Bowl Game Previews: December 26th

Ryan McDowell


With the holiday now behind us, it’s time for bowl games to begin again and as the days go by, the higher quality games (and players) we are treated to. Today, enjoy a trio of bowl games that each feature some underrated NFL prospects.

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Illinois vs Louisiana Tech
ESPN, 1:00 p.m. EST

Tune into the first bowl game of the day with an eye on Louisiana Tech’s junior running back Kenneth Dixon, one of the most underrated backs in college. Dixon, standing at 5’10” and weighing well over 200 pounds, is the ideal size for an every down back and that shows with the numerous records he’s compiled in his three-year career. This season, Dixon has 26 total touchdowns, including ten in the past four games. This matchup against Illinois could be a huge stage for Dixon as he faces one of the worst run defenses in FBS football. Although we don’t hear much about him, I wonder if a big performance against a Big Ten foe could push Dixon into the NFL Draft a season early. If so, he would make an already deep running back class all the better. If he opts to remain in school, he makes a fine target in devy drafts this off-season with a certainty that the 2015 season would be his final college season.

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The strong defense of Louisiana Tech, which is always aggressive, resulting in plenty of turnovers, could pose problems for the offense of Illinois. The top NFL prospect of the Illini may not even see the field in this game, making the road to victory even more difficult. Sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt had his team off to a great start at the beginning of the season, but missed multiple games with a broken bone in his leg. Even when the former top recruit did make it back to the field, he’s not been as effective as he was early in the season. The Illinois offense struggled under new starter Reilly O’Toole, but they also won a pair of games, getting them to six wins and bowl eligibility. This has posed a tough situation where it’s not clear how the playing time will end up, though reports are O’Toole will start the game.

Quick Lane Bowl
Rutgers vs North Carolina
ESPN, 4:30 p.m. EST

This ACC/Big Ten matchup features a good number of NFL prospects and at least one player who will be near my list of players to target in off-season devy drafts.

The Rutgers’ offense has taken some hits this season as both of their top two rushers have missed time, including Paul James who is out for the season. The good news is this has opened some playing time for a pair of impressive and surprising freshmen, Robert Martin and Josh Hicks. While the Scarlet Knights will run the ball plenty, this offense is really about junior receiver Leonte Carroo, who has enjoyed a breakout season. Carroo’s 1,043 yards rank second among Big Ten pass catchers, while he’s also added ten scores. Check out more about Carroo here, from our own Russell Clay.

Rutgers also has one of the more intriguing tight end prospects in the country, big man Tyler Kroft. Expect both Carroo and Kroft to consider making the leap to the league following this game. All members of the Rutgers’ offense could have a field day as they face one of the worst defenses in the country, the Tar Heels of North Carolina, who surrendered nearly 40 points per game this season.

The Tar Heels’ offense has a few playmakers to be aware of as well. While their all-purpose quarterback Marquise Williams in an exciting playmaker on the college level, I don’t see him making the leap to the NFL, at least not as a quarterback. Williams did lead the team in rushing, due to an unknown injury that cost Elijah Hood nearly half of his freshman season. Hood is a powerful runner at 6’1” and 220 pounds and was on his way to a huge initial season before missing nearly six full games to end the season. With the past few weeks off, Hood is reportedly back and ready to play against a solid Rutgers defense. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen of Hood this year, enough so that I will be targeting him in upcoming devy drafts this off-season. Depending how he ends his freshman campaign, he could be an excellent value.

One player I just don’t get is Tar Heels’ junior wide receiver Quinshad Davis. I’ve seen it written that Davis will have a huge game, and then seemingly disappear for the next three games and this couldn’t be more correct. If this happens on the collegiate level, that offers little hope for his pro prospects, though his speed, length and big play ability are enough to cause dynasty owners to drool. Even with this disappointing season which saw him finish the regular season as the Heels third leading receiver, I still wouldn’t be surprised if he chose to forego his senior season and give the NFL a shot.

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
North Carolina State vs Central Florida
ESPN, 8:00 p.m. EST

The nightcap features one of the nation’s top defenses in Central Florida, who has quietly become somewhat of a powerhouse in recent seasons. Of course, you’ll remember the Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson led upset win over Baylor last season that really put this program on the map. Of course, those two players are now in the NFL, but the Knights still have some playmakers who have put them on the verge of yet another ten win season. Chief among those are wide receiver Breshard Perrimen, who we’ve recently profiled in our Triple Take feature. Perriman is a solid draft prospect who has seen his receiving numbers improve in each of his three seasons with the Knights.

Perriman, Central Florida and their strong defense, which currently ranks third in the nation, will face off against the Wolfpack of North Carolina State. State is led by transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who is in his first season with the Wolfpack after beginning his college career at Florida, where he played sparingly in his first two seasons. Brissett was once a top ranked recruit and his play this year showed why. Not only has Brissett looked good throwing the ball this season, he’s also the team’s second leading rusher, with just under 500 yards. With the team clearly improving after a disastrous 2013 season, I expect Brissett to stay in school for his senior season.

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