You might have heard that there are a couple of big matchups scheduled on Saturday 29th: the College Football Playoff semifinals. Beyond those thrilling games, three more bowls are packed into the early afternoon slot, and each of them promise to be competitive.
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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Virginia Cavaliers
12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Gamecocks entered the season to a relatively high degree of fanfare, even being ranked in some preseason top 25 polls. After handling Coastal Carolina in a warmup game, they had the unfortunate task of opening their SEC season against the Georgia Bulldogs and lost 41-17. From there, the ‘Cocks hit a slump in the middle of the season, dropping three of six games and barely holding on in the other three. Closing out the regular season, they rebounded by trouncing Chattanooga and Akron and putting up 35 points on an elite Clemson defense (though they gave up 56 themselves).
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers’ expectations were typically minimal to start 2018, but there were early signs of unusual competency: they easily dispatched Richmond and Louisville, comfortably beat a strong group of five team in Ohio, and had respectable road losses to NC State and Indiana. The Cavs proceeded to win three ACC games, then lose the next three—the last of which cost them the ACC Coastal division title. At the end of the day, a 7-5 finish and near appearance in the ACC championship should be considered an overwhelming success for such a recently downtrodden program.
South Carolina boasts two exciting receiving prospects for the 2019 NFL draft, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Unfortunately, the latter will be the only one suiting up on Saturday, as Samuel will be sitting out in preparation for the draft.
Edwards — now probably the most dynasty-relevant player in this set of early games — is just a junior and has yet to announce his decision to stay or enter the draft himself. He ranks eighth or better in all but one of DLF’s current devy rankings, as of the 26th. The 20-year-old racked up over 1,450 yards combined in his freshman and sophomore seasons and has produced 809 receiving yards this season; over that time, he’s been about as consistent as you could ask for, hauling in at least three receptions in each game of 2018. If you turn on his film, his most easily identifiable strength is certainly ball skills—he’s made highlight-reel catches over and over throughout his Gamecock career. For me, he grades out as a day two talent in the draft.
As things stand, there isn’t much tape available for him, making this game a perfect time to scout him, especially considering his competition: Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall has begun to attract first and second round buzz and should spend plenty of time lined up across from Edwards.
There are two additional prospects to watch nearby; Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley is draft eligible this year and will face an additional promising defensive back in safety Juan Thornhill. Bentley has a promising arm and toughness, but will likely stick around for his senior season in order to gain more accuracy.
Behind Edwards and Samuel, sophomore Shi Smith stepped up as a strong third receiving option, and could have a breakout performance with Samuel sitting out.
Finally, it won’t be as exciting when the Cavaliers have the ball, but keep your eye on Olamide Zaccheaus a well-named, 5’8” all-purpose weapon who can hit 1,000 receiving yards on the season on Saturday.
Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines
12:00 p.m. ET, ABC
Considering the Florida football program’s recent turnover, Dan Mullen’s debut season with the Gators was a pretty strong success, after easily dealing with every weaker team on the schedule and completing impressive wins over LSU and Mississippi State. Meanwhile, Michigan book-ended ten straight victories with two disappointing losses to top-ten teams, ultimately costing the Wolverines from a playoff appearance. Still, Harbaugh’s squad looked pretty great in every game but the last one, and will be favored against Florida.
Offensively, the Gators don’t have any exciting senior prospects. After that, the junior class is an intriguing-but-confusing set of potential talents who’ve yet to break out: running backs Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine and receivers Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, and Josh Hammond, among others.
Similarly, Michigan’s best skill talent likely won’t be seen on Sundays in 2019. Neither Donovan Peoples-Jones nor Tarik Black are eligible to be drafted, and quarterback Shea Patterson has decided to return to Michigan for his senior season. Patterson and Peoples-Jones (Black will not play and has missed most of the season) are the two Wolverines to watch in anticipation of 2020.
Running back Karan Higdon might be a relevant dynasty player in 2019, but unfortunately, he will be sitting this game out. If anyone, tight end Zach Gentry could be a player to watch. The 6’8” tight end was third in targets this season and certainly has intriguing height, if nothing else.
Defensive players headline both teams’ draft-eligible talent. Unfortunately again, Wolverine defensive lineman Rashan Gary will be sitting out (as well as Devin Bush), but apparently, Florida EDGE Jachai Polite will be suiting up for the Gators. IDP owners should bring their popcorn to watch him.
Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Nevada Wolfpack
1:15 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
The Red Wolves have quietly been one of the stronger group of five teams in recent years, but haven’t really broken out; a nine-win season would be a step above what the program has achieved in recent years, and is there for the taking against Nevada. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack rank better than 97th in the country in the F/+ rating system for the first time since 2014, currently slotted in at 72nd.
Unfortunately, this game is almost entirely devoid of upper-class talent to watch. Red Wolves defensive end Ronheen Bingham racked up 18.5 tackles for loss on the season and was tabbed by Pro Football Focus as “one of college football’s biggest hidden stars”, but that’s about it. They also have a number of skill players with efficient stat lines, but it’s not clear whether that’s due to talent or system.
Simply put, this battle for wolf supremacy will be enjoyed most by pure college football fans.