Saturday (12/29) 3:15 pm EST on ESPN
West Virginia vs Syracuse, Pinstripe Bowl
This may be a debatable statement, but this bowl game features the best quarterback battle left on the bowl schedule, but will the weather cooperate with the forecast of snow threatening? We prefer Mountaineers QB Geno Smith (#12/6’3/214), who started the year red hot due to exceptional pocket movement, comfort versus pressure, and progression reads. As the season went on, however, Geno regressed by locking onto one half of the field or even his first read. Many may call the offense he runs under Dana Holgorsen “gimmicky,” and we disagree because many of the route combinations and reads translate to the NFL. Our own Eric Stoner wrote two solid pieces on Geno, the first on his performance against Texas, the second on the areas he needs to improve on. Geno has two great options and both will be in the NFL next season. The first is WR Tavon Austin (#1/5’9/176), who is one of the top prospects in the nation in terms of electric ability in space. Many will question how that translates to the NFL, but that is for his coaches to figure out, the top-end talent in those situations is obvious. Stoner wrote another article on Austin here. Junior WR Stedman Bailey (#3/5’10/190) is more of a traditional option and his fluidity in routes generates consistent separation. To complete the trilogy, Stoner recently finished a feature on Bailey here. Also, keep an open mind about WR J.D. Woods. Syracuse S Shamarko Thomas (#21/5'10/208) needs to make sure nothing gets behind him in coverage while DE Brandon Sharpe (#91/6'2/245) could use a power rush to press the pocket from the outside. West Virginia will be without its starting C Joe Madsen (#74/6’4/302), which may lead to poor snaps or blocking schemes.
For the Orange, QB Ryan Nassib (#12/6'2/229) continues to generate more and more buzz. Again, this quarterback class is all about flavors, so you may read a late second day projection just as often as a top-50 projection due to the variance in evaluators and sources. Nassib moves very well in the pocket, but it is tough to tell if that is from comfort or a jittery, hectic style. He’s got plenty of arm to test downfield but his decision making can be questioned at times. With so many watching Nassib, it is a shame LT Justin Pugh (#67/6'5/292) is not getting more love. Yes, he opened the season on the sideline after shoulder surgery, but he presents top-64 talent and projects to the left side in the NFL. Junior DT Shaq Rowell (#90/6’4/308) does well to anchor the middle of that defensive line, which lets OLB/SS Terence Garvin (#28/6’2/222) run in space, but the Mountaineers defense is verging on disastrous.
Other Prospects to Watch
DT Jorge Wright (#99/6’2/291)
G Jeff Braun (#57/6’4/322)
G Josh Jenkins (#77/6’3/305)
CB Pat Miller (#6/5’10/188)
RB Shawne Alston (#20/5’11/235)
K Tyler Bitancurt (#40/6’1/203)
WR Marcus Sales (#5/6'0/185)
WR Alec Lemon (#15/6'2/202)
Saturday (12/29) 4:00 pm EST on ESPN2
Arizona State vs Navy, Fight Hunger Bowl
As expected, Arizona State dominates this bowl preview in terms of NFL prospects on the field. Defensively, we are huge fans of junior DT Will Sutton (#90/6’1/280). Sure, he may be undersize and weigh 285 pounds soaking wet, but don’t let the roster numbers fool you. Many prospects his size may win with quickness of the snap, and even though Sutton does flash that, he mainly wins with leverage and strength to keep the offensive lineman on skates before shedding. He could be Geno Atkins-lite, but Sutton is doubtful to declare for April’s draft. Next is the very athletic LB Brandon Magee (#8/6’0/230). The senior linebacker has been sidelined with injuries as well as splitting time between football and baseball during his career, but Magee can cover a lot of ground and looks fluid in space. On the offensive side, RB Cameron Marshall (#6/5’11/223) is a hefty back that packs a punch on contact. He’s a late rounder at best, but we’ve seen those prospects produce in the NFL multiple times. WR Jamal Miles (#32/5’10/185) has really helped the Sun Devils in terms of all-purpose yards but never reached that top flight, receiver prospect status.
Saturday (12/29) 6:45 pm EST on ESPN
Oregon State vs Texas, Alamo Bowl
With Oregon State’s indecision on their starting quarterback over the last few weeks, we wouldn't be surprised if redshirt sophomore QB Sean Mannion (#4/6’4/220) gets some playing time if first team junior QB Cody Vaz (#14/6’0/198) struggles. Other than the quarterback controversy, the only consistent for the Beavers has been WR Markus Wheaton (#2/6’0/178). The senior is one of the more underrated receivers in the country and possesses plenty of vertical speed, so much so that he has earned comparisons to Mike Wallace. This will be a great test for junior CB Carrington Byndom (#23/6’0/180), who has put forth an up and down season. We even wonder if S Kenny Vaccaro (#4/6’1/215) may see some snaps at corner against Wheaton, especially in the slot. Vaccaro is a very versatile weapon and showed a combination of physical play and quickness to lockdown Tavon Austin when they faced off. DE Alex Okafor (#80/6’4/260) has flashed at times this season, specifically with a press to power move, but his evaluation is all over the board right now.
For the Longhorns offensively, WR Marquise Goodwin (#84/5’9/178) has plenty of speed to make an impact as a returner, ball carrier, and receiver. CB Jordan Poyer (#14/5’11/190) is often overlooked in this corner group, but don’t be surprised if he ends up being a top-50 selection.
Other Prospects to Watch
T Colin Kelly (#64/6’4/295)
junior T Michael Philipp (#77/6’3/308)
junior G Josh Andrews (#69/6’2/295)
LB Feti Taumoepeau (#41/6’1/243)
junior CB Rashaad Reynolds (#16/5’10/185)
junior S Adrian Phillips (#17/5’11/199)
junior DT Chris Whaley (#96/6’3/279)
junior DT Brandon Moore (#97/6’5/335)
junior LB Demarco Cobbs (#7/6’2/220)
junior WR Mike Davis (#1/6’2/188)
Saturday (12/29) 11:45 am EST on ESPN
Air Force vs Rice, Armed Forces Bowl
With only one prospect to truly focus on in this matchup, this would be a great time to complete your early morning activities with the game acting as background noise. TE Vance McDonald (#88/6’4/260), a Senior Bowl invite, appears to be a contender that will rise up the board at the position during the draft process. Despite his thickly built frame, McDonald is not locked onto the end of the line for the Owls, instead he sees a majority of his snaps in the slot. The senior continually tracks the ball well over his shoulder and utilizes slight hand use to create separation on breaks.
Saturday (12/29) 10:15 pm EST on ESPN
Michigan State vs TCU, Insight Bowl