25 Potential Surprise Stars of Bowl Season

Carl StineCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2012

25 Potential Surprise Stars of Bowl Season

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    Don't overlook these players this bowl season—that's all we're asking.

    The 25 players on this list find themselves in that very dangerous boat, the one where we overlook them and then they go off in a bowl game.

    Some very familiar faces are on this list, mainly because other players in the same bowl game are garnering the majority of the hype.

    Take Landry Jones, for instance. The Oklahoma quarterback is one of the top QBs in the nation, yet all we hear about is Heisman winner Johnny Manziel when the Cotton Bowl is discussed.

    Then there are guys like Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch. Everyone in the world is picking Florida State to beat the Huskies in the Orange Bowl, but win or lose, you can expect Lynch to have a monster game. He led the nation in rushing, after all.

    So before the next bowl game is played, take a minute to read over this list and remember some of the names to watch while you are enjoying the games.

    Note: All bowl times EST.

25. Jeff Budzien, K, Northwestern

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    Bowl Game: TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, January 1, 12 p.m., ESPN2

    Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since 1949.

    The closest the team came was against Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl, when a missed field goal left it out in the cold yet again.

    Something similar will happen this year in the postseason against Mississippi State, with Budzien getting redemption in the final seconds, sending the Wildcats to their first bowl win since just after World War II.

24. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State

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    Bowl Game: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—Utah State 41, Toledo 15

    Yes, this game has already been played, but we didn't want to overlook the excellent play of Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams.

    Williams finished the game with three rushing touchdowns, averaged over 13 yards per carry and racked up over 100 yards rushing in the fourth quarter to help put this one away.

23. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska

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    Bowl Game: Capital One Bowl, January 1, 1 p.m., ABC

    Nebraska has its work cut out for it against Georgia, a team that was five yards away from the BCS title game.

    Rex Burkhead is the guy who could step up and be effective against an overaggressive Georgia defense.

    He's had injury issues this season, but he will be ready to go against the Bulldogs and could have a big game against a team that might be struggling with motivation.

22. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

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    Bowl Game: BCS National Championship Game, January 7, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    The Fighting Irish and Tyler Eifert have a very tough task against Alabama, the best defensive team in the nation.

    But Eifert also has a great opportunity to prove once again that he is one of the best tight ends in the nation.

    We haven't heard a whole lot about the impact Eifert could have on this game, with discussion focusing more on the defenses of the two juggernauts facing each other.

    However, Eifert's pass-catching ability as a safety valve for Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson could come up big if the Irish are actually effective at moving the ball.

21. Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan

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    Bowl Game: Outback Bowl, January 1, 1 p.m., ESPN

    Michigan has struggled against teams with great defensive lines this season.

    Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State all beat the Wolverines, and now Brady Hoke's team must face one of the fiercest defensive lines in the country, that of South Carolina.

    Taylor Lewan is an excellent blocker who has the skill to match up with any pass-rusher in the country.

    Michigan will not have any chance at winning this game without some solid blocking and time for the quarterback.

    Lewan is a large part of providing that protection, and he could have a great battle matched up against Jadeveon Clowney.

20. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida

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    Bowl Game: Sugar Bowl, January 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    If there is a guy who faces a bigger challenge than folks realize this bowl season, it's Jeff Driskel.

    Louisville ranks 19th nationally in pass defense, and when the team executes on defense, it's hard to move the ball.

    Will Muschamp's team will need to see the "good" Driskel, and he will have plenty of opportunity to make big plays against the Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl.

    Florida's defense will be great, of that there is little doubt, but Driskel has a big chance to step up and make a name for himself this postseason.

19. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois

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    Bowl Game: Orange Bowl, January 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    Now that the Huskies are playing in a BCS bowl, Jordan Lynch is not quite as "under the radar," but he has definitely been there all regular season long.

    The man's numbers are comparable to Johnny Manziel's, albeit against a much weaker level of competition.

    Lynch led the nation in rushing yards with 1,771, setting a new bar for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season.

    He also scored 19 times on the ground and 24 times through the air for a total of 43 touchdowns this year.

    Here's why he is going to go off against Florida State. While the Seminoles play stout defense, they have not yet faced a quarterback with close to the ability Lynch possesses to extend plays or rush the ball.

    FSU will win this game, but it will be very close, courtesy of Lynch's big day.

18. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin

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    Bowl Game: Rose Bowl, January 1, 5 p.m., ESPN

    Much of the hype surrounding the Rose Bowl has been about Stanford and its stout run defense.

    But let's not overlook Wisconsin's defense.

    The Badgers are actually 13th in total defense, while the Cardinal sit at 21st.

    Both teams have great linebackers, and Wisconsin's defense is anchored by the play of stud Chris Borland.

    With his ability to read plays and react, Borland could have a huge impact in a game that features two teams that mirror each other.

17. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

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    Bowl Game: Cotton Bowl, January 4, 8 p.m., Fox

    No, Landry Jones has not flown over the radar, nor is he an overlooked, forlorn soul.

    He's an excellent, veteran quarterback leading a very potent offense.

    However, in this game, he is the forgotten commodity.

    The Sooners are facing off against Texas A&M, and most of the press will be centered on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.

    With limited pressure placed on Jones, he has the potential to step up and outplay Manziel in the best of the non-BCS bowl games.

16. Ole Miss Run Defense

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    Bowl Game: BBVA Compass Bowl, January 5, 1 p.m., ESPN

    Neither Pitt nor Ole Miss is much to write home about, but both earned bowl bids, so here they are.

    Pitt is led by running back Ray Graham, an excellent back who has struggled with some injuries during his career but has the potential to step up and carry his team for four quarters.

    Ole Miss has been solid in rush defense, allowing just over 133 yards on the ground per game, good enough for 30th in the nation.

    If they can limit Graham's efficiency on the ground, the Rebels will get a bowl win and finish over .500.

15. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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    Bowl Game: BCS National Championship Game, January 7, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    Amari Cooper is one of the last guys who should remain under the radar.

    He has been incredible for Alabama in just his first season on the field, averaging 16.9 yards per reception and scoring nine times.

    But all the talk leading up to this game seems to be about the defenses of the two teams and linebackers Manti Te'o and C.J. Mosley, rather than Everett Golson and Amari Cooper.

    Cooper and quarterback AJ McCarron are going to need to help open up the running game against Notre Dame's front seven, which has been particularly hard to run the ball against, allowing only 92 yards per game on the ground.

    Cooper has the potential to torch a defensive secondary that is definitely the weakest unit on the team.

14. Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State

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    Bowl Game: Poinsettia Bowl, December 20, 8 p.m., ESPN

    BYU gets tons of credit for its defense, and deservedly so.

    The Cougars give up only 266 yards per contest to their opponents.

    Enter Adam Muema.

    San Diego State has had a very solid season, finishing 9-3 and only losing one game in the Mountain West this season.

    Muema has been key to that success.

    He finished the regular season averaging 6.4 yards per carry and scored 16 times on the ground.

    He will have an opportunity to prove that his numbers are not a fluke against one of the best defenses in the nation.

13. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA

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    Bowl Game: Holiday Bowl, December 27, 9:45 p.m., ESPN

    Earlier in the year, Johnathan Franklin was on everyone's Heisman short list.

    While he still had a solid season, it did not quite play out that way for him.

    But he has a shot at making some noise in a big way in the bowl game, as his UCLA Bruins face off against a Baylor team whose defense can best be described as "suspect."

    If the Baylor defense holds true to form, Franklin could find the end zone three or more times in this game.

12. Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati

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    Bowl Game: Belk Bowl, December 27, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

    Brendon Kay has taken over the helm of the Bearcats offense, and in his last two games he threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

    Cincinnati's opponent, Duke, will be playing in its first bowl game in quite some time and has shown a routine inability to slow down opponents in the second half of the 2012 season.

    Kay has demonstrated that he is accurate and can make plays when called upon. He has a shot to do so again against Duke.

11. Cody Getz, RB, Air Force

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    Bowl Game: Armed Forces Bowl, December 29, 11:45 a.m., ESPN

    Rice allows over 31 points per game, and while the team deserves credit for making a bowl game, it isn't exactly the best team Air Force will face this season.

    In an offense that has an aversion to passing the ball, running back Cody Getz has been the star. He will have a huge day against the porous Rice defense, which allows more than 192 yards on the ground per game.

10. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

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    Bowl Game: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, December 29, 4 p.m., ESPN2

    Taylor Kelly is going to be a great quarterback for Arizona State in the very near future.

    He finished the season with 25 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he helped lead a struggling team to a bowl game.

    He has a great arm and the mobility to extend plays.

    Against a Navy team that has struggled at times this season to slow good passing teams, Kelly is going to put up some huge numbers.

9. Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

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    Bowl Game: Orange Bowl, January 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    Devonta Freeman took over at running back when Chris Thompson went down for the season, and he has been a force.

    He averages 6.5 yards per carry and has carried the load for a very effective rushing attack.

    Florida State cannot overlook Northern Illinois in this one—the Huskies went 12-1 for a reason.

    Freeman will have a big game and help lead the 'Noles to the win in a game that should definitely belong to them.

8. Johnny Adams, DB, Michigan State

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    Bowl Game: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, December 29, 10:15 p.m., ESPN

    Johnny Adams is a member of a defense that gets overlooked on a regular basis due to the ineptitude of the Michigan State offense.

    The Spartans rank fourth in the nation in total defense and dominate opponents with a fierce style of defense usually observed in the SEC.

    Adams and his mates in the secondary are going to have a huge game against TCU's quarterback Trevone Boykin, a freshman who has thrown nine interceptions on the season.

    With a big game from Adams and his defensive mates, the Big Ten could actually win a bowl game.

7. Meshak Williams, DL, Kansas State

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    Bowl Game: Fiesta Bowl, January 3, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    My, this is an interesting matchup between Kansas State and Oregon.

    Meshak Williams is part of a solid defense that limits opponents to 375 yards per game and does so in a conference that boasts some of the most prolific offenses in the nation.

    Williams is not under anyone's radar, having posted 9.5 sacks on the season.

    However, he's not getting much notice in the hype leading up to this one.

    With Kenjon Barner, Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein headlining the matchup, there is not much room for others.

    Oregon runs the ball a ton, and Williams' ability to penetrate and read the option well could determine whether Kansas State can even hang around in this game.

6. Damontre Moore, DL, Texas A&M

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    Bowl Game: Cotton Bowl, January 4, 8 p.m., Fox

    It's a pity that a guy like Damontre Moore does not get more press.

    When your freshman quarterback teammate wins the Heisman, I guess those are the breaks.

    Whatever the case, Moore is going to wreak havoc against Oklahoma.

    He finished the regular season with 20 tackles for loss playing in the SEC, and he will have a handful in this game against a somewhat suspect Oklahoma offensive line.

5. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

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    Bowl Game: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, December 24, 8 p.m., ESPN

    Derek Carr does not get enough hype, even for a guy who plays in a non-BCS conference.

    He tossed 36 touchdowns and only five interceptions in the 2012 season.

    He will have a massive game against an SMU team that gives up more than 270 yards through the air per game.

4. Kawann Short, DL, Purdue

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    Bowl Game: Heart of Dallas Bowl, January 1, 12 p.m., ESPNU

    Kawann Short has tailed off a bit in 2012 after a huge season in 2011.

    He still has six sacks, though, and his push up front from the tackle position will be sorely needed against an explosive Oklahoma State offense.

    Short has the ability to blow up a team's rushing game and consistently get into the backfield.

    Against an offense led by running back Joseph Randle, his ability to make penetration and hit Randle in the backfield will be absolutely essential if the Boilermakers are going to even keep this game close.

3. Les Miles, Coach, LSU

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    Bowl Game: Chick-fil-A Bowl, December 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

    No, he's not a player, but let's talk about Les Miles a little bit here.

    LSU had a tremendously disappointing season. The Tigers lost only two games, but those two games effectively put them out of BCS contention.

    Miles has been criticized for his inability to make adjustments in-game, primarily after last season's BCS title egg against Alabama.

    This game will give him a chance to atone in some small way for the rigidity.

    Clemson's offense is wicked good, but it has yet to run into a buzz saw of a defense such as LSU's. Miles and his staff will need to have a great game plan and be ready to adjust to anything Dabo Swinney's team might throw at them.

    Miles will make the appropriate adjustments, which he doesn't always do effectively, and lead the Tigers to a big win over Clemson.

2. Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin

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    Bowl Game: Rose Bowl, January 1, 5 p.m., ESPN

    Joel Stave, the kid whose hair makes us hark back to Sunshine of Remember the Titans fame, could be back for the Rose Bowl.

    He was knocked out of the Badgers' game against Michigan State back in October and missed their final four contests.

    His passing ability was sorely missed during that time, as the Badgers had to make do with two backups and wound up looking woefully inadequate in the passing game.

    While the Badgers are sure to be big underdogs against Stanford, this team will have a much more realistic shot at actually winning a Rose Bowl if Stave is at the helm.

1. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse

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    Bowl Game: New Era Pinstripe Bowl, December 29, 3:15 p.m., ESPN

    Did you know that Pro Football Weekly named Nassib an All-American?

    Probably not, unless you are a Syracuse fan or a diehard college football freak.

    Now granted, that publication is more concerned with how a player will perform in the NFL than how he is currently performing in college. Even so, that's a big deal for Nassib.

    NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the fourth quarterback in the class, and he could prove to be even better than that.

    Comparisons between West Virginia's defense and a sieve generally favor the sieve, so Nassib is probably chomping at the bit to face that defense in his final game as a member of the Orange.