clowney and see that this guy's a freak. Anybody can see that.

I haven't been around Jadeveon as much as people who cover South Carolina on a daily basis, but I've been around him some -- and, of course, I haven't done the NFL security checks either -- but I can't see any big red flag that would stop me from taking him. This would be over, if I was in charge. I'd be taking him at the top of the draft, and that would be it.

GABA: Back on the college side of things, we're entering the first season in which the College Football Playoff awaits us at the end. How, if at all, do you see this new format shaping the drama of the college football season?

RD: It's going to have a huge impact just in terms of excitement and anticipation and teams getting into that group of four. I think four is a small enough number that it won't have much of an impact at all on the importance of regular season games. There have been years in which an undefeated team was left out.

2009, for instance. Now, two of those teams were Boise State and TCU, but you also had Cincinnati who, at that point, wasn't in the Big 12 or the SEC but was still in a major conference. There were five undefeated teams that year. So I think it still maintains the premium on the regular season but it creates a new level of excitement in terms of what the bowl season and the four-team playoff will mean. I think you might get some fresh matchups in the major bowls, and South Carolina is a great example. Because the Gamecocks haven't won the SEC, they continue to wind up in very similar-feeling matchups and bowl games. So I think the entire restructuring of the process is going to be good for college football. And sometimes just to freshen things up is good for excitement.

College football has never been more popular. It's right behind the NFL in terms of popularity among American sports fans. And now we're introducing something else that I think is going to be a great popularity

GABA: With spring football just about wrapped up for every FBS school, are there any teams that are jumping out at you as major contenders to be in the mix for those four spots in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season?

RD: There are tons of contenders and tons of question marks. Obviously, even with some of the losses of senior leadership on defense, Florida State returns a great number of key players. They've got to replace some receivers and defenders, but they get to build around the Heisman Trophy winner, which is a great place to start.

Oregon has arguably the best dual-threat quarterback talent. Marcus Mariota is 6'4 and is going to run an unbelievable time at the combine, and he's a strong-armed passer. So you have him to build around. They have some changes and a new defensive coordinator with Nick Alioti retiring, but I like Oregon's opportunity.

I think UCLA also out west will be very good. Ohio State will be in the mix.

I think the SEC is a little less clear-cut. Auburn is certainly going to be very good and, I would say, will be the favorite going into the season on the basis of the fact that they have their quarterback coming back and have proven that they can run the ball. But they lose Greg Robinson up front, and I think that's huge. I don't put Auburn as head-and-shoulders above everyone as many people seem to be doing right now, although I would pick them to win the West.

In the East, and I know this may get you to hang up on me, but I like Georgia. I mean, I like South Carolina too, but I think that Georgia with Jeremy Pruitt arriving to give sort of an energy boost and a different perspective on their defense will help. They've got the best running back in the country. With respect to a lot of the other ones who are good, Todd Gurley, when healthy, is best. I think Hutson Mason will do very well for them at quarterback. But, obviously, that early season game before Mason is broken in against South Carolina will be huge for the SEC East, and the winner of that game will have a great opportunity to proceed through its schedule and perhaps have a shot at playing in the SEC Championship game. It would be surprising to me if the winner of the SEC Championship game didn't end up in the four-team playoff.

GABA: We've got fresh Capital One Cup standings. South Carolina is in the top 25 in the men's standings and bit further back on the women's side of things. Florida State is having just an incredible year at No. 1 in the men's standings. Is there anybody with a shot at knocking these guys off?

RD: There's still a lot of athletic competition to be played. I started to say, "There's a lot of ball left to be played," but some of them don't necessarily involve a ball. Every sport has an impact on the standings. Fans want to be able to say their athletics program is the very best in all of college sports.

The Capital One Cup represents the ultimate bragging rights in college sports. It's a really great program. Fans can get involved on CapitalOneCup.com and Facebook and Twitter. People like Doug Flutie, Lisa Leslie, Clark Kellog, and myself get on there and answer questions and offer opinions.

But the reason that I'm most proud to be part of the advisory board there is the the $400,000 in scholarship money that Capital One offers to the winning schools. I mean, it's great that they get to go to the ESPYs, and I know you can't put a monetary value on going to the ESPYs and hob-nobbing with the elite in sports, which the winning schools get to do, but the $400,000 combined scholarship money for both the men's and women's winner is a really cool thing that Capital One does, and it makes me pleased and happy to be a part of this with them.

GABA: That's fantastic. Rece, I want to thank you for your time. I know you're a busy man.

What Rece said next can only be fully appreciated by hearing it with your ears, which is something you'll be able to do on May 8 when we release this interview in podcast form.

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