For some, the college football bowl season is the culmination of a year's worth of hard work and perseverance. For elite NFL prospects, a bowl game amounts to little more than a nationally televised audition.
While coaches and scouts cannot possibly pore over every minute of regular-season tape for all prospects, every team will have guys in attendance and watching big-name players in bowl games. Just like NBA scouts and general managers put too much stock into the NCAA tournament on a yearly basis, the same phenomenon becomes apparent during bowl season.
We've already seen BYU's Kyle Van Noy score himself some guaranteed cash with a scintillating Poinsettia Bowl performance, and more guys are sure to do the same.
Who is most in need of a Van Noy-like performance? Here is a look at a few first-round prospects who need big performances to boost their draft position.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC Trojans—Sun Bowl)
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Barkley will practice with the Trojans prior to the Sun Bowl, but his status is still in doubt due to an injured shoulder. However, if he wants to solidify himself as a first-rounder, the Trojans senior should get under center one final time on Dec. 31.
Quite literally, millions of dollars are on the line for Barkley. While most expect West Virginia's Geno Smith to be the top quarterback taken in April's draft (likely as the No. 1 pick), the USC signal-caller has a potential top-10 destiny of his own.
Heading into the season, it was supposed to be Barkley in Smith's spot. Equipped with perhaps the best receiving corps in all of college football and other surrounding stars, the Trojans walked into the 2012 season ranked No. 1 with Barkley as the Heisman favorite.
The year ended with USC unranked and Barkley nowhere near anyone's Heisman balloting. If Barkley comes out and has a great performance against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, that may not matter come April.
Teams are less afraid than ever to take draft risks on quarterbacks. As we've seen in recent years with the drafting of Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Brandon Weeden, the collective bargaining agreement's new slotting system has exponentially decreased the money given to first-round quarterbacks.
Considering how badly certain teams (Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals) need a quarterback, Barkley may wind up a top-10 pick based on his resumé. Lest we forget that Barkley is still one of the most decorated quarterbacks in USC history. He holds both the school and Pac-12 records for touchdown passes, breaking former Trojans star Carson Palmer's marks.
Nevertheless, he needs to remind scouts why he still deserves a first-round distinction.
Mike Glennon (QB, NC State—Music City Bowl)
Like Barkley, Glennon heads into bowl season as a very derisive prospect. There are some out there who have the Wolfpack quarterback as a potential top-10 pick and ahead of Barkley on their prospect lists, while others have him graded as low as a third-round pick.
To put it mildly, it's not hard to see why. Though he certainly has not been surrounded with the best talent, Glennon has shown a disconcerting penchant for throwing the ball to the opposing team and lacks starter-worthy accuracy. He's completed only 57.7 percent of his passes this season and has four multi-interception games, all of which led to losses for the Wolfpack.
On the other hand, he has easily the strongest arm in his class, and certain scouts see him as a Jay Cutler type who propped up bad supporting talent. He's also 6'7" and has a frame that can withstand the rigors of NFL life.
With the aforementioned early draft quarterback boon playing in his favor, it's conceivable that one scout falls in love with Glennon enough to take him inside the first round. If he comes up with a scintillating performance against a Vanderbilt secondary that ranked tops in the SEC yardage-wise and only gave up six touchdowns all season, he'll have a ton of momentum heading into his combine and pro days.
I've taken my crazy pills this morning, so I'll stay away from projecting a top-10 selection. However, all it will take is one nice performance against an underrated secondary to swing Glennon into first-round lock status.
Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia Bulldogs—Capital One Bowl)
While his more decorated teammate Jarvis Jones has already locked himself into the first round, Ogletree walks into the Capital One Bowl needing a dominant performance to feel comfortable.
Based on sheer physical skills and production, it's hard to argue the Georgia linebacker's worthiness. Though he played in just nine games, Ogletree recorded 99 tackles and two sacks, while also being one of a select few Bulldogs defenders who showed up in the SEC Championship Game.
One problem: Ogletree played in only nine games because he was suspended for the first four due to a failed a drug test this spring. It was the second time he had been suspended in his career, the first coming after he was charged with misdemeanor theft.
Couple that with the fact he also missed the six games last season due to a broken foot, and there is an avalanche of mitigating circumstances working against Ogletree.
A memorable bowl performance can make general managers forget those red flags really quickly. And considering Ogletree will be facing a Nebraska offense that loves pounding the ball on the ground, 15 tackles and one memorable forced fumble or sack is all it will take for Ogletree to emerge, possibly into the first 15 picks.