Bowl games have certainly lost some panache in recent seasons. Between opt-outs and the sheer number of bowls games that now exist, the talent pool has been a bit diluted. Only the most rabid local fans get lathered up by the Pringles Sour Cream and Onion Bowl based on the novel Push by Sapphire.
Of course, player absences lead to more opportunities for less-heralded talent. When Josh Downs opted out of the Holiday Bowl, it opened the door for redshirt freshman Kobe Paysour to step up to post 98 yards and a score as he builds momentum for the 2023 season. The purpose of this exercise is to unearth some lesser-known prospects who emerged during bowl season. While CJ Stroud was excellent in the playoff against Georgia, he is already a high-end devy talent. We want to find those whose stock is rising following the holidays.
DEVY PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
Despite a very strong season from LSU’s Malik Nabers, he was still not getting the buzz he merited. Kayshon Boutte has long been the king in Baton Rouge and has taken the spotlight away from other receivers. Nabers, however, just continues to deliver big numbers.
Nabers put an exclamation point on his season with a 163-yard effort in LSU’s demolition of Purdue, including a long catch and run, which showcased his burst and long speed. Nabers had a notable freshman campaign and now has a 1,000 yard-season as a second-year player in the SEC. He is a fast-rising devy prospect.
Sticking in the SEC, Tennessee showcased its next generation of talent due to injury (Hendon Hooker) and opt-outs (Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman). It is easy to forget Joe Milton actually won the starting job in the fall of 2021, and he showed why in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. Milton dotted the field with big-time throws, showcasing his comically strong arm and demonstrating an improved touch. It was merely a single game, and Milton has always been toolsy yet enigmatic. However, it was a great showing for Milton and may give him a leg up on becoming the Volunteers 2023 starter. He is worth a late flier in Superflex leagues.
The absence of Hyatt and Tillman allowed old friend Bru McCoy to flash. McCoy is well-traveled yet seems to have found a home in Knoxville. He scored against Clemson to cap off a solid campaign. He figures to take on a more prominent role in 2023.
Outshining McCoy in the Orange Bowl was Squirrel White, a true freshman who eviscerated the Tigers with a 9/108/1 line. White is the ideal complement to McCoy, a lighting quick receiver with the ability to stress the defense vertically. It is no small feat to produce in the SEC as an 18-year-old true freshman. White’s stock is on the rise, and it is unlikely he has been rostered outside of the deepest leagues.
Sticking with the SEC yet again, the Arkansas Razorbacks played in one of the most exciting bowl games, toppling Kansas in three overtimes. They did so despite losing Raheim Sanders to injury early. In his place, true freshman Rashod Dubinion carried the rock 20 times for 112 yards and a pair of scores. After playing sparingly in the season’s first twelve games, he stepped up in a big spot and may have earned a significant role in 2023, even with Sanders coming back.
Well-known in college fantasy football circles due to his prolific numbers, Tyjae Spears put his talent on display in the Cotton Bowl against USC. While the Trojans defense is often a hopeless unit, Spears tormented them with his ability to chew up yardage in a heartbeat. An explosive athlete with the chops to contribute to the passing game, Spears could be an excellent complementary back who mixes into the day three scene with day two not out of reach.
If you like big receivers, none get bigger than Florida State’s Johnny Wilson, a 6’7”, 235-pound behemoth who will be giving Oklahoma defensive backs nightmares for years to come. Wilson popped off for 202 receiving yards in the Cheez-It Bowl, routinely getting deep and making circus catches. It is hard to project Wilson given how large he is; there is not much precedent for someone so big succeeding at the NFL level. However, Wilson produced all year for the Seminoles, finishing with 897 yards at nearly 21 yards per reception. He is still undecided on his immediate future, but he will be a fascinating prospect should he choose to declare.
Another runner who took advantage of the team’s lead back departing a bowl game early was Boise State’s Ashton Jeanty. The true freshman was a factor all season as both a runner and receiver, falling just short of 1,000 total yards after running all over North Texas for 178 yards in the Frisco Bowl. Jeanty was massively underrated as a recruit despite being a versatile weapon with a track background. A strong freshman season has put him on track to be the next Bronco back to reach the NFL, following in the footsteps of Jay Ajayi, Alexander Mattison, etc.
The College Football Playoff semifinals were one of the better days of college football in recent memory. The nightcap was especially memorable, with the depleted Ohio State Buckeyes putting up a great fight. On the other side of the field, Georgia was able to survive thanks to an offense that put its foot on the gas late. Arguably the biggest play was a 76-yard touchdown strike to Arian Smith early in the fourth quarter, a play which got the Bulldogs back within a score.
Smith arrived in Athens with a huge trademark skill: all-world speed. Injuries have conspired to limit his effectiveness during his three years with the Bulldogs, with his six receptions in 2022 proving to be his career high. Smith has not lost any speed and remains a unique weapon despite all the missed time. If anyone is going to make a jump like Jalin Hyatt in 2023, Smith is a good candidate.
Only one game remains in the college football season, the title game between Georgia and TCU. Both teams have established stars hogging touches, making it unlikely we will see new talent emerge on college football’s biggest stage. Of course, stars are born every year. It will not be surprising if the Horned Frogs or Bulldogs give us another player who could have worked their way into this piece.
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