December 26, 2016

ARMY (7-5) vs North Texas (5-7); Heart of Dallas Bowl; Noon ET; ESPN … Today’s quartet of games kicks off with the ‘feel good’ Heart of Dallas game as getting to go to Dallas and play at the Cotton Bowl is just the icing on the cake for Army which finally ended its 14-year losing streak to Navy. In fact, this will be the first bowl appearance for Army since 2010 and the first for North Texas since 2004. Truth be told, though, that if the bowls are supposed to be something special this ain’t it. The two teams had a combined record of 12-12, but three of those wins came against FCS opponents, while 5-win North Texas only qualified for the bowls because of its stellar academic record which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. Indeed, if they played this game in the regular season nobody would give a rat’s petunia. And it turns out the two actually did play this fall – North Texas won 35-18 at West Point – in a game buried deep on the cable schedule. And you know something is missing when the best – and maybe only – legit pro prospect on either roster is a kicker, although North Texas P/PK Eric Keena (#84, 6-2, 175), who has been invited to the East-West Shrine all-star game is a good one. Meanwhile, veteran NTU OG Sam Rice (#64, 6-3, 300) could conceivably get a free-agent tryout from somebody. In fact, the Green Wave’s best positional player is junior SS Kishawn McClain (#23, 5-10, 215), while the leader of the Cadets’ parade is heady senior MLB Andrew King (#11, 6-0, 250).

#23 Temple (10-3) vs Wake Forest (6-6); Military Bowl; Annapolis; 3:30 PM ET; ESPN … Hey what’s this? A bowl with an actual conference champion! Haven’t seen any of those so far this year. Nobody could blame the Temple Owls if they are asking themselves: we’re conference champions, we are ranked and all we get is this crummy bowl against a crummy ACC team! And they wouldn’t be far wrong. Indeed, Wake barely squeaked into the bowls with a 6-6 record (that included a win against an FCS opponent) after losing 5 of its last 6 games. However, pro scouts will be paying attention as Temple has a couple of rising stars for the upcoming draft in OLB Hassan Reddick (#7, 6-0, 235) and OT Dion Dawkins (#66, 6-5, 320), a pair of All-Americans both of whom have at least some second-day potential. Reddick, who is a little indersized, but is very quick, had 9.5 sacks this fall, while Dawkins is a full-sized LT prospect with excellent length and decent feet. Meanwhile, the Owls have several other later round or free-agent candidates including RB Jahad Thomas (#5, 5-9, 190), WLB Avery Williams (#2, 5-10, 225), DE Praise Martin-Oguike (#50, 6-1, 255) and junior FS Sean Chandler (#3, 5-11, 190). Wake Forest can also get after the QB with a couple of intriguing edge rushers of its own in junior DE Duke Ejiofor (#53, 6-3, 270) who had 10 sacks this fall, and LB Marquel Lee (#8, 6-2, 240) who had another 7.5. Ejiofor, who has some legit hops, could be a guy to keep an eye of if he does opt to enter this year’s draft, while Lee is a third-day type. The Deacons also have several free-agent type candidates including DT Josh Banks (#40, 6-3, 290), CB Brad Watson (25, 5-11, 200) and FS Ryan Janvion (#22, 5-10, 200).

Minnesota (8-4) vs Washington State (8-4); Holiday Bowl; San Diego; 7 PM ET; ESPN … Potentially interesting match-up in San Diego between a couple of rising 8-4 programs in Minnesota and Washington State. In fact, both have been pretty much bottom feeders for what seems like forever, but both were very much in their respective conference races right until the end. And it starts with a pretty good head-to-head match-up between a couple of good QB prospects in Mitch Leidner (#7, 6-3, 240) of Minnesota and WSU junior Luke falk (#4, 6-3, 220) a gunslinger who was 3rd in the nation in passing this fall. Both had been expected to be solid second-tier QB prospects for the upcoming draft, but Falk appears to be heading back to school next. For his part, Leidner made a big move up draft boards around the NFL early in the year, but he has cooled somewhat since and is beginning to look more like a 3rd day pick. Leidner has prototype size and arm strength, but he isn’t a particularly good athlete and there are questions about his accuracy and his decision-making in the pocket after he was picked off 12 times this fall against only 7 TD passes. In fact, OT Jonah Pirsig (#79, 6-8, 325) is actually the Gophers best prospect, although he likely lacks the feet to figure as more than a RT at the next level. Meanwhile, other Gophers to watch with late-round or free-agent potential include CB Jalen Myrick (#5, 5-9, 205), DE Hendrick Ekpe (#95, 6-4, 240) and SS Damarius Travis (#7, 6-2, 215). Like Minnesota, Washington State’s top prospect for 2017 should be an offensive lineman as OG Cody O’Connell (6-7, 355) is really starting to grow – both literally and figuratively – on pro teams. O’Connell, who made some All-america teams this fall, is a massive guy who moves exceptionally well in pass pro. Meanwhile, WSU also features the Pac-12’s all-time leading receiver in Gabe Marks (#9, 5-11, 190), a prototype possession receiver who likely won’t be selected until the 3rd day because of a lack of track speed, but looks like one of those receivers that just knows how to play the game and can always find a role at the next level. A couple of other Cougars to watch are veteran C Riley Sorenson (#58, 6-3, 330) and SS Shalom Luani (#18, 6-0, 205).

Baylor (6-6) vs Boise State (10-2); Cactus Bowl; Phoenix; 10:15 PM ET; ESPN … Both teams probably feel they sitting on a cactus in the desert rather than playing in this game as both had visions of much bigger things through the first half of the season. Baylor, for example, was very much in the CFP playoff picture through the first month and a half of the season as the Bears ripped off 6 straight wins to start the campaign but it all fell apart in the second half of the campaign as the Bears lost 6 straight. Of course, its been an ugly season all around for Baylor which is mired in a festering sexual assault scandal that cost head coach Art Briles in the summer. The Bears also lost QB Seth Russell late in the year with a fractured leg, while RB Shock Linwood opted not to play in the bowl game to prepare for the draft. What Baylor will have  is a pretty good junior receiver in WR K.D. Cannon (#9, 5-11, 180) who could get some early third-day interest if he were to opt to enter the upcoming draft, while C Kyle Fuller (#55, 6-4, 315) and SS Orion Stewart (#28, 6-1, 205) are later 3rd day candidates. For its part, Boise State was a leading contender to earn the non-power 5 spot in the Cotton Bowl when the Broncos won their first 7 games, but ultimately didn’t even make the Mountain West championship game because of a couple of tough late season conference road losses. Boise State also made a little news heading to the Cactus Bowl when star junior RB Jeremy McNichols (#13, 5-9, 210) announced that he will be entering the 2017 draft, where he figures to be a second-day candidate after he rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 27 TDs so far this season. Boise State also has at least a couple of seniors with third-day potential including WR Thomas Sperbeck (#82, 5-11, 180) and LB Tanner Vallejo (#20, 6-0, 225), both of whom are solid collegiate producers, although neither is overly big. At the same time, Boise State also has several free-agent type candidates including DE Sam McCaskill (#94, 6-3, 260), OG Travis Averill (#73, 6-3, 295), G/T Mario Yakoo (#66, 6-3, 325) and FS Chance James (#3, 6-1, 210).