Hope everyone enjoyed a great Christmas with family and friends. Now, many of us are probably dealing with a post Christmas food hangover, making this the perfect time to catch up on the latest bowl games that the NCAA is offering.
Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami – 4 p.m. EST, ESPN
It is unfortunate that most of Miami’s draft ready prospects will be sitting out the Independence Bowl as they prepare for the NFL draft.
Linebacker Michael Pinckney is a player that has my attention from last year’s bowl previews though he will sit out this year’s Independence Bowl. Pinckney is a four-year starter and has been in the middle of Miami’s defense since his true freshman season. He was named Freshman All-America in 2016 by ESPN, before earning an honorable mention on the All-ACC team in 2017 and 2018. In his final season, Pinckney recorded 64 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks on his way to making the All-ACC second team. With range and athleticism, the senior linebacker is ready to go for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Miami will also send a pair of pass rushers to the draft. Jonathan Garvin and Trevon Hill are set to enter the 2020 NFL Draft and will also sit this one out. Garvin finished with five sacks this season while Hill finished with 4.5 sacks. Hill will be in action next month though after accepting his Senior Bowl invite.
Last but not least Miami receiver Jeff Thomas will also not suit up after declaring for the NFL Draft.
Okay, now that is all cleared up, I can now get into the players who are actually playing. Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman is the cream of the crop on this defense as he has excellent size and skill for the position. He’s got great instincts and range which is a big reason why he was all over the field for Miami last season. And with 345 career tackles, 46.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks, Quarterman is set to make the jump to the big leagues next year.
While Thomas will not play, K.J. Osborn will play his final game in the Independence Bowl and the 6’0, 200-plus pound receiver is ready to make a lasting impression before jumping over to the pros. After transferring from Buffalo, Osborn’s numbers decreased this season but he still managed to lead the Hurricanes in receiving touchdowns with five.
It is a travesty that viewers will not get to see LA Tech cornerback Amik Robertson in action during this year’s Independence Bowl. Robertson will head to the NFL Draft with 14 career interceptions and 34 passes defended. His 16 passes defended this season not only led the CUSA conference but were also the most in the NCAA. PFF took notice of Robertson’s talent as well, giving him the highest coverage grade out of all college cornerbacks this season.
Safety L’Jadarius Sneed finished right behind Robertson with three interceptions this season and has experience playing both safety and cornerback.
J’Mar Smith will command the Bulldogs’ offense and he is coming off his best season yet. Smith set a new career high in completion percentage (65.8%) and touchdowns (17) while setting a career low in interceptions (4). After throwing 10 interceptions last season, the LA Tech quarterback was able to cut down on his mistakes with just four interceptions this season.
Quick Lane Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Pittsburgh – 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Get ready for more Pittsburgh football as the Pitt Panthers will go head to head with Eastern Michigan in this year’s Quick Lane Bowl. The Panthers come in with a 7-5 record and will send more than a few prospects to the NFL next season.
The availability in both of the Panthers’ top receivers are very much in question. Taysir Mack is dealing with an ankle injury while Maurice Ffrench is dealing with an jaw injury. Mack, a junior, recorded 62 receptions for 711 yards this season while Ffrench added 84 receptions for 685 yards. Ffrench led the ACC in receptions this season
The Panthers’ defense held opponents to 20.1 points per game this season and this unit has been the strength of their team. Cornerback Dane Jackson has been a Panther since 2015 and has recorded one interception and 26 passes defended over his last two seasons. His play this year has earned him an invite to the 2020 Senior Bowl.
Whether it be at the NFL or NCAA level, getting after the quarterback has been a constant theme in the city of Pittsburgh. The Panthers pass rush is led by a dominant front seven that consists of Jaylen Twyman, Patrick Jones II and Kylan Johnson.
Twyman could be the biggest prospect to go out of Pitt depending on if he declares or not. According to the Post-Gazette, Twyman is waiting to hear back from the College Advisory Committee before making a decision on his future but his numbers speak for themselves. Twyman wore #97 in honor of Aaron Donald and while no man is capable of replacing him, he did a decent job. The Pitt defensive lineman has a strong bull rush and is quick off the line and with these traits he was able to record 10.5 sacks this season along with 12.5 tackles for a loss. Only time will tell if Twyman will hear his name called at next year’s draft.
Jones is a big bodied pass rusher, coming in at 6’5 and 260-pounds. He ended his junior year with 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. With his size and production, there is a good chance he will be a mid-round pick should he decide to move on to the NFL. Johnson, a senior linebacker will move on after breaking out last season. After hitting the double-digit mark in tackles for a loss and recording seven sacks, Johnson could be a late round pick for teams next year.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles do not have many big-name prospects but there are two pieces on their defense that are worth jotting down. Cornerback Kevin McGill is catching most of the buzz around the draft world and it’s easy to see why. McGill has the physical frame that teams drool over when looking for cornerbacks. Standing at 6’2, McGill is a big and physical corner and has recorded five interceptions over his career.
Another defensive back out of Eastern Michigan who has produced is Brody Hoying. The senior defensive back recorded four interceptions this season and has also been a ball hawk for the Eastern Michigan secondary.