Bowl watch: Saturday; December 30th

December 29, 2017

TAXSLAYER BOWL (Jacksonville): Louisville (8-4) vs #23 Mississippi State (8-4); Noon ET; ESPN

The Taxslayer Bowl gives fans – not to mention pro scouts – one last chance – presumably – to watch Louisville junior QB Lamar Jackson (#8, 6-3, 210), who has arguably been the most exciting player in college football over the past three seasons. Jackson, the Heisman winner in 2016 and a finalist again this year, has already accounted for over 13,000 yards from scrimmage including almost 5,000 this year when he threw for almost 3,500 yards, while running for another 1,400-plus yards. He also accounted for 42 TDs including 25 through the air and 17 on the ground. However, Jackson remains something of a polarizing pro prospect; he’s a phenomenal athlete who could also play at RB or WR, but he’s only an average passer, although he has gotten better while at Louisville. Right now, Jackson’s grade appears to range anywhere from the mid-first round to the mid-second such that pre-draft testing will be really important to his final status.

Pro scouts were also hoping to get one last look at Louisville junior CB Jaire Alexander, a second-day prospect who had 5 picks in 2016, but missed much of the past season with a leg injury, but he won’t be playing as he is already prepping for the upcoming draft. Veteran WR Jaylen Smith (#9, 6-3, 220), a big, physical receiver who averaged 16.5 yards per catch on 53 total receptions this fall, could also get some second-day interest this coming April. Same for junior LT Geron Christian (#74, 6-5, 315) who has made 38 straight starts for the Cardinals. In fact, Louisville has a relatively veteran squad with a number of seniors with later round or free agent potential including CB Trumaine Washington (#15, 5-10, 180), DE James Hearns (#99, 6-3, 250), DE Trevon Young (#91, 6-4, 255), SS Chucky Williams (#22, 6-1, 215), TE Charles Standberry (#80, 6-3, 245), NT De’Asian Richardson (#90, 6-3, 325), and OLB Stacy Thomas (#32, 6-0, 245).

As good as the Cardinals’ Jackson is, he may not even be the top prospect in this game as Mississippi State LT Martinas Rankin (#55, 6-5, 315) has at least late first-round. However, other than steady possession WR Gabe Myles (#5, 5-11, 195) and MLB Dez Harris (#11, 6-3, 243), both of whom are more late round or free agent candidates, the SEC’s ‘other Bulldogs’ are a very young team whose next best prospects are juniors like rangy OLBs Montez Stewart (#9, 6-5, 240), who had 9.5 sacks this fall, and Gerri Green (#4, 6-3, 240), who had 127 tackles, and safety Mark McLaurin (#41, 6-2, 215).

LIBERTY BOWL (Memphis): Iowa State (7-5) vs #20 Memphis (10-2); 12:30 PM ET; ABC

Kind of an interesting match-up in the Liberty Bowl where 10-win Memphis hosts resurgent Iowa State that beat both Oklahoma and TCU this fall. There are also several interesting prospects in this game starting with the dynamic Memphis pass-and-catch combination of QB Riley Ferguson (#4, 6-3, 210) and WR Anthony Miller (#3, 5-11, 195). Ferguson, a Tennessee transfer, is a gunslinger who threw for almost 4,000 yards and 36 TDs this past fall against 9 interceptions. He is a little wiry and doesn’t necessarily have a cannon for an arm, but Ferguson reads the field and gets rid of the ball quickly and could end up being good value early on the third day. Miller also lacks elite measurables, but he’s quick, runs precise routes and has great hands and could go as early as the middle of the second round after catching 95 passes for over 1,400 yards and 14 TDs this season. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers have a later round prospect at OLB in Genard Avery (#6, 6-1, 255) who had 6.5 sacks and 13 other tackles for loss this past season.

Simply getting to a bowl usually makes a nice feel-good story for Iowa State. And the Cyclones have one of the better feel-good stories of the year in LB/QB Joel Lanning (#7, 6-2, 230), a one-time starter at QB who moved over to ILB this season where he blossomed into a sideline-to-sideline defender who had 110 tackles including 5 sacks and 5 other TFLs. Lanning, though, also took snaps back at QB this fall, especially in third and short situations when he had 34 carries. Iowa State also has an underrated pass-and-catch combo in QB Kyle Kempt (#17, 6-4, 210) and WR Allen Lazard (#5, 6-4, 225). Lazard, in particular, is a big receiver with a burst who could get some early third-day interest after catching 61 passes for just over 800 yards and 7 scores this fall. Meanwhile, other ISU players to watch include LT Jake Campos (#67, 6-7, 300), DE J.D. Waggoner (#58, 6-2, 250), and FS Kamari Cotton-Moya (#5, 6-1, 200).

FIESTA BOWL (Phoenix): #9 Penn State (10-2) vs #11 Washington (10-2); 4 PM ET; ESPN

The game will also feature one last opportunity for pro scouts to grade PSU junior RB Saquon Barkley (#26, 5-11, 230), one of the top 2-3  non-QB prospects in the 2018 draft class. Barkley, who is built like a power back, but with the speed, quickness and agility of a scatback, ran for over 1,100 yards this fall. An excellent receiver and gifted return ace, Barkley also had 47 receptions for another 600 yards, while he averaged 28 yards on KO returns. In fact, this game is a big test for Barkley who was nowhere near as dominant in the second half of the campaign as teams stacked their defenses. Penn State also has a couple of other top 100 candidates in veteran FS Marcus Allen (#2, 6-1, 210) and TE Mike Gesicki (#88, 6-5, 250). Meanwhile, other Nittany Lions who could figure in the later rounds or as premium free agents include WR DaeSean Hamilton (#5,6-0, 210), OG Brendan Mahon (#70, 6-3, 320), MLB Jason Cabinda (#40, 6-1, 235), SS Troy Apke (#28, 6-0, 200) and CBs Christian Campbell (#1, 6-0, 195) and Grant Haley (#15, 5-9, 190).

The Fiesta Bowl could feature one of those proverbial unstoppable force meets immovable object situations as Washington’s best prospect is massive run-stuffing junior DT Vita Vea (#50, 6-4, 340) who has just enough upfield quickness to have posted 3.5 sacks this fall. Vea is considered to be a late first or early second round candidate. At the same time, though, it could also end up being a battle between an unstoppable force against an unstoppable force as the Huskies also have an outstanding junior RB in Myles Gaskin (#9, 5-10, 195) who ran for almost 1,300 yards this season when he averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored 19 rushing TDs. Meanwhile, neither special teams coach will likely sleep all that well Friday night as along with PSU’s Barkley, the Huskies have one of the best return men in college football history in WR Dane Pettis (#8, 6-0, 195) who averaged over 20 yards per punt return including 4 he brought back for scores this year giving him an NCAA-career record nine. For good measure, Pettis is also a decent receiver who had 62 receptions including 7 for scores. The Huskies also have a solid veteran C in Coleman Shelton (#79, 6-3, 300), while junior QB Jake Browning (#3, 6-2, 210) is nothing if not one of the more accurate passers in the country with a completion percentage just under 70%.

ORANGE BOWL (Miami): #6 Wisconsin (12-1) vs #10 Miami (10-2); 8 PM ET; ESPN

The Orange Bowl has the potential to be an interesting match-up between teams from different regions, with different philosophies who don’t play each other very often. It is also between two pretty good young teams that are going to be even better in the near future. Indeed, Wisconsin freshman RB Jonathan Taylor (#23, 5-10, 215) will enter the 2018 college season as a prime Heisman favorite after he ran for over 1,800 yards and 13 scores this fall. Taylor runs behind a typical huge, physical Wisconsin offensive line including junior LT Michael Dieter (#63, 6-5, 330), sophomore RT David Edwards (#79, 6-6, 315) and junior OG Beau Benzchawel (#66, 6-5, 320). The Badger underclassman most likely to enter the draft though is junior MLB T.J. Edwards (#53, 6-0, 245), a versatile inside backer who had a couple of sacks, 9 TFLs and 4 picks this year. At the same time, Wisconsin has a number of seniors that figure to in the third-day discussion this coming April incuding TE Troy Fumagalli (#81, 6-5, 250), DE Alec James (#57, 6-3, 275), OLBs Garrett Dooley (#5, 6-2, 245) and Leon Jacobs (#32, 6-2, 245), and FS Natrell Jamerson (#12, 6-0, 200).

There is a similar story for Miami most of whose best players are underclassmen – and almost the younger the better. Miami juniors that pro scouts are watching with an eye toward either the 2018 or 2019 drafts include safeties Jaquan Johnson (#4, 5-11, 190) and Sheldrick Redwine (#22, 6-0, 195), CB Michael Jackson (#28, 6-0, 200), RT Tyree St. Louis (#78, 6-5, 305), and DTs R.J. McIntosh (#80, 6-3, 295) and Kendrick Norton (#7, 6-2, 315). The Hurricanes best players though are likely sophomores including RB Travis Homer (#24, 5-10, 195), LBs Shaq Quarterman (#55, 6-0, 240) and Michael Pinckney (#56, 6-0, 230), and especially DE Joe Jackson (#99, 6-5, 260). Meanwhile, Miami seniors that could get some late round or free agent interest this coming spring include LT K.C. McDermott (#52, 6-6, 300), OG Tyler Gauthier (#74, 6-3, 300), and DEs Trent Harris (#33, 6-2,2 50) and Chad Thomas (#9, 6-5, 275).