PURDUE (6-6) vs AUBURN (7-5); Music City Bowl; Nashville; 1:30 PM ET; ESPN … This is the first of several head-to-head SEC/Big Ten bowls, although no one in either conference is likely staking any bragging rights on this one. In fact, Auburn probably had expectations of being in just about any of those other bowls, whereas Purdue is likely to be happy enough to be playing anywhere in the post-season. The game, though, does have some interest for pro scouts as its a last chance to evaluate Auburn junior QB Jarrett Stidham (#8, 6-3, 215). Stidham, who has all the tools, entered the year rated as a dark horse Heisman candidate as well as a possible mid-to-late first round pick in 2019, but he struggled mightily through a disappointing, but then surprised NFL personnel people by announcing that he’d be entering the draft anyway. This past season, Stidham completed just 60% of his passes while throwing for only 2,400 yards and 13 TDs. In fact, the Auburn-Purdue match-up offers an interesting contrast at QB as David Blough (#11, 6-1, 205) in many ways is the opposite of Stidham in that he isn’t the most physically talented guy out there, but he makes plays; this fall, Blough had a 67% completion rate, while throwing for over 3,500 yards and 25 scores. It’s also fun watching Purdue because of true freshman WR/KR RonDale Moore (#4, 5-9, 175), one of the most dynamic big-play threats in the country at any age.
The top prospect in this game, though, is Auburn junior DT Derrick Brown (#5, 6-4, 320), a massive presence in the middle of the defensive front, who has legit top 10 potential for the upcoming draft. Brown combines in the middle of the Tigers’ defensive front wall with senior DT Dontavius Russell (#95, 6-2, 320) who has some mid-to-late round potential of his own. Meanwhile, veteran ILB Deshaun Davis (#57, 5-11, 235) is an active tackling machine – he had 107 this season – who has been invited to the Senior Bowl.
For its part, Purdue likely won’t have anyone drafted early this year, but have several players with later round or free agent potential including C Kirk Barron (#53, 6-2, 300), WR Isaac Zico (#7, 6-0, 200); RBs D.J. Knox (#1, 5-7, 210) and Markell Jones (#8, 5-10, 210); CB Antonio Blackmon (#14, 6-0, 195) and SS Jacob Thieneman (#41, 6-0, 215).
#16 WEST VIRGINIA (8-3) vs #20 SYRACUSE (9-3); Camping World Bowl; Orlando; 5:15 PM ET; ESPN … What if they scheduled a bowl and an old-time Big East rivalry broke out? This is also one of those bowls involving teams that were likely hoping for much better this bowl season. Indeed, the Mountaineers were very much in the national playoff picture until suffering heartbreaking last minute losses late in the year first at Oklahoma State and then to Oklahoma in the conference championship game. However, West Virginia team that faces the Orange in Orlando won’t be the same team that made that run at the Big XII title as All-America QB Will Grier is sitting out to get ready for the 2019 draft. LT Rodney Cajuste will also be sitting out for draft reasons, while WR Gary Jennings, one of Grier’s favorite receivers, is out with an ankle injury. Fortunately, the Mountaineers will still have WR David Sills (13, 6-3, 210), a late second or early third day prospect who was Grier’s long-time go-to target. Sills had 61 catches this fall, including 14 for TDs, the second highest total in the country this year.
Syracuse also comes into the bowl shorthanded as emerging junior DE Alton Robinson, who keyed he Orange pass rush with ten sacks this fall, did not make the trip because of an undisclosed personal issue. Same for junior DT McKinley Williams. However, that shouldn’t detract from what has been a terrific bounce back season for Syracuse which had been out wandering around the college football wilderness pretty much throughout the 2000s. And if Syracuse was the comeback team of the year, the SU QB Eric Dungey (#2, 6-3, 225) may have been the comeback player of the year after being knocked out in each of the past three seasons. Dungey did miss some time during the season but was still standing at the end; overall, he completed 60% of his pass attempts including 17 for scores, while he also ran for over 700 yards and another 15 TDs. Dungey, though, remains a fringe prospect who soem team will surely want to bring to camp for a free agent look see if he isn’t actually selected in the later rounds. In fact, Syracuse has a number of other players in that category including WR Jamal Custis (#12, 6-4, 215), OTs Koda Martin (#78, 6-6, 305) and Cody Conway (#60, 6-5, 300), DT Chris Slayton (#95, 6-3, 310) and MLB Ryan Guthrie (#41, 6-1, 225).
#24 IOWA STATE (8-4) vs #13 WASHINGTON STATE (10-2); Alamo Bowl; San Antonio; 9 PM ET; ESPN … What is the old saying?: ‘one man’s absence is another’s opportunity!’ Or something like that. Whatever that could be the situation for Washington State QB Gardner Minshew (#16, 6-2, 220) who becomes the QB to watch on Friday with West Virginia’s Will Grier off somewhere preparing for the draft. If nothing else, Minshew, a transfer from East Carolina who wasn’t even a household name in his own home prior to the season, emerged as one of the best stories in college football this year when he finished second in the country with just under 4,500 passing yards as he completed 70% of his passes including 36 for scores versus 9 picks. Pro scouts, though, still aren’t sold on Minshew who many view as a product of the WSU system, but they are also starting to take note of the fact that he seems to have all the traits of an elite NFL QB including decent size and athleticism as well as surprising arm talent. While there are questions about Minshew’s ultimate draft grade, there are no such concerns about veteran LT Andre Dillard (#60, 6-5, 310), one of the rising stars of this year’s draft class who has worked his way up into the early to mid second day territory. Meanwhile, other WSU seniors to watch for the later rounds or free agency include MLB Peyton Pelluer (#47, 6-0, 230), DE Logan Tago (#65, 6-3, 250), and DT Taylor Comfort (#56, 6-0, 280).
While Washington State lives and dies by the pass, Iowa State has a run-centric offense featuring junior RB David Montgomery (#32, 5-10, 215), who figures to be one of the top prospects at the position if he enters the upcoming draft. This fall, Montgomery ran for over 1,100 yards for the second straight season, while scoring 12 times on the ground. For good measure, Montgomery is also an accomplished receiver with 67 career catches. Montgomery, though, might not necessarily be the first Cyclone selected this coming April as junior WR Hakeem Butler (#18, 6-5, 225), who averaged over 20 yards per catch this fall, is one of the most dynamic big-play receivers in the country; for now, both Montgomery and Butler are considered to be mid-second round prospects, although Butler has the potential to go higher in a weak year at the position. Meanwhile, other ISU players with later round or free agent possibilities include MLB Willie Harvey (#2, 6-0, 225) and CBs Brian Peavy (#10, 5-9, 195) and D’Andre Payne (#1, 5-9, 195). 9