We’re getting warmed up for the legit Holiday Bowl schedule, which I happen to think begins Christmas Eve. But for now let’s take a peek at games for this Saturday the 23rd. The overall talent from a Pro Prospect standpoint clearly elevates with this trio of games.
Saturday Dec. 23rd NOON/ET ESPN. Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, AL
TEXAS TECH (6-6) vs. SOUTH FLORIDA (9-2) by 8
There are rumors that Tech HC KLIFF KINGSBURY saved his job with a Win in the final week of the regular season and a bowl bid. If KLIFF is going for the win here then expect NIC SHIMONEK #16 to start as QB. The Iowa transfer had a solid season succeeding a guy named MAHOMES in 2017. He passed for 68.2% with 30 TD and 8 INT. A 6’3/225 he has good NFL size and should get a training Camp look-see as an URFA. Junior KEKE COUTEE/WR #20 was his favorite weapon last season. This young man has shifty moves, some burst with quickness and dependable hands. He caught 82 balls for 1242 yards and 9 TD. #14 DYLAN CANTRELL is the other key receiver with 67 catches for 790 yards and 6 TD. From a viewing standpoint the good news here is that CLIFF likes to throw the ball and that could lead to some serious fireworks. USF is a better balanced team that also plays Defense. QB QUINTON FLOWERS #9 is a decent passer (53.4%) but really makes a difference with his legs. He rushed for 513 yards and 10 TD, in addition to his 21 TD Passes. His versatility keeps defenses on edge. His top target is probably #11 MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING an NC State transfer, who caught 50 balls for 794 yards this season. He’s a long, tall 6’5/209 athlete who can go deep and will win the vast majority of jump balls thrown his way. He is listed as an NFLPA Game participant. Now here comes the big surprise… USF plays tough D and has some serious pro prospects on that side of the ball. AUGIE SANCHEZ #43 plays ILB and is a guaranteed 100+ tackles each season. But he shows surprising agility at 6’2/245, and can drop into pass coverage. Their highest ranked prospect may be DT DEADRIN SENAT #10 who is 6’1 and biscuit on either side of 300 lbs. He penetrates well and has surprisingly high tackle numbers for an interior player. In the teams loss to Houston SENAT tallied 12 tackles. SENAT is headed to the Shrine Game next month, as is his secondary mate CB/DEATRICK NICHOLS #3. The 5’10/190 NICHOLS is a feisty fellow who tallied 50+ tackles this past season, while also grabbing 3 INT and being credited for 11 PD. All these USF defenders should be drafted next April. I would expect overall talent, and diversity of Offense to signal a win for USF.
Saturday DEC. 23 3:30PM/ET ESPN ARMED FORCES BOWL Ft. Worth, TX
SAN DIEGO STATE (10-2) by 6 vs. ARMY (9-3)
Call me old-fashioned but I get a rush out of seeing ARMY in a Bowl Game coming off a 9-3 season that included a snow-bowl finale over the NAVY. My late Army vet (WWII) dad would be proud of the Black Knights on the Hudson. The Knights are led by QB AHMAD BRADSHAW #9. The 5’11/190 QB runs better than he passes and reminds me a lot of a recent Navy QB named KEENAN REYNOLDS! BRADSHAW is pretty much the Army offense, with solid support help from his teammates. The only other apparent pro prospect for Army might be OT/BRETT TOTH #78 who is scheduled to appear in the Shrine Game. The AZTECS may be flying under the radar to a lot of fans, but there is some serious talent on this 10-Win team. DONNEL PUMPHREY graduated from the program last Spring as a Draftee of the Eagles. How do you replace the D-1 all time rushing leader? You plug in his backup from 2016 who ran for over 1000-yards while PUMPHREY topped 2000 rushing yards. And then you watch RASHAAD PENNY run for over 2,000-yards in 2017 himself. #20 PENNY is a solid 5’11/220 RB who also returns Kick-offs in his spare time. If you like what he may do in this game then watch him in Senior Bowl action at the end of January. With more NFL teams slowly going back to having a FB on their roster, former QB NICK BAWDEN #15 is an interesting prospect to watch in this contest as well. Playing FB you will see him lay some crunching blocks for PENNY and perhaps catch a couple passes. ON D watch for DB KAMERON KELLY #7 of the Aztecs. He’s a CB right now, but due to some stiffness in his hips I look for him to get a late Draft call as an NFL S. He has some ball skills as evidenced by his 5 INT in 2016. I favor the Aztecs in this one, but you will note I’ve kept the differential at only 6 points. That’s out of respect for the Cadets who never give up the fight. All hail the ‘thin gray line’.
Saturday December 23 7PM/ET ESPN Dollar General Bowl Mobile, AL
APPALACHIAN STATE (8-4) VS. TOLEDO (11-2) by 4
This game gets Ladd Stadium all warmed up for the Senior Bowl Week next month, so make sure you guys clean it up good, lock it up tight and don’t forget to turn out the lights when you’re done. What could be the most evenly matched, and prospect filled game of the day should cap off you evening of football fun. Both teams feature 3 year starting QB, both of whom might get a Draft sniff, but will surely be in Training Camps next Summer. TAYLOR LAMB/#1 App State, is the lesser known of the two, but he completed 61.7% of his passes in 2017 with a 27/6 TD Pass/INT ratio. He also rushed for over 500 yards and another 5 TD. One of his keys to success is a stout OL which features two Pro Prospects, both of whom are scheduled for All-Star Game action. #70/COLBY GOSSETT/OG is listed for the Shrine Game right now, while his OG partner #50/BEAU NUNN, is listed on the NFLPA roster. State also has some studs on D. #42/ANTONIUS COX is a double digit sack man each season from his DE spot. LB/ERIC BOGGS #45 is a versatile performer who heads into this contest with 97 tackles, 2 INT/ 6 PD. And finally their is SS/A.J. HOWARD #10 who is listed as going to participate in the NFLPA Game. The biggest name for Toledo is their QB/LOGAN WOODSIDE #11, who completed 64.9% of his throws this past season. His 28/5 TD/INT ratio is reflective of his throwing judgement throughout his Rocket’s career. #25 CODY THOMPSON/WR was expected to be his top target, but some nagging injury issues limited him to 28 catches in 2017. But at 6’2/205 and good speed he should garner some NFL interest. He ain’t no KAREEM HUNT, but RB/TERRY SWANSON #2 had a very productive 2017 season with 1319 yards and 14 TD, while also catching 17 balls. SWANSON should have a shot for a late round Draft slot. TOLEDO’s D left a lot to be desired at times this season, but they also had some very effective efforts. They were led by #30 JA’WUAN WOODLEY/ILB who lacks the size the NFL prefers (5’11/228) but could get a solid look if he excels on Special Teams. This game should be played at a high tempo pace, with plenty of back and forth action. I’ll take Toledo to win, but in a very close contest. I will not be surprised at all if it goes the other way.