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College Football Bowl Preview: The Early Games

Let the College Football Bowl Madness season begin!

Over the next few weeks potential NFL prospects will get their final chance to put a good showing on film on a big stage in their team’s respective bowl games before making the rounds with workouts, showcase games and possibly even the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February.

That process all starts today as six bowl games are on the slate, highlighted by No. 22 Utah taking on BYU on ABC at3:30 p.m. and Louisiana Tech-Arkansas State capping off the day of bowl games at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

There are plenty of bonafide NFL draft prospects playing today on national television, led by Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Arizona’s Scooby Wright and Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair.

Alcorn State (9-3) vs. North Carolina A&T (9-2) Noon

With kickoff scheduled for noon in the first ever Celebration Bowl, the Alcorn State Braves and the North Carolina A&T Aggies feature two highlight reel running backs that are sure to leave strong impressions on viewers’ minds.

For Alcorn State, junior running back Darryan Ragsdale is a true boom-or-bust back for the Braves.

Despite carrying the ball just 140 times in 2015, Ragsdale racked up 1,144 yards and eight scores, averaging nearly 9 yards-per-carry for the Braves. On top of his outstanding rushing numbers, Ragsdale showed the ability to catch balls out of the backfield in 2015, hauling in 18 receptions for 145 yards.

Although Ragsdale isn’t on many teams’ radar right now due to his class standing, he has the ideal size (5’11”, 190) to be a change-of-pace running back at the next level.

Opposite Ragsdale is the diminutive Aggies star running back, Tarik Cohen, who stands just 5-feet-6-inches. Cohen should remind Steelers fans of Dri Archer at Kent State in which the Golden Flashes star was used as a do-it-all weapon.

Despite his small stature, Cohen has proven he can carry the load as the featured running back for a run-first offense like the Aggies.

In 2015 Cohen carried the ball 242 times for 1,258 and 12 touchdowns, including eight games of 100-plus yards.

At this time it’s hard to try and project if he’s capable of catching on at the next level, but with another big year in his final season at North Carolina A&T there’s no telling what the shifty running back can accomplish at the professional level.

Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5), 2:00 p.m.

This is the type of game that people loathe to watch and use as the argument of there being “too many bowl games.” However, this game could provide Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright a stage to show NFL scouts that he’s fully healthy and ready to make the leap to the next level.

Coming into the year Wright was talked about as one of the top linebackers in the country. Unfortunately for the former Nagurski and Bednarik Award winner, he had played in just two games this year due to a torn meniscus and a broken foot.

Now that he’s fully healed from both, the 6’1”, 241-pound linebacker is out to show NFL scouts that he can get back to the 2014 version of himself that terrorized opposing offenses.

Along with Wright, Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones (6’3”, 215) can improve his draft stock with a good showing against New Mexico on national television.

Jones started his career at Texas before transferring to the Wildcats after his freshman season. While at Arizona, Jones hauled in 151 passes for 1,176 yards and 13 touchdowns, including 51 receptions for 722 yards and four scores this year despite missing starting quarterback Anu Solomon for much of the year.

With a strong showing without Solomon for much of 2015, Jones’ stock should rise slightly.

No. 22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3), 3:30 p.m.

In the game of the day there will be plenty of future pros to watch on both sides of the ball.

For Utah, star running back Devontae Booker — who should remind many fans of Chicago’s Matt Forte — will miss this game with a knee injury. That forces quarterback Travis Wilson to have to show off his passing skills if Utah wants to avoid the upset.

Unfortunately for Utah, Wilson is extremely erratic as a quarterback and should remind folks of Nick Foles (the St. Louis version). Wilson has the ideal size and arm strength that a team looks for in a QB, but he throws the football almost like a shot put and is woefully inaccurate.

Should Wilson have to take to the air today, that could bode well for Utes receiver, Kenneth Scott, who is looking to improve his draft stock mightily since more touches should come his way without Booker available.

However, Scott is listed as questionable with a foot injury for this game, so that will be worth monitoring leading up to kickoff.

If Scott can go, he gives the Utes a physical receiver on the outside that can win one-on-one matchups in the air thanks to his 6’3”, 208-pound frame. But much like his quarterback, Scott is very inconsistent as a receiver by sometimes making the tough catches while dropping routine ones.

He’ll need to clean that up moving forward.

Defensively, Utah possesses some explosive pass rushers, namely Kylie Fitts, who has gone on a tear to close the year.

At 6’4”, 260 pounds, Fitts is an ideal 4-3 DE who can not only rush the passer, but hold up well in the running game, providing defenses with a consistent presence along the defensive line.

He’s a very long, strong athlete with tremendous upside that an NFL team could pick up as an early Day 3 steal.

Along with Fitts, defensive end Jason Fanaika will have scouts’ attention in this game. Coming off of accepting a recent invitation to the Senior Bowl, Fanaika is looking to go out with a bang to end his Utes career.

The 6’3”, 270-pound defensive end has positional flexibility due to his functional strength and athleticism. He’s ideally a 4-3 end at the next level, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he made the jump to a 3-4 OLB.

For BYU, receiver Mitch Mathews won’t jump out at you on tape, but he finds ways to score touchdowns more often than not and makes tough catches in big spots. There’s something to that at the next level that teams like, so Mathews could catch on despite not putting up eye-popping stats or testing off the charts.

At 6’6”, 206 pounds it’s very likely that Mathews makes the move to tight end in the NFL.

Defensively, the Cougars will showcase Bronson Kaufusi, a 6’7”, 265-pound defensive end that happens to be a former basketball player. After starting off slowly in 2015, Kaufusi has come on strong to close the year as the Cougars have started to move him around the field similar to how they handled Ziggy Ansah.

Kaufusi is a good athlete for the Cougars and could work his way into the middle rounds by testing well when it’s all said and done.

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