Pre-Christmas bowl games lack the panache of their post-Christmas brethren, but devy owners should never be caught up in the name on the front of the jersey. While depth of talent may be underwhelming in comparison, good players come from all over. To the games.
Tulane Green Wave vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
CBSS, 1:30PM EST
The Green Wave have talent in the passing game, yet uneven quarterback play prevented it from truly shining in 2018. Terren Encalade has been a name people have known about for a few years, but aforementioned questionable quarterback play prevented him from truly breaking out this year. With a solid frame at 6’0” and 190 pounds and the skills to get vertical, Encalade figures to be at an NFL camp next fall. Teammate Darnell Mooney has overtaken Encalade as the team’s top receiver and is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season. While he possesses a small frame, Mooney is a highly competitive receiver who shows the traits to be a highly efficient route runner. Only a junior, it is expected he returns to campus in 2019, but he has placed himself firmly on the NFL radar.
Darius Bradwell has had a strong year as the Green Wave’s lead back, with a no-nonsense north-south style leading to 984 rushing yards at a strong 5.9 yards per clips. His lack of work as a receiver (four receptions for 13 yards) is concerning. I am more intrigued by backup Corey Dauphine. Dauphine is a Texas Tech transfer with track star speed (probably because he is, in fact, a track star for real). While he is also limited as a receiver, his wheels alone could net him looks at the next level.
The Ragin’s Cajuns are led by their backfield. Sophomore Trey Ragas is a hulking back who has put together back-to-back strong seasons. While he is a powerful runner, he also has soft hands, racking up 24 receptions this year. Elijah Mitchell has a bit more of a home run element in his game, but both backs are pretty well-rounded and underrated prospects. Smaller back Raymond Calais averaged a whopping 9.1 yards per tote. Billy Napier’s crew quietly has one of the better backfields in the nation.
NEW MEXICO BOWL
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North Texas Mean Green vs. Utah State Aggies
ESPN, 2:00PM EST
Utah State is losing its coach, but he has left behind a good base of talent. Running back Darwin Thompson is the ideal space player for today’s NFL. At 5’7” and 188 pounds, he is certainly going to have size concerns to address but he is agile, tough, and a gifted receiver. He’ll certainly have an opportunity to earn a role at the next level. Tight End Dax Raymond has already declared for the draft, and his game is tailor-made for today’s NFL. He is big, has great movement skills, and can create the type of mismatches you’re looking for out of your tight end.
North Texas is led by triggerman Mason Fine, an undersized passer whose accuracy can carry the team. He is complemented by a host of playmakers, including running back DeAndre Torrey, who exploded down the stretch. Rico Bussey Jr. eclipsed 1,000 yards at receiver and leads the Mean Green passing game. Both Fine and Bussey are draft-eligible, though odds are in favor of them returning to campus for their final seasons. I am most intrigued by Torrey, who has thrived in his first year after a year at junior college.
LAS VEGAS BOWL
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
ABC, 3:30PM EST
I would love to tell you about N’Keal Harry, but he is not playing in this game as he prepared for the NFL Draft. The Sun Devils’ next best prospect is Eno Benjamin, a slashing runner who eviscerated Pac 12 defenses in his first year under Herm Edwards. Benjamin runs with power, yet he’s also adept at making defenders miss in addition to running them over. A player who showed great improvement from year one to year two, Benjamin is an exciting devy prospect in a deep pool of runners.
Sinewy KeeSean Johnson is the best prospect for Fresno State. With electric feet and a smooth release, Johnson has the tools to separate at the NFL level. He will have to answer questions with regards to how he handles press coverage and how he operates in tough areas.
Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan
ESPN, 5:30PM EST
There is no Matt Breida or Jerick McKinnon for Georgia Southern, unfortunately, but they do have a pair of talented backs in Wesley Fields and Monteo Garrett. Fields is the headliner of the two, though it will be an uphill battle for either to stick on an NFL roster. They lack the special traits which made Breida and McKinnon such intriguing prospects.
Eastern Michigan is light on devy intrigue. They were led all season by their defense, which ranks 33rd nationally. The most enticing aspect of this matchup is seeing their defense matchup with Georgia Southern’s unorthodox offense.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Middle Tennessee State vs. Appalachian State
ESPN, 9:00PM EST
Middle Tennessee State is led by quarterback Brent Stockstill. Stockstill had a very strong four-year career and despite being undersized and an older prospect (25 next August) I think he has the tools to find a backup job eventually.
Appalachian State’s best prospect – Jalin Moore – is still working his way back for injury. However, he will be at the Senior Bowl and he is the type of solid, all-around back the Twittersphere will be buzzing about come February. Darrynton Evans took over for Moore midseason and was mostly fantastic, rushing for 1, 079 yards and hitting on a ton of big plays. He looks to be the heir apparent to Moore, and has some long-term appeal. At the very least, you can tune into this game to get a sneak peek at the offense Scott Satterfield will be running at Louisville.