Bowl season starts kicking into gear as the holiday season starts to wind down. Football is the perfect remedy for taking care of the Christmas hangover and we have a solid slate of bowl games with plenty of prospects to watch. Enjoy the games while you have them, because before long it will be draft season and you will be wishing there was some football to watch.
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New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
ESPN, 2 p.m. EST
Pittsburgh finished the regular season with an 8-4 record while placing fourth in the ACC Coastal Division. Their most notable victories came against Penn State, who they edged out in a shoot-out 42-39, and a 43-42 upset victory against the Clemson Tigers. They will be playing the Northwestern Wildcats who finished the regular season with a 6-6 record while finishing fifth in the Big Ten West. They currently have an all-time 2-10 record in bowl games with their last victory taking place in 2012 when they defeated Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl 34-20.
James Conner is the player to watch for Pittsburgh as he’s the team’s feature running back. He has had an impressive collegiate career, rushing for 3,701 yards and 52 touchdowns. His six games with over 100 yards rushing helped him finish his junior season ranked fifth in the ACC in rushing with 1,060 yards. He owns a 25.31 percent market share of the team’s offensive production, making him an integral part of the offensive game plan. He will be coming out for the 2017 NFL Draft, which makes this final look critical for his draft stock.
Northwestern also has an impressive running back prospect in Justin Jackson, a junior who finished the regular season leading the Big Ten with 1,300 yards rushing. This was his third straight season surpassing 1,000 yards on the ground. He had five games with over 100 yards rushing and three games with more than 150 yards rushing. He’s the heart and soul of the offense as the team lives and dies off of his production and his impeccable 32.03 percent market share of the team’s offensive production proves how important he is to the team.
Senior wide receiver Austin Carr came out of nowhere this season to lead the Big Ten with 1,196 receiving yards. He’s an excellent route runner and he has a knack for making difficult catches in traffic. He was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s favorite target as he led the team in receiving yards while owning a 40.24 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. Expect him to be a trendy contrarian play for draft evaluators come draft-season.
Russell Athletic Bowl
West Virginia vs. Miami
ESPN, 5:30 p.m. EST
West Virginia finished their regular season with a 10-2 record while finishing third in the Big 12 a with 7-2 record during conference play. They finished the regular season seventeenth in the nation with 6,083 total yards. They have a 14-17 all-time bowl record, appearing in five bowl games since 2010. The Mountaineers will be playing the Miami Hurricanes who finished the regular season with an 8-4 record while finishing third in the ACC Coastal Division. The Hurricanes finished the regular season on fire, winning their final four games. They have played in 37 bowl games and they have an 18-19 all-time bowl record.
West Virginia’s junior running back Justin Crawford finished the regular season rushing for 1,168 yards and four touchdowns, which was third in the Big 12. He rushed for 331 yards against Oklahoma which was the third-highest total in school history and was his fifth game of the season with over 100 yards rushing. He’s a big cog to the offense, owning a 20.17 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. He’s a one-cut, down-hill runner who has enough burst to be dangerous when he hits the second level of the defense.
The Mountaineers like to spread the ball in the passing game between their three main receivers, Shelton Gibson, Daikiel Shorts and Ka’Raun White. Gibson led the team with 927 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, while owning a 28.89 percent market share of the team’s passing production. He has five games with over 100 yards receiving and three games with multiple touchdowns. Shorts led the team with 58 receptions, allowing him to own 25.22 percent of senior quarterback Skyler Howard’s completions. He also gained 833 yards and five touchdowns which equates to a 25.96 percent market share of West Virginia’s passing offense. White finished the regular season with 48 receptions for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He will not be playing in this game due to a suffering a broken bone in his lower leg that required surgery.
Miami’s offense is filled with talent, led by junior quarterback Brad Kaaya who is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation. He finished his junior season passing for 3,250 yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging a 61.2 completion percentage and a 147.8 quarterback rating. He had four games with over 300 yards passing with his best performances coming against Pittsburgh and Duke.
Sophomore Mark Walton is Miami’s workhorse running back. He finished the regular season ranked fourth in the ACC in rushing with 1,065 yards. He had six games with over 100 yards rushing and three games with two or more touchdowns. His best game came against Florida Atlantic where he rushed for 155 yards and four touchdowns. Walton is a key contributor to the offense, owning a 25.26 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. He shares the backfield with fellow junior running back Joseph Yearby who rushed for 1,002 yards and six touchdowns last year which made him a hot name in devy circles going into this year. His junior season was a disappointment as he rushed for only 592 yards and seven touchdowns. Walton out-played him this year and stole a lot of his touches. He’s a talented prospect and is still worth monitoring during this game.
Breakout freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards caught 46 receptions for 866 yards and two touchdowns to lead the team in receiving. He had over 100 yards receiving in three of his last four games of the season. Miami’s offense kicked into gear when Richards was able to get more involved with in the offensive game plan. He finished his freshman campaign, owning a 26.39 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. He plays on the opposite side of wide receiver Stacy Coley who finished his senior season with 703 yards and nine touchdowns. He was expected to have breakout season this year but his production ultimately fell short. Nonetheless, he is still a very talented receiver and is a player to keep an eye on during this contest.
Junior tight end David Njoku is one of the best tight ends in the country and probably one of the most underrated prospects in the nation. He caught 38 receptions for 654 yards and seven touchdowns. He had his breakout game during the final week of the season against Duke catching two receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Foster Farms Bowl
Indiana vs. Utah
FOX, 8:30 p.m. EST
The Indiana Hoosiers finished the regular season with a 6-6 record while placing fourth in the Big Ten East. They were able to pull the upset against Michigan State (24-21) during week five. With 3,335 passing yards, ranking thirty-first in the nation, Indiana, surprisingly, has a very explosive offense that can catch opposing defenses off-guard if caught sleeping. They will be playing the Utah Utes who finished the regular season with an 8-4 record while placing third in the PAC-12 South. Their best win of the season came during week four when they edged USC with a 31-27 victory. With a 16-4 all-time bowl record, the Utes will be playing their fifth bowl game since 2010.
Junior running back Devine Redding is the player to watch for Indiana. This was his second-straight season surpassing the 1,000-yard mark and he currently ranks 12th all-time in rushing (2,180 yards) in the program’s history. He finished his junior campaign with five games with over 100 yards rushing. He’s 5-foot-10’ and 208 pounds but he runs between tackles like a 220-230 pound back and he also has the receiving chops to be a three-down back, catching 27 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Redding finished the season with a 23.01 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
Nick Westbrook led Indiana in receiving with 915 yards and five touchdowns. He possesses the prototypical size for a starting NFL wide receiver at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. He had three games this season with over 100-yards receiving and two games with multiple touchdowns. Westbrook was a key asset to the passing game, owning a 27.44 percent market share of the team’s passing production.
Senior wide receiver Ricky Jones is another prospect to watch during this contest. He had an impressive junior season last year, catching 54 receptions for 906 yards and five touchdowns, but was held in check to just 783 receiving yards this season. With a 23.49 percent market share of the Hoosier’s passing game, even in a down year, Jones is still an integral part of the offense.
Senior running back Joe Williams is a player to make note of, finishing the regular season with 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns, ranking fourth in the PAC-12. Even with missing four games due to a short “retirement,” he was able to surpass 100-yards rushing for five games this season, with his best performance against UCLA, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns. He accounted for a 24.10 percent market share of Utah’s offensive production.
The Utes have a pair of twin towers at wide receiver in Tim Patrick (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and Raelon Singleton (6-foot-3, 215 pounds). Patrick led the team in receiving with 684 yards and five touchdowns, which doesn’t sound impressive, but keep in mind, he missed three games due to a leg injury. He still managed to own a 26.28 percent market share of team’s passing offense. Singleton is a sophomore, so he still has a lot of time to develop before he ascends for the NFL Draft. He caught 26 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns while owning a 17.44 percent market share of the teams’ passing offense.
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
ESPN, 9 p.m. EST
Texas A&M finished the regular season with an 8-4 record while placing fourth in the SEC West. They had marquee victories over Arkansas, UCLA, Tennessee and Auburn. With an all-time bowl record of 17-20, Texas A&M has won four of their last five bowl games. They will be playing the Kanas State Wildcats who finished the regular season with an 8-4 record while placing fourth in the Big 12. They have only won one game in their last five bowl appearances and have an all-time bowl record of 7-12.
Freshman running back Trayveon Williams leads Texas A&M in rushing is 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. His best game came against Tennessee when he rushed for 217 yards and a touchdown to help lead the Aggies to a 45-38 double overtime victory. He has three games with over 100-yards rushing and he owns a 19.67 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
The Aggies have a lot of fire power on offense due to having one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the nation. Josh Reynolds led Texas A&M in receiving with 885 yards and 10 touchdowns while owning a 29.43 percent market share of the teams passing offense. He shares a lot of the targets with sophomore wide receiver Christian Kirk who led the team with 77 receptions while catching 842 yards and nine touchdowns. Keep an eye on him because he’s considered one of the top young wide receiver prospects in the nation. Ricky Seals-Jones is a large-bodied wide receiver (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) who can out-muscle defensive backs with his size. He’s not a blue chip prospect but a name you will recognize in the near future when sifting through wide receiver prospects during the draft process. Speedy Noil caught 21 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns this season but he’s more than likely not suiting up for this contest due to being suspended for getting arrested a few weeks a go.
Sophomore wide receiver Byron Pringle leads Kansas State in receiving, catching 36 receptions for 524 yards and three touchdowns while owning a 28.39 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. He had his best game during the last week of the season against Texas Christian University by catching six receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown.
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