Bowl Game Previews: December 28th

Rob Willette

While December 28th is not quite major bowl season, there are plenty of prospects to get excited about. They’re outlined below.

Military Bowl: Navy vs. Virginia

Thursday, December 28th at 1:30 PM ET on ESPN

This is a great showcase for the fine gentlemen of the Navy, though they’re not featuring any notable devy prospects. On the other side, Bronco Mendenhall has done an admirable job of slowly rebuilding Virginia, though they’re still a ways off.

They do have an intriguing senior quarterback in Kurt Benkert, who despite some boneheaded plays has found ways to keep the Virginia offense rolling in tough spots. A big quarterback with capable tools, he could fall onto the Nathan Peterman spectrum as someone a few believe has long-term starter upside, yet who more realistically falls in in line as a quality backup.

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Running back turned receiver Olamide Zaccheus is the Cavaliers’ most productive player, a waterbug type who can be used in a variety of ways. With a strong senior campaign, he could move himself into the Day Three range.

Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs. Michigan State

Thursday, December 28th at 5:15 PM ET on ESPN

The Mike Leach system has continuously helped teams out-produce its talent level, though next level success has been a mixed bag. This year’s Cougars’ outfit profiles similarly, with only quarterback Luke Falk having established himself as a NFL player. Despite a limited arm, Falk succeeds with anticipation and touch and a full command of a system he has been part of for five years. With limited tools and some spotty performances in big games on his resume, I am not big on Falk, though he will get a NFL shot.

Michigan State rebounded from a miserable 2016 season to return to a level of success usually expected under Mark Dantonio’s watch. A big reason for the turnaround was sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who became one of the BIG’s better quarterbacks despite a rather inexperienced group around him. There’s still plenty of growth which needs to be had before Lewerke becomes a legitimate pro prospect, though I feel his arm talent and excellent mobility are more than enough to at least get your radar up.

The most well-known Spartan coming into the season was LJ Scott, and despite some blowup games, it was a mostly forgettable season for the former four star recruit. He struggled through ball security issues and looked to be running less confidently than he had during his first two seasons. Once a potential early entrant, it looks likely Scott returns to East Lansing, though if he can rebound within a more experienced offense in 2018, he can push to be one of the first runners off the board.

Wide receiver is where the Spartans really showcased some depth. Felton Davis spent much of the year making highlight reel catches in traffic and paced the Spartans in all three major receiving categories. While neither fast nor a skilled separator at this point in his career, Davis excels at the catch point and plays with a physicality which allows him to succeed despite some limitations. With a final year of eligibility, I am very excited to see how Davis matures physically.

True freshman Cody White finished third on the Spartans in receiving and may be their best long-term prospect. Whereas Davis was their big, bruising target, White relied more on silky smooth routes and savvy, while also providing a frame with plenty of room to grow into (6’2”, 185). Fellow receivers Darrell Stewart Jr., Hunter Rison, and Trishton Jackson all made notable contributions, though I am not bullish on any just yet.

Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State

Thursday, December 28th at 9:00 PM ET on FS1

Hokies head coach Justin Fuente is one of the rising stars in the profession, and he will produce a lot of NFL players on offense. The current outfit is not as loaded as it should be in two years, though there is still talent here. Senior receiver Cam Phillips posted his second consecutive season of 950 or more yards and has adequate size along with excellent ball skills and savvy. He could work his way into the second round of rookie drafts as a name who gains much more cache following the NFL Draft.

The other notable offensive player for the Hokies is Joshua Jackson, a toolsy quarterback whose performance waned as the season went on yet still one who shows a ton of promise. A capable runner, Jackson still prefers to make throws from the pocket and has demonstrated remarkable toughness for a young quarterback. In a friendly system and not short on talent, Jackson could pop at the position over the next few years.

The Cowboys have one of the most established offenses in the nation. Mason Rudolph and James Washington are household names in the college football world while Justice Hill was well on his way to becoming one after a sensational freshman season.

Rudolph looks the part, though he has failed to separate himself from the second-tier of quarterbacks and looks like nothing more than a mid-round developmental prospect.

Hill, on the other hand, built on a great freshman season to become a bona fide star. Listed as 180 pounds during his freshman year, I had genuine concerns about his ability to become anything more than a specialist or niche prospect. He gained a solid 15 pounds over the off-season and somehow found a way to maintain his trademark agility and speed. No longer a flyweight and with incredible quicks and toughness, Hill is one of the finer running back prospects available in the 2019 draft.

Washington has always been a draft enigma and it is unlikely change leading up to the draft. He excels at getting vertical and possesses unique ball skills despite a smaller, atypical frame. Even with questions about his ability to be a complete receiver, I feel his aforementioned ability to get deep will entice a team early. I personally feel he has a great case to be the top receiver in the draft.

His counterpart this season – senior Marcel Ateman – put together a full season after being plagued by injury or inconsistency early in his career. A big receiver with strong hands, Ateman could have a long career as a complementary weapon.

Alama Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU

Thursday, December 28th at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN

The engine of the Stanford offense needs little introduction. Bryce Love has been sensational replacing Christian McCaffrey, piling up 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns and emerging as one of the nation’s most electric playmakers. He showed his value to the Cardinal most in the game he missed this season, as Stanford barely sneaked by a bad Oregon State team 15-14 and rushed for only 81 yards without their star running back.

While his passing game contributions were minimal (six receptions for 33 yards) this is largely due to how dominant the team proved to be on the ground. We have seen Love contribute as a receiver enough to be confident he can make it work at the NFL level. While we have not heard confirmation in Love declaring, I expect him to put his name in the draft and be a day two pick with immense fantasy upside.

While Love headlines, he’s not the only notable talent on the Cardinal. Redshirt sophomore receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has quietly become one of the Pac 12’s better receivers, with a great frame (6’3”, 222) and elite body control. I don’t see the supreme athleticism which would allow him to emerge as a premier prospect, though he does profile as a contributor at the next level with his size and strong hands.

Trenton Irwin may be on a few devy rosters as a former high-end recruit, though he has taken a backseat in the passing game pecking order and has the look of a quality if uninspiring collegiate receiver. The Cardinal are loaded at tight end. True freshman Colby Parkinson, sophomore Kaden Smith and redshirt junior Dalton Schultz are all worthy of looks in leagues with tight end-friendly scoring.

TCU is fairly loaded with devy options. The best, in my opinion, is true freshman Jalen Reagor, who paced a deep group of receivers with seven touchdowns in 2017. At 5’11”, 185 pounds, Reagor is a mid-sized receiver yet dazzles with stop-start ability and a fearless mentality. He blazed a 4.41 forty-yard dash at 2016’s The Opening and complemented it with a vertical of 38.4 inches. He’s a premier athlete with immense upside.

The Horned Frogs are particularly deep in the backfield. Senior Kyle Hicks could find a role in the NFL as a versatile backup, though sophomore running back Darius Anderson looks like the best talent. Neither big nor an elite athlete, Anderson nonetheless succeeds with an insatiable desire to pick up yards and elite running instincts. While downplaying his athleticism, it is important to note he is far from a slouch athletically. Anderson is likely not rostered many places and makes for an excellent off-season investment.

Fellow sophomore Sewo Olonilua has a nearly unparalleled combination of size and athleticism, though he is still has a long way to go from a technical perspective and is a mere speculative stash.


rob willette