Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky (7-5) vs Central Michigan (6-6)
Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher
While the teams in this Bowl game aren’t the most exciting, there is one potential first round pick to keep an eye on in this game: Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Fisher hasn’t been tested by any top notch pass rushers this year, as the best defensive end he could’ve gone against-Michigan State DE William Gholston-lined up on the opposite side of Fisher all game. In this game, he will have a big test going against Western Kentucky’s defensive end Quanterus Smith, who is one of the best edge rushers in the nation with 18.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, both among the best in the entire country.
Fisher (6’8, 305 lbs.) has seen his stock soar this season. He has been great in pass protection and has shown the athletic ability and versatility to play different positions on the offensive line throughout his career. Prior to becoming the full time left tackle last season and an all-conference selection, he had played right tackle and guard his first two seasons. Fisher’s stock has risen to the point where he is a likely late first round pick, and a good showing in this game and during the pre-draft process could solidify his place as one of the first tackles taken in the Draft.
Military Bowl: San Jose State (10-2) vs Bowling Green (8-4)
Bowling Green DT Chris Jones
This was a turnaround year for both Bowling Green and San Jose State, as both teams had losing records the last couple of seasons. Based on how these teams have fared the past few years, you wouldn’t think to find too much NFL caliber talent on either sideline, but this game features several worthwhile prospects on both sides of the ball, including San Jose State QB David Fales (3,800 yards, 31 TD, 72% comp.), TE Ryan Otten (44 rec., 706 yards, 4 TD), OT David Quessenberry, and DE Travis Johnson (60 tkls., 19.0 TFL, 12 sacks), but the focus here will be on Bowling Green DT Chris Jones.
Jones (6’1, 295 lbs.) has had a fantastic season, and is the perfect example of a 3-technique tackle that would be a good fit for a team that runs a cover-2 scheme, or likes smaller, penetrating tackles. Teams will like his ability to shed blocks, his quick burst off the line, and that he has improved his play each year in college, because that shows an aptitude for learning and potential. He also played well against the Falcons’ toughest competition-at Virginia Tech, at Florida, and at Toledo. Jones’ stats rival what Auburn’s Nick Fairley did a couple of years ago, and Jones looks like a late second day pick as of now, but could improve his stock with a solid game and post season.
On the season, Jones has 41 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery he took 23 yards for a touchdown.
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs Duke (6-6)
Duke CB Ross Cockrell
Duke should be very happy with how their season has gone, as they’ve made their first Bowl game since 1994 and have a chance at a winning record for the first time in what seems like forever. They have to beat a Cincinnati team that needs a victory here to have 10 wins or more in five of the last six seasons, and who’s three losses this season have all been by seven points or less. Cincinnati’s offense has averaged 31.0 points per game this season, while Duke’s defense has allowed 35.0 points per game. The defense, led by CB Ross Cockrell, will need to step up if the Blue Devils want to come away with a Bowl win for the first time since 1961.
Cockrell (6’0, 180 lbs.) is a good cover corner who not only leads the team in interceptions and passes broken up, but is third on the team in tackles. You never want a cornerback being up there on your team in tackles, but it’s a testament to his willingness to come up in run support and make tackles in open field. There is a good chance he returns to school, as he is a junior, but if he were to declare, he has the look of an early third day pick. With teams going more with spread looks on offense, a dependable third or fourth corner has become increasingly valuable, and a good game would help his stock.
This season, Cockrell has 63 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one sack, 12 pass break ups, five interceptions, and one pick for a touchdown.
Holiday Bowl: Bayor (7-5) vs UCLA (9-4)
UCLA DE Datone Jones
This was another tough game to select just one “Prospect to Watch”, as there are several players on both teams that are solid NFL prospects. It could’ve been Baylor WR Terrence Williams (95 rec., 1,764 yards, 12 TD), who is the Bears’ best player, or UCLA LB Anthony Barr (73 tkls. 20.0 TFL, 13.0 sacks, 4 FF), who has been a beast all season and been very consistent on a week to week basis. I do feel, however, that since Barr is a junior who is playing in his first season as a linebacker after playing fullback his first two years, he would be best served going back to school to refine his game. Both of them have little to gain or lose, as their play and potential will be enough to solidify their place as first or high second round picks. Instead, the focus here will be on UCLA defensive end Datone Jones.
Jones (6’4, 275 lbs.) has been very good for the Bruins this season, and has had a big impact on a UCLA defense that allowed only four opponents to score 30 points or more this season. He is second on the team in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles, and has made plays on special teams as well with a couple of blocked kicks. His stats this season are very similar to what J.J. Watt did in his last season at Wisconsin, though Watt was more dominant all around. Jones is a likely second day pick who could make a claim to be the best 3-4 defensive end in this Draft class, and could be taken in the second round because of how many teams in the NFL now run a 3-4 front.
This season, Jones has 57 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks. He even has notched a receiving touchdown!
Independence Bowl: Ohio (8-4) vs Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)
ULM WR Brent Leonard
Both of these teams have eight wins and both have had a big win over a marquee program on their resume, and both teams are backing their way into the Independence Bowl. Ohio beat Penn State in the first game of the season and started 7-0 before finishing the year losing four of their last five games. ULM beat #8 Arkansas in their first game, played Auburn and Baylor close, and ended struggling in three of their last four games of the season, two of those losses. Ohio is looking for a second straight Bowl win, while ULM is in its first ever Bowl game. ULM has struggled running the ball in the second half of the season, but has leaned on WR Brent Leonard and the passing game to pick up the slack.
Leonard (6’2, 186 lbs.) has been the focal point of ULM’s passing game all season, as he has almost 40 more receptions than the second leading receiver on the team and he leads the team in all the key receiving categories. Leonard has good size for the position and has shown the ability to beat the press and get open. He doesn’t have burner’s speed and is more of a possession receiver, and he is a great red zone target, catching seven of his ten touchdowns in the red zone. He looks like a third day pick as of now, but another solid game and pre-Draft showing could help his stock.
On the season, Leonard has 97 receptions for 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers (9-3) vs Virginia Tech (6-6)
Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene
This game is the tale of two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum; Rutgers has one of the best defenses in the nation and won a share of their conference title, while Virginia Tech has suffered its worst season since 2003, has 6 losses for the first time since 1992, and a typically dominant defense has sunk to the middle of the pack. The main reason for Rutgers’ great season is the defense, which ranks in the top 14 in the nation against the run and in total defense, fifth in points allowed, and sixth in takeaways. LB Khaseem Greene is one of the best, if not the best, player on the defense, and will be a key player if Rutgers is to get its sixth straight Bowl victory.
Greene (6’1, 230 lbs.) is one of my favorite players in this year’s Draft class. He is a linebacker who can not only make plays in coverage, but is a solid tackler with great play recognition and playmaking ability. He is best in space, as he can get pushed around by blockers in the run game, and he looks like he would fit best on a team that runs the cover 2 and will allow him to play sideline to sideline. As of now he is a likely late second round pick, but if he gets pushed around in the ground game in this one and has a poor showing, he could drop a bit.
So far this year, Greene has 125 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown, 5 passes broken up, and 2 interceptions, one of which he took back for a touchdown.
Meineke Care Car Bowl of Texas: Minnesota (6-6) vs Texas Tech (7-5)
Texas Tech Safety Cody Davis
Both of these teams are backing into this Bowl game, as Minnesota started 4-0 and ended up dropping all but two games the rest of the way, and Texas Tech has only one win in their last five games, and it was against Kansas. This is a winnable game for Texas Tech, as they look for their third straight Bowl win, while Minnesota will try to win its first Bowl game since 2004. Red Raiders safety Cody Davis is Texas Tech’s best defender, and will be a key in this game if they are to win.
Davis (6’2, 202 lbs.) has been very good for the Red Raiders, as he leads them in tackles and interceptions. He is more of an in the box kind of safety, as he is a sure tackler and not afraid to mix it up. He isn’t great in coverage, but he can make plays when he is in position. As of now, he has the look of a third day selection, but with NFL teams spreading the field with receivers and the recent run of injuries in defensive backfields this season, he could move up with a good showing.
On the year, Davis has 91 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, seven passes broken up, and three interceptions, one he took back for a touchdown.