This is one of the best times of the year. Bowl season is upon us, Christmas has only just been and gone, and we are one step closer to the NFL Draft. Let’s not take this moment in time for granted, because football season is almost over and soon we will be counting the days until training camp begins. There are players to monitor in almost every bowl game and we are here to cover some to the top prospects in college football to help you get a leg up on the competition in your devy leagues.
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St. Petersburg Bowl
Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks vs. Mississippi State
ESPN, 11 a.m. EST
The Miami Red Hawks finished the regular season with a mediocre 6-6 record, winning all of their games during conference play. Their offense lacks firepower, ranking 108th in the nation in total offense, seventieth in passing and 109th in rushing. They will be playing the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who finished their season with a 5-7 overall record and a 3-5 record in the SEC. Their most impressive victory was during week ten when they upset Texas A&M 35-28. The Bulldogs have one of the most underrated rushing attacks in the country as they averaged 233.20 yards rushing per game, ranking 24th in the nation.
Miami’s run game is led by a pair of sophomore running backs, Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young, both backs are intermittently used in the offensive game plan. Smith is the team’s grinder, and is traditionally used to pick up the tough yards between the tackles. He finished the season rushing for 689 yards and three touchdowns while owning a 17.94 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. Young is the team’s shiftier change-of-pace back. He finished the season with 490 yards and two touchdowns, while owning a 15.26 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
Sophomore wide receiver James Gardner leads the Red Hawks with 658 receiving yards while owning a 24.06 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. At 6’4’’ and 212-pounds, he has the build of the prototypical starting receiver at the next level. He needs to work on his speed as he’s a little sluggish getting down field. He ran a 4.78 40-yards dash, 4.4-shuttle and had a 28.5-inch vertical at the 2014 Under Armour All-American Combine.
Fred Ross, Mississippi State’s senior wide receiver, is the player to keep an eye on in this game. He’s the team’s go-to option in the passing game and the team’s most consistent playmaker. Last year, during his junior season, he caught 88 receptions for 1,007 yards and five touchdowns while competing for targets against teammate De’Runnya Wilson. He finished this season with 68 catches, 873 yards and 12 touchdowns while owning an incredible 33.71 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. Ross specializes in creating separation with his quickness and making amazing one-handed catches.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s season started a little rocky, but he was able to put it together down the final stretch of the season, leading Mississippi State to wins over both Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He finished the season passing for 2,287 yards, 21 touchdowns and ten interceptions. He also leads the team with 1,243 yards.
Running back Aeris Williams had two huge performances this season, rushing for 191-yards against Ole Miss and 140-yards against Texas A&M. He finished the season with 125-yards and four touchdowns while owning a 12.56 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. He’s a one-cut downhill runner who can get what’s blocked and sometimes a little more. He has great vision and instincts and he exercises patience while waiting for the running lane to open. He has the size of a three-down back at 6’1’’ and 217-pounds, but he lacks the speed to be a homerun threat.
Quick Lane Bowl
Maryland vs. Boston College
ESPN, 11 a.m. EST
Maryland finished the regular season with a 6-6 record while placing fifth in the Big Ten East. Their most impressive victory came during week eight when they upset the Michigan State Spartans 28-17. Their offense is based off the run-game with 61.91 percent of their offensive snaps being run plays, Maryland’s 2,466 yards ranks 44th in the country while averaging 205.5 rushing yards per game.
Boston College also finished their regular season with a 6-6 record while placing seventh in the ACC Atlantic. Their most impressive victory was during week nine when they edged North Carolina State for a 21-14 victory. They are known for their stout defense, ranking eighth in the nation in total yards allowed.
The Terrapins will want to run the football in this contest and they will rely heavily on the legs of sophomore running back Ty Johnson, who finished the season with 845 yards and four touchdowns while owning a 22.75 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. He’s the team’s feature back and he’s often utilized to gain the tough yards between the tackles. He rushed for over 100-yards against Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers.
Boston College’s well of future dynasty assets is currently running dry but one player to keep an eye on is sophomore running back Jon Hilliman. He’s a 6’0’’ and 229-pound bruising running back who is literally a human battering ram when running between the tackles. He finished the season with 463 yards and five touchdowns while owning a 13.44 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. Hilliman isn’t a blue chip prospect but he has the size to become a goal line and third down back at the next level.
Camping World Independence Bowl
North Carolina State vs. Vanderbilt
ESPN2, 5 p.m. EST
North Carolina State finished the regular season with a 6-6 record while placing fourth in the ACC Atlantic Division. Their biggest win came during week six when they squeaked by Notre Dame with a 10-3 upset victory. Vanderbilt finished their regular season with a 6-6 record while placing sixth in the SEC East. They reeled off back to back victories over Ole Miss and Tennessee to finish the year. The Commodores currently have a bowl record of 4-2-1 and this will be their fifth bowl appearance since 2008.
Senior running back Matthew Dayes is the heartbeat of North Carolina State’s offense. He finished the season with 1,119 yards on the ground, ranking him third in the ACC in rushing. He’s the team’s workhorse back as he carried the ball 20 or more times in eight games, making him an integral part of the offense. He also owns a 27.26 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. This will be the last game of his collegiate career, and he will be headed for the NFL Draft this spring.
North Carolina State has a pair of young wide receivers to keep an eye on. Sophomore wide receiver Stephen Louis already has the requisite size (6’ 2’’ and 215-pounds) of a starting wide receiver at the next level. He caught 33 receptions for 657 yards and two touchdowns while owning a 20.87 percent market share of the team’s passing offense. Louis is paired with freshman wide receiver Kelvin Harmon who was a three-star recruit from Palmyra, New Jersey. Standing at 6’3’’ and 196-pounds, he’s a tall lanky receiver who specializes in out jumping defenders to convert tough contested catches. He finished his freshman campaign catching 26 receptions for 458 yards and five touchdowns.
Junior running back Ralph Webb is the player to watch for Vanderbilt. He finished the regular season with 1,172 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking fourth in the SEC and this was his second straight season with over 1,000-yards rushing. He had six games with over 100-yards rushing and he owned an incredible 30.74 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. He’s not a big bruising runner but he has the innate ability to run between the tackles and pick up the tough yards.
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