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NFL Draft Prospects To Watch: Bowl Season, Part Five

Capital One Bowl: Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3)

Georgia QB Aaron Murray

The last time we saw the Georgia Bulldogs, they were driving on Alabama’s vaunted defense, with an opportunity to win the SEC Championship. Unfortunately, Aaron Murray’s last pass completion wasn’t in the end zone, and the Crimson Tide won the game and earned an appearance in the BCS National Championship. Both Nebraska and Georgia were undefeated at home and 7-2 in conference and this will be a good test for both teams. Nebraska has the best pass defense in the nation, so Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will have a great opportunity to show what he can do against another top defense.

Murray (6’1, 210 lbs.) is undersized for the quarterback position, but with what Russell Wilson is doing for the Seattle Seahawks this season, smaller quarterbacks might start getting more opportunities in the NFL. Murray is a three year starter who has good arm strength and has shown improvement each season, getting his completion percentage up while cutting down on his interceptions. He makes good decisions with the ball and has shown the ability to lead his team back in crunch time. He has a 17-1 TD-INT ratio in the second half of games, and has a 6-1 ratio when his team is down by seven or less. As of now he looks like an early third day pick if he declares, but his good arm, and his experience in a pro-style offense will be appealing to teams. He has struggled against top teams this season, but a good game against Nebraska’s top defense will help his cause.

On the year, Murray has completed 65.4% of his passes for 3,466 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He also has three rushing touchdowns.

Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones

This game should be a high scoring affair, as both teams are ranked in the top 12 in the nation in scoring offense, with both teams averaging over 40 points per game. This game will have even more meaning than most other Bowl games this season, because these two teams are rivals from their days in the Big 12. This was Texas A&M’s first season in the SEC and these two teams weren’t supposed to play each other ever again, so this will be a nice treat for fans of both schools. Heisman winning QB Johnny Manziel has had a fantastic season, and will definitely be a player worth tuning in to watch in this one. But for this space the focus will be on Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, who came into the year with Heisman hopes of his own and had Oklahoma faithful thinking BCS Championship in the preseason.

Jones (6’4, 218 lbs.) is a four year starter, and has had a very good career in the Big 12. He came out of high school with a lot a hype, which may be a reason why some consider Jones not quite right despite the numbers he has put up, and the fact that Oklahoma has only had one season with less than 10 wins- and that was Jones’ freshman season. Jones has had a tendency to not win big games against top notch competition over the years, and that problem continued this season with losses at home against Kansas State and Notre Dame, though it’s worth noting that the Sooners were completely shut down on the ground and were forced to throw the ball often to muster any kind of offense. Jones doesn’t have a cannon arm, but he can make all the throws, and his experience and ability to improve each year will attract NFL teams. He is considered a second day pick, but a poor performance in this game will not help his cause.

This season, Jones has completed 65.5% of his passes for 3,994 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Wisconsin RB Montee Ball

Despite the difference in record, this should be a very good game between two teams built to run the ball and stop the run. Stanford has one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking 12th in scoring defense, 3rd against the run, and leading the country in sacks and tackles for loss as a team. Wisconsin, on the other hand, ranks 12th in the nation running the ball, 8th in rushing touchdowns, and has one of the best backs in college football in running back Montee Ball.

Ball (5’11, 215 lbs.) has a nice combination of size, balance, and vision. He is the classic bell-cow back- a tailback who can handle 25 carries a game and gets better as the game goes along. While Ball isn’t getting the production through the air that he did last season, he has shown to be a nice outlet option and can pick up the blitz adequately. All these things point to him being a complete back, but depending on how he tests at the Scouting Combine will ultimately determine where he will be drafted. As of now, he is considered a late second or early third day pick, but with a lack of top tier talent in this year’s running back crop, he could easily move up.

This season, Ball has 332 carries for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2)

Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

After a storybook season

Manuel (6’5, 240 lbs.) has had an up and down season- one game he completes less than 60% of his passes and have slightly over 200 yards passing in a loss, then the next he explodes for over 400 yards passing and throws four touchdown passes while completing almost 80% of his passes. While he has been inconsistent throughout his career, he has improved each year as a starter, and his stock at this point is most likely a third round pick, with the potential to go higher just because of the great skill set he possesses. He has prototype size and arm strength for the position, has shown he can make the big play in a big game, and though he isn’t a scrambler, he has good mobility.

On the year, Manuel has

Sugar Bowl: Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)

Louisville C Louis Benavides

This should be an interesting matchup for both teams. You have one of the best defenses in the entire nation in Florida, which ranked 3rd in points allowed (behind only Alabama and Notre Dame), 6th against the run, 13th against the pass, 5th in total defense, and 9th in takeaways. Then, you have one of the better young offenses in the country in Louisville, that averaged 31.0 points per game, was very balanced with 25 passing touchdowns and 22 rushing touchdowns, and led the nation in red zone percentage with a 96% score rate.

There is a ton of NFL caliber talent on the Gators’ sideline, on both sides of the ball, including RB Mike Gilislee, S Matt Elam, DL Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, TE Jordan Reed, and LB’s Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. On the Louisville side the NFL caliber talent isn’t as abundant as what Florida has, but there are still very talented players, especially on offense, including sophomores QB Terry Bridgewater (one of the better up and coming QB prospects) and WR DeVante Parker. The winning team, however, will need to control the line of scrimmage, and if Louisville center Mario Benavides can handle Florida’s elite defensive line, it’ll put Louisville in a good position to get the upset.

Benavides (6’4, 280 lbs.) has been a very steady veteran presence on the young Cardinals’ offense, as he is one of only two senior full time starters on the entire offense, and he also happens to be one of the best centers in the country. Benavides will need to put on about 10-15 pounds to take on the rigors of handling massive NFL nose tackles on every down, but he has the technique and experience to be a solid starter. As of now he’s a likely third or fourth round pick, but a good showing in this game against perhaps the best defensive line in college football will help his stock in a big way, and Benavides could be a riser come Draft day.

Fiesta Bowl: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)

Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan

While Oregon is best known for its quick strike offense (and rightfully so), the player to watch in this game will be defensive end Dion Jordan.

Jordan (6’7, 245 lbs.) might be the Ducks’ best defensive player and might be the highest player taken in the next NFL Draft from this year’s Oregon squad, but he hasn’t really impressed this season and I’m a little confused as to why he has some calling him “the best pass rusher in this year’s draft class.” Pass rushers are always in high demand in today’s NFL (look how high Bruce Irvin went) and Jordan is definitely talented and has some solid traits – great length, good size/frame, athletic, – but he isn’t a physical specimen and I haven’t seen enough to consider him a top 20 draft pick.

While he has accounted for a tackle for loss or a partial tackle for loss in every game he’s played in except for two, the sack production and quarterback hurries just aren’t there for him to be considered a top pass rusher. He is one prospect that I’m very interested in seeing what he does in the Ducks’ Bowl game and what he does on the draft circuit before I can consider him a first rounder.

BCS National Championship: Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)

Alabama G Chance Warmack

This is it. The big one. This is what every team in the country plays for- an opportunity to play for a BCS National Championship. Alabama has an opportunity to win its second straight BCS title and its third in four years, while Notre Dame is in position to win its first national title since 1988. These are two elite defenses, as Alabama ranks 2nd in scoring defense, 1st against the run, 4th against the pass, and 1st in total defense, while Notre Dame ranks 1st in scoring defense, 4th against the run, 20th against the pass, and 6th in total defense. Needless to say, this may very well be a low scoring game, and with a bevy of NFL talent on both teams on both sides of the ball, this game will be won or lost in the trenches.

Warmack (6’3, 320 lbs.) is the top guard in this Draft class, and a surefire first round pick. He is an excellent run blocker, does a good enough job in pass protection, and he has good technique. Alabama consistently has success running behind him, and Warmack has been very consistent for the Crimson Tide. This will be a very good test for Warmack, as he will be blocking top tier players in Notre Dame’s NT Louis Nix and LB Manti Te’o.



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