Christmas Day is just four days away, and that means that College Football’s Bowl Season is in full swing, as there are six games on the docket from today until Christmas Day. Each morning, we’ll cover the games that are happening later that day so you can key in one the most important players while watching each game.
Once again, this is the final shot for most draft prospects to put a good showing on tape in a meaningful day in their systems outside of the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this February.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 22 — Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6), 3:30 p.m. ESPN
Akron has had a quiet bounce back year in which the Zips rebounded from a 5-7 (3-5 MAC) 2014 season to go 7-5 (5-3 MAC) in the second year under head coach Terry Bowden.
Now, they’ll play in their first bowl game in quite a few years. The Zips will be led by outside linebacker Jatavis Brown and wide receiver Jerome Lane.
Brown, who is a punishing linebacker for Bowden, will likely make the move to safety in the NFL due to his size (5’11”, 217) and speed in the open field, coupled with his violent striking ability.
Brown is likely a Day Three selection but he could be a long-term steal for whichever team takes him in the 2016 NFL Draft.
He’s extremely fast, diagnoses plays quickly and is an overlooked athlete in space for the Zips.
Offensively for Akron, watch out for Lane, a 6’3”, 220-pound former safety who made the switch to receiver due to his size and wheels (reportedly runs a 4.45 40.) Lane is extremely raw due to the position switch, but he’s a serious homerun threat; one that the Zips could look to utilize quite often against a physical Utah State defense.
For the Aggies, EDGE defender Kyler Fackrell is the standout of the unit. Fackrell is an athletic 3-4 OLB that not only can drop into space in coverage, but can get after the quarterback quite well.
Fackrell needs to get better at the point of attack, but he’s versatile enough to carve out a role in the NFL as a mid-round pick.
Along with Fackrell, wide receiver Hunter Sharp is a standout offensive weapon for quarterback, Chuckie Keeton.
Sharp, who recently accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game, is a smooth route runner who hauled in 60 passes this past season for 746 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2014, Sharp again hauled in 60-plus passes to go along with seven touchdowns.
He’s is likely a late-round draft pick, but with his route running ability and soft hands he could turn into an effective slot receiver.
Boca Raton Bowl, Dec. 22 — No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs Toledo (9-2), 7 p.m. ESPN
This is a very intriguing game that is filled with potential NFL players on both sides of the ball, led by Temple’s star linebacker, Tyler Matakevich.
The Owls’ senior linebacker is coming off of a Bednarik Award-winning campaign in which the undersized senior linebacker racked up 126 tackles, 15 TFL, five interceptions, five pass breakups and 4.5 sacks. The 126 tackles marked the fourth straight year the Matakevich recorded 100-plus tackles, becoming just the seventh FBS player to do that for four straight years.
At 6’1”, 232 pounds, Matakevich is a bit undersized for inside linebacker and seems a step too slow at times. Currently, he reminds me a lot of Dallas’ Sean Lee as a guy who appears to be undersized and a step too slow.
However, we know what Lee has done in today’s NFL. I wouldn’t be shocked if Matakevich becomes another late round steal who becomes a solid contributor for a good defensive unit.
Personally, I’m rooting for him.
Outside of Matakevich, watch out for defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and cornerback Tavon Young for the Owls.
Ioannidis is a high-energy defensive lineman that uses his motor and “never quit” attitude to make plays all over the field. He’s projected to be an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 defense as a rotational piece that could go between rounds 5-7.
As for Young, the senior cornerback recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on January 30.
Young is looking to build some momentum on the heels of a monster senior season that included him shutting down Notre Dame’s Will Fuller on national television.
Due to his speed and coverage skills, Young will likely be a slot corner in the NFL.
For the Rockets of Toledo, the player to watch is running back Kareem Hunt, who has plenty of red flags off the field. Early in the 2015 season Hunt was suspended and was then hurt a few weeks later, which led to a down junior year.
Hunt isn’t a flashy running back, but he is a well-balanced runner who has impressive patience and nimble feet for a young college running back.
Rockets wide receiver Alonzo Russell is another potential NFL prospect to watch. Prior to the start of the year the 6’4”, 200-pound redshirt junior was expected to continue putting up big numbers, pushing his way into the top 100.
Unfortunately for Russell, he struggled for much of the 2015 season and has some question marks surrounding him in terms of his hands, route running and attention to details.