Got a trifecta of games for you to watch on New Year’s Day. These are big time Bowls with top tier teams playing, which means lots of pro prospects to watch in anticipation of the NFL Draft in 4 months. Also note that Editor Colin has the two Final Four games for you elsewhere on the site.
Monday Jan 1st NOON/ET ESPN2 OUTBACK Bowl Tampa, FL
MICHIGAN (8-4) by 6 VS. SOUTH CAROLINA (8-4)
If you took Gamecocks QB/JAKE BENTLEY #19 and stuck him in the Michigan lineup, they might well be in the Final Four bracket. But alas, QB is a real black hole for the Wolverines. Because of injuries, it is likely that JOHN O’KORN #8, who may have been a better overall QB as a frosh at HOUSTON way back when, will get the start unless BRANDON PETERS #18 is healthy. Sorry Michigan fans. But don’t worry Michigan fans, your team is incredibly young but not untalented. A key matchup in this game may center around how many scores each defense may have to post for victory. In both cases, it seems as though the D will carry the day. MICHIGAN has some elite players on it’s D, with a few ready to take their game to the pro level next season. MAURICE HURST/DT #73 wreaks havoc from his inside T slot. After contemplating skipping the Bowl Game, he now says he’ll play Monday. He tallied 59 tackles this past season, including 13.5 TFL. That’s SAPP-like productivity, and he has a chance to go in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Fellow senior MICHAEL McCRAY/OLB #9 has some NFL coaches drooling with his combination of length and athleticism. He too is a Top 100 prospect. Both players are headed to Mobile for the Senior Bowl after this contest. The best prospect on the offensive side of the ball for the Wolverines is MASON COLE #52, who moved from OC to LT as a senior. Chances are he’ll move back inside for the pro game, but he clearly is a special talent. #80 KHALID HILL is an intriguing prospect. At 6’2/263, he has played TE/FB/H-B for the Wolverines, and is a unique blend of size and athleticism. The GAMECOCKS may have a larger number of potential Draftees, but not at the same talent level as the Wolverines. Best and most interesting is their jumbo TE/HAYDEN HURST #81, who makes a large target for his QB running downfield at 6’5/253. He’s seriously overaged after playing baseball for several years out of High School. On the other side, watch for hybrid LB/SS SKAI MOORE #10, who has led his team in tackles every season he has played in Columbia. Both MOORE and HURST have signed on to play in the Senior Bowl. In the Gamecocks secondary, I like the size and cover skills of CB/JAMARCUS KING #7, who must show more enthusiasm for supporting the run-D with his tackling efforts. Keep one eye open for WR/DEEBO SAMUEL #1 if he plays. He’s a special talent who may, or may not, head to the 2018 NFL Draft.
Monday Jan 1st 12:30PM/ET ESPN PEACH BOWL Atlanta, GA
AUBURN (10-3) by 7 VS. CENTRAL FLORIDA (UCF) (12-0)
Presenting the only undefeated FBS team left in the country. And the burning question is whether an undefeated AAC team can top a 10-Win SEC squad. A very high percentage of America would say no way. In fact, many project an absolute blood bath for the upstart Knights. But I would say, not so fast my friends. Several AAC teams that UCF defeated have already won their own Bowl Games. In fact, last year the Big 12 was considering bringing a couple of AAC teams into the fold so they actually had 12 teams in the clearly math challenged conference. The health of RB/KERRYON JOHNSON #21 will be a big factor in this match-up. With KAMRYN PETTWAY, his running mate, kicked off the team, the running attack, so critical to Auburn’s success, will rest firmly on JOHNSON’s legs. The Auburn OL is big and experienced, as led by pro prospect OG/BRADEN SMITH #71. Clearly the best K in college football is Auburn’s DANIEL CARLSEN #38 (Senior Bowl). He is special folks, and I would not hesitate to draft him late in Round 1 if my team has struggled with their kicking in recent years, like for instance Tampa Bay. UCF has a stouter Defense than many fans think. Their leading tackler and emotional leader is #18 SHAQUEM GRIFFIN/LB, who has no left hand. He has the basic football talent and FBI to play as a pro, and his older brother, Shaquill, is a Rookie CB for the Seahawks. The Auburn blockers may find it more of a challenge than they imagine controlling the Knights front-3, which features two solid senior pro prospects in #5 JAMIYUS PITTMAN and #93 TONY GUERAD. The UCF Offense is built around speed and RPO QB/McKENZIE MILTON #10, only a sophomore. He has a dynamic receiving corps, led by #4 TRE’QUAN SMITH, who is a Jr, but just led the Knights in receiving for a second straight year. SMITH could decide to come out early for the 2018 Draft. Auburn prides itself on a stingy aggressive Defense and this year’s group is no exception. What might seem a bit different this season is that their 3 most productive defenders are all Juniors. #95 DONTAVIUS RUSSELL/DT is the major force along the DL. He’s strong at the point of attack, but also gets penetration. #57 DESHAUN DAVIS/MLB is a tackling demon with athleticism and a nose for the ball. One of the nation’s top CB prospects is #6 CARLTON DAVIS, who is a fearless press cover Corner, with the size to take on all comers at 6’1/202. I have to believe 1 or more of these aces will declare for the 2018 Draft. Take Auburn all things being equal, but if KERRYON is not healthy enough to tote the rock 25 times, watch out for the speedy Knights offense.
Monday Jan 1st 1PM/ET ABC CITRUS BOWL Orlando, FL
L.S.U. (9-3) VS. NOTRE DAME (9-3) by 4
Presenting two established college football powerhouses, who both bounced back from disappointing 2016 seasons to land in the Top 15 rankings in most polls. Cookie Monster sound-alike, Coach O, surprised many of his critics by almost getting double digit wins, while still trying to find a QB worthy of running a perennial, national ranked program. After talk of losing his job, BRIAN KELLY juggled his staff and his own work schedule and turned a 4-8 2016 season into a win here away from a 10-Win season, and that while facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation. A big key to this contest will be whether or not Notre Dame’s award winning OL can control the line of scrimmage and allow the Irish to shorten the game. That line is powered by #68 MIKE McGLINCHEY/LT and #56 QUENTON NELSON/LG/JR. Both are Top 100 prospects, with NELSON hinting he may return to South Bend for one more season in 2018. The top weapon for QB/BRANDON WINBUSH #7 is WR/EQUANIMEOUS ST. BROWN, a 6’5/205 Redshirt Sophomore, who reminds many of MICHAEL FLOYD when he led the Irish receivers back in the day. A healthy JOSH ADAMS/RB #33 would be a big boost for the Irish Offense. LSU is well equipped to stymie the Irish O with depth and speed. One never knows when DE/ARDEN KEY #49 will be healthy enough to play, but when he does, he is a dominant pass rusher. #48 DONNIE ALEXANDER/LB is the latest in a line of slightly undersized (6’1/212), but speedy, LB’s to play for the Bayou Bengals. A surprise breakout year for DT/GREG GILMORE #99 has helped the DL assert itself in a rebuilding year up front. LSU has some solid weapons at the skill positions, but still is pretty mediocre at the QB slot. Hopefully, you will be treated to a healthy RB/DERRIUS GUICE #5, who has true pro potential, but was nagged much of 2017 with injuries. While he was nursing nicks and bruises, solid senior RB/DARREL WILLIAMS #28, filled in capably with power running and good receiving out of the backfield. WR D.J. CHARK #7 is headed to the Senior Bowl and at 6’3/190 is another long leaping, but raw, LSU WR prospect for some pro team to develop and refine. NOTRE DAME is pretty young on Defense and had some solid games, like holding both Southern Cal and NC State to 14 points in Irish victories. ILB NYLES MORGAN #5 was a tackling machine again this season, as was #23 DRUE TRANQUILL, who moved to Rover. He has a year left if he wants to return to the Irish. The most intriguing prospect on that D may be #99 JERRY TILERY/DT, who has a monstrous frame (6’7/308) and flashes of mega talent. He’s a junior, but some think he may declare for the 2018 Draft. Both teams have very rabid fan base, and I’m guessing the Citrus Bowl in Orlando will be rocking Monday afternoon, hangovers or not.