The NCAA’s leading rusher? A talented receiver from USC? A talented pass rusher from the Big Ten? A huge offensive tackle prospect? Viewers will see it all today as many highly touted prospects will leave it all on the field today.
Military Bowl: North Carolina vs. Temple – 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
He is a long way from getting drafted but what a year it was for North Carolina’s freshman quarterback Sam Howell. Over 3000 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Howell will not be a draft prospect for a few years but just sit back, relax and watch him get to work.
North Carolina running back Michael Carter on the other hand may be in play come draft day. No decision has been made on his future yet but the junior running back is coming off a big year in which he rushed for 919 yards on 159 carries.
One player from North Carolina who will undoubtedly be involved in the 2020 NFL Draft is defensive end Jason Strowbridge. The senior has recorded 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss during his collegiate career and was also invited to the 2020 Senior Bowl. Pass rush has not been his forte but he has the size to fill in among the defensive line.
Let’s talk about the most compelling player on North Carolina’s roster – Chazz Surratt. Surratt started off as a quarterback before making the switch to linebacker this season and he could not have had a better first year at his new position. The junior linebacker finished with 110 tackles, six sacks and one interception. According to Sports Illustrated, this was Surratt’s first time playing linebacker since his freshman year in high school, though it would be hard to tell based on his on field production.
Temple always has a few players that catch steam during the pre-draft process and Quincy Roche could be that guy this year, should he declare. Roche ate alive opposing offensive lines this season, recording 13 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss. The 2019 AAC Defensive Player of the Year may be flying under the radar to the general public right now but do not count on that for much longer as the draft approaches. He will have his first chance at getting his name out there in this year’s Military Bowl.
Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest – 3:20 p.m. EST, ESPN
Defense is not just a part of the game at Michigan State, it is a part of its culture and reputation. With yet another strong defense, the Spartans allowed just 22.7 points per game this season.
Kenny Willekes is a brick wall on the end of the Spartans’ defensive line. He is a tough player to run at and he can also get after the quarterback. With 48 career tackles for a loss, Willekes has totalled the ninth most tackles for a loss in Big Ten history. The senior defensive end has also been a pain for quarterbacks, recording eight sacks in back to back years.
Quick but undersized, Antjuan Simmons is the head at the top of the Spartans’ linebacking corp. Simmons is an athletic linebacker who led the team with 81 tackles and 15 tackles for a loss but his small 216-pound frame will surely be concerning.
The biggest concern for Wake Forest will be Spartans’ defensive tackle Raequan Williams. This is a guy who opposing teams have to game plan against and always keep an eye on. Williams has the size and strength to get a good push on the interior and he is quick enough to burst into the pocket. In his final year as a Spartan, Williams recorded five sacks and seven tackles for a loss. The transition from college to the pros could be a very rewarding one for Williams if he is slotted and developed in the right system.
Michigan State also has a few notable among the offensive line such as guard Kevin Jarvis and tackle Luke Campbell.
There are ball hawks and then there is Wake Forest cornerback Essang Bassey. Do not believe me? Just check the ACC record books. Bassey has recorded more passes defended than any other play in ACC history. With 43 passes defended and five interceptions, Bassey is one of the more opportunistic defensive backs in this year’s class.
Wake Forest has a dynamic athlete at quarterback in Jamie Newman. He has the arm and the legs to survive in the new generation of quarterbacks in the NFL. Newman passed for 2693 yards this season along with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With the NFL trending towards quarterbacks with big arms and mobility, Newman checkmarks both those boxes as he is not afraid to throw to any area of the field and he has the mobility to escape opposing pass rushes. His footwork needs a tad work but Newman is a quarterback that will attract a lot of curiosity.
Texas Bowl: No. 25 Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M – 6:45 p.m. EST, ESPN
It is true, everything is bigger in Texas and there will not be a bigger talent in the Texas Bowl than Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard. The sophomore running back had a season for the ages as he led the NCAA in rushing yards with 1936 and led the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns. His efforts earned him the accolade of Big 12 Player of the Year while he also finished eighth in Heisman voting. Hubbard has not decided whether he will enter the NFL Draft yet but should he choose to do so, he is almost certainly a late day one to early day two pick.
On defense, make sure to focus on linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez after he led Oklahoma State in tackles. Rodriguez moved from safety to linebacker and the move seemed to pay dividends to his production.
Texas A&M will counter with an explosive running back of their own in Isaiah Spiller. While still a freshman, Spiller has been very effective for the Aggies this season, rushing for 869 yards and nine touchdowns.
At quarterback, the Aggies will roll out Kellen Mond who is a dual threat. Mond can tire out a defense through the air or on the ground. Still a junior, Mond nearly racked up another 3000-yards passing this season while throwing for 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also scampered his way to 383 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. USC – 8 p.m. EST, FS1
USC is going to throw the football a ton and you can bet that a lot of those passes will be in the direction of Michael Pittman Jr. Iowa is going to have to be very careful as Pittman has been chewing up defenses this year. The middle of the field is free real estate for the USC senior receiver as he has made a living there this season. At 6’4, Pittman is a very talented prospect as not only can he be an effective receiver over the middle but he is also a very physical downfield threat. He shows great ability to high point the football and has strong hands. No player in the PAC-12 had more receptions (95) or receiving yards (1222) than the USC receiver.
The biggest name on USC, both in talent and in sheer size is tackle Austin Jackson. The 6’6, 310-pound tackle is one of the top prospects that will come out of the PAC-12 this year, that is if he decides to declare. If he does, he will be scouted heavily by teams looking for their tackle of the future.
Now, if Jackson can contain Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, that would certainly do wonders for his draft stock but it will not be easy. Epenesa is one of the most dangerous pass rushers coming out of the Big 10 Conference and will be a tough matchup for the USC tackle. Jackson will have his hands full when he deals with a pass rusher that has recorded 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Epenesa can beat tackles with a bull rush or with his hands as he demonstrates great technique with his arms.
Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State – 10:15 p.m. EST, ESPN
It is fitting that Washington State is taking on Air Force as the Cougars have unleashed an air force of their own this season. The Cougars are averaging nearly 40-points per game this season and the sole reason for that is their quarterback play.
Anthony Gordon replaced Gardner Minshew this season and boy, did he ever let it fly. Gordon completed over 70-percent of his passes for over 5000-yards on his way to 45 touchdown passes. While most quarterbacks will garner attention due to their arm strength, Gordon wins with finesse. He can really make a lot of great passes in the intermediate areas of the field with a pretty touch pass. UCLA learned first hand how deadly Gordon can be with his touch passes after he tallied an astonishing nine touchdown performance against them.
The two biggest beneficiaries of Gordon’s talent have been receivers Brandon Arconado and Easop Winston. Arconado had a breakout campaign with 67 receptions and 942 receiving yards though his availability for the Cheez-It Bowl is in question as he deals with a wrist injury. Winston finished just a hair under Arconado with 927 receiving yards and will definitely suit up for this contest.