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.
Memphis Tigers vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
ESPN, 12:00 p.m. EST
This should be a very fun bowl game, as long as Wake Forest’s offense decides to show up. The Demon Deacons were an inconsistent team who blew out a solid Duke team and upset then #14 NC State. They also gave up 45.5 points in their losses but averaged 45 points in their wins. Memphis is an explosive offensive team, with the eighth-ranked team per S&P+. S&P+ has the Tigers favored by 12 points.
This game features two electrifying players with potential NFL upside in Memphis running back Darrell Henderson and Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch. Henderson finished tenth in the Heisman trophy voting, while Dortch was a first-team All-American punt returner by the Football Writers Association of America, and a second-team All-American all-purpose player by the Associated Press. However, Henderson will be sitting out this game after he declared for the NFL draft.
The Tigers have former four-star and Arizona State transfer Brady White at quarterback. He’s listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds, but may be a little bit smaller than that based on what I’ve seen. His numbers this year are solid, but nothing that will blow you away: 3,125 yards, 63.3% completion percentage, and a 25:8 touchdown to interception ratio. He struggled against his best competition, throwing for just three touchdowns to five interceptions in four games against Missouri, UCF and Houston.
Da’Monte Coxie was the receiver looking to fill Anthony Miller’s shoes for Memphis, and he’s done a pretty good job. Coxie is a former three star recruit, but was a one time LSU commit who also had an Alabama offer. He’s a legit 6’3”, but looks a little skinnier than 200 pounds. With over 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns this year, Coxie is a productive player to remember for next year’s draft.
Darrell Henderson is likely the name you’ve heard from of between these two teams. He has over 1,900 yards and 22 touchdowns this year, making him one of the most productive backs in the country. He’s listed at 5’9”, 200 pounds, but I think he may be a little shorter than that. Henderson runs with short, choppy strides, but when he hits the second level and hits his top speed not many people can catch him. In briefly watching Henderson, he’s not touched on most of his long runs and looks a little stiff. Combining that with his short stature and level of competition, I can’t see him being a standout at the next level right now. For me, he projects as a non-feature, committee-type back who won’t get much higher until we have a verified 40-yard-dash time. Patrick Taylor will carry the load for the Tigers, and he’s a bigger back at 6’3”, 223 pounds. With over 100 yards in each of the last three games, Taylor is a name to remember.
For Wake Forest, quarterback Jamie Newman came in to take over for the injured Sam Hartman and has looked like a legit ACC quarterback. I watched all of his first start against NC State, and came away impressed that he was able to lead the team to an upset victory. Newman has a decent arm and is a good runner. He’s pretty raw as a player but if he continues to develop he will battle Hartman for the starting job next year and one of them will give Wake Forest a legit option at the position.
Dortch is questionable for the game, but it would be great for everyone if he played. An explosive player, he could have a huge day against a Memphis defense that isn’t anything special and just gave up a huge day to UCF. Dortch has great speed, short area quickness, and hands. However, he is very undersized. With a deep WR class, Dortch will likely be a day three pick if he gets drafted/declares.
ARMED FORCES BOWL
Houston Cougars vs Army Black Knights
ESPN, 3:30 p.m. EST
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This should be one of the most interesting games of bowl season, with the fastest team in the country (Houston) going up against the slowest team in the country (Army). However, the two most exciting players in this game will not be playing.
Houston’s quarterback, D’Eriq King, was well on his way to having one of the best statistical years of any quarterback in the country before suffering a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season. King scored 50 touchdowns in a little over 10 games, making him one of the most dynamic players in the country. He also threw for close to 3,000 and ran for a little over 600. He was a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Kendall Briles uptempo air raid scheme. The team has still managed to put up points, scoring 48 and 31 points in the two games he’s missed, but the offense really doesn’t function the same without him.
The bigger and more well-known loss is defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Oliver is sitting out the game ahead of being a first-round NFL draft pick. While a little undersized, he’s an absolute disruptor on the interior. The former five-star recruit has tallied 53 tackles for loss in 42 career games, to go along with 13.5 sacks. His first step quickness, use of leverage, and overall athleticism make him a problem for offensive lineman. While he’s “only” 6’2”, 290 pounds these strengths more than make up for the size issue. Any team would be lucky to have Oliver play for them.
DOLLAR GENERAL BOWL
Buffalo Bulls vs Troy Trojans
ESPN, 7:00 p.m. EST
Buffalo is one of the most exciting offenses in the country, while Troy boasts a top-flight defense and special teams unit. This should actually be one of the better Group of 5 bowl games, and there’s some NFL talent to watch for on the Buffalo side.
Quarterback Tyree Jackson is a physical specimen, listed at 6’7”, 245 pounds. He has tremendous arm strength, above average athleticism, and a knack for the big play. Sound like another quarterback that plays in Buffalo? Jackson has been getting the Josh Allen comparison a lot so far, and a big bowl game can only further help his NFL draft stock. While it’s yet to be seen if he declares for the draft, in a bit of a down quarterback year he could rise up the draft board quicker than some people think. He’d be one of the higher upside QBs in the draft, and I could easily see him going late day two or day three. I’d keep an eye on Jackson and if he gets drafted early he could be a good player to stash on your roster in the late round of rookie drafts if you have an aging quarterback.
Jackson will be throwing to explosive wide receiver Anthony Johnson. Listed at 6’2”, 207 pounds Johnson has average size for the position. He has no glaring weakness to his game other than his long speed, which I think is just a tad below average. However, Johnson doesn’t particularly stand out in any facet of the game to me. He has good hands and above average body control, but neither of these stand out enough to make him one of the best in the country in either of these areas. He projects as a possession receiver who will make his living on crossing and underneath routes at the next level. I can picture him as a safety valve on third down as his physicality and toughness after the catch can help him pick up yards. Johnson has been extremely productive the last two seasons, totaling 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns while averaging 18 yards a catch. I would compare him to Rashard Higgins, a productive player who didn’t test very well and didn’t stand out in a particular facet. In a deep wide receiver class, I probably won’t be drafting Johnson anywhere but I expect him to be a decent NFL receiver.
Hawaii vs Louisiana Tech
ESPN, 10:30 p.m. EST
Hawaii is playing in there home stadium yet again, while Louisiana Tech has to travel very far to get to the islands. Tech has produced a few NFL skill players in the past few years in Kenneth Dixon and Carlos Henderson, but Hawaii has the player to watch in this game.
In the first week of the season, quarterback Cole McDonald became an early-season darling in the hearts of college football fans. He passed for 418 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 96 yards and two more scores. He’ll be looking to hit 4,000 yards passing in this game, and already has 35 touchdowns passing to just eight interceptions. He’s added an additional 370 yards and four touchdowns. At 6’4”, 205 pounds, McDonald has good size but will need to add some weight to become an NFL QB. He’s a bit of a gunslinger right now, but he’s only a sophomore and still has room to grow. I’m not sure if he’s an NFL player right now, but at the very least he’s a super fun college player.
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