College football's wild bowl season serves a dual purpose.
Outside of helping to crown collegiate champions, the 35 games played over a span of 17 days starting on Dec. 21 also serve as the final barometer for NFL draft prospects to prove themselves in significant game action.
Several major names need the spotlight to boost their stock. Whether it is a lesser-known player attempting to break into the hive mind of draft analysts and NFL teams, or well-known players in need of one last exclamation point on their collegiate careers, the bowl season does not lack for opportunity.
Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (Fiesta Bowl)
UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles falls under the "lesser-known" description.
Bortles has led the No. 15 UCF Knights to an 11-1 record this year behind 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions—the second consecutive year he has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns with fewer than 10 interceptions.
But Bortles is finding it difficult to break through in a draft class that will likely be headlined by Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, among others. He ranks as CBS Sports' fourth-best quarterback prospect with a grade between the first and second rounds.
I think at some point we need to put it to rest and focus for the bowl game, get ready. And obviously, at some point shortly find out and see where [Bortles is] evaluated and make an intelligent decision. I think Blake likes college, I think he loves it here and don't know if he's ready yet just from a maturity standpoint whether he wants to take that next step.
It is impossible to knock Bortles for wanting to stay another year. But if he wants to declare this year and make the jump, he is going to need a massive day in a game sure to be a shootout with No. 6 Baylor, owner of college football's No. 1 scoring offense.
The difference between a good and poor showing will mean a difference between first-round money and a starting opportunity, and a plummet and a wait-and-see approach as Bortles sits on the bench at the next level.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State (Discover Orange Bowl)
For one reason or another, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde simply cannot convince draft gurus that he is a top name in the upcoming class.
At 6'0" and 235 pounds, the senior has been effective in 2013 with 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns—despite missing the first three games of the season.
The NFL has greatly devalued the position, but even those physical traits and numbers have not helped Hyde to supplant names such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Auburn's Tre Mason and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk—to name a few.
Hyde ranks as CBS sports' sixth-best prospect at the position and as a second- or third-round pick. Rob Rang recently released a big board with more than 45 names, and Hyde's was nowhere to be found.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller sees Hyde as a second-round player, too:
Carlos Hyde’s massive improvement, plus the success of his twin Eddie Lacy, will help him a lot on draft day. Rd2 guy for me.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 10, 2013
Hyde can help to elevate his stock and not get lost in the shuffle of great prospects set to enter next year's draft via a major performance against the No.12 Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson touts a top-20 scoring defense, so a big day will help Hyde stand out and further his chances at a first-round selection that is becoming increasingly rare for the position.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Discover Orange Bowl)
Let's go ahead and flip to the defensive side of things for the Buckeyes, a team that has several names in need of a major boost after a humbling loss in the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State.
Cornerback is another stacked position going into the 2014 draft, and while Roby is one of the most recognizable names, he has slowly dropped from a surefire first-rounder to the second round over the course of the season.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke put it best back in October:
Blame it on a rocky offseason that resulted in Roby being suspended for Ohio State’s opener, but the potential top-10 pick has seemed a little out of sorts so far in 2013. Abbrederis highlighted that for the viewing public Saturday night, torching Roby for more than 200 yards. That’s despite Roby attempting to play what some might call an overly physical game — ABC pointed out multiple plays in which Roby could have been flagged for holding or interference.
Prospect most in need of a big bowl performance?
Not much has changed since then, as fans can discern from Rang's big board, where four corners were taken in the first round. Roby missed out on the party.
Roby can help to turn his fleeting stock back around with a big day against Clemson, where he will be tasked with helping to shut down wide receiver Sammy Watkins—a consensus top pick who has done little to hurt his stock this year thanks to 1,237 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
If Roby can shut down Watkins, or at least keep him in check, it will go a long way toward repairing Roby's first-round stock, which is currently on life support.