Highlighting Biggest Bowl Matchups for 2014 NFL Draft Prospects
Bowl season is less than a week away, with four games kicking off on December 21. This will be the final game for many players to showcase their talents before they go through the NFL draft process.
There's a lot of talent in these bowl games, but a few stand above the rest, and I've tried to highlight them here.
There were two major bowls I omitted from the list, the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, because I think both will be blowouts for Alabama and Baylor, respectively, and the prospects are mostly one-sided and don't have as much to gain either.
But these five bowl games will pit together evenly matched teams with prospects who are eager to elevate their draft stock.
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri
When Oklahoma State has the ball: WR Tracy Moore is a former high school basketball standout who should be considered in the fourth- to sixth-round range.
Mizzou has a heck of a lot of defensive talent to keep an eye on. Defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are both outstanding football players, although the younger Ealy has more upside.
CB E.J. Gaines also deserves some more credit for Mizzou's turnaround, and the battle between him and Moore should be a good one. Don't overlook linebacker Andrew Wilson either.
When Mizzou has the ball: LT Justin Britt is a really underrated prospect and could climb into the second-round range depending on who ends up declaring.
WR L'Damian Washington is 6'4" and has pretty good hands. But sophomore standout Dorial Green-Beckham is the big talent in this game and will be one of the top prospects in the 2015 draft.
Oklahoma State has two really impressive defensive players in CB Justin Gilbert and DT Calvin Burnett. Gilbert is incredibly athletic, and his great season has pushed him into the first-round discussion.
Burnett is also very productive, albeit unheralded, but looks like an early Day 2 pick at this stage and could elevate his stock on this big stage.
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. Southern California
When Fresno State has the ball: This will be the biggest game of QB Derek Carr's career thus far. He hasn't played the best competition, so if he's successful on a big stage against a good defense that will really help cement his high draft stock.
Davante Adams is also one of the more talented receivers in the nation, although he has remained under the radar. A big game could elevate his draft stock and cause the redshirt sophomore to jump to the NFL. Marcel Jensen, an athletic tight end, should be on the radar as well.
The Trojans have a talented pass-rusher in Morgan Breslin, who usually plays standing up as an outside linebacker and is a mid-round prospect.
George Uko, a big defensive lineman who can rush the passer from both the end and tackle position, will be a lot for Fresno State's offensive line to handle. Dion Bailey, a solid safety, is the other prospect worth watching for USC.
When USC has the ball: Marqise Lee is obviously the biggest name in this matchup, and he'll have the chance to finish a disappointing season on a strong note against a weak Fresno State defense.
Lee had a down year, with a few bad games and some injury problems, but he's still one of the most dangerous playmakers in the nation. Silas Redd isn't a great prospect but could latch on somewhere in the NFL as a late-rounder. There's nobody on Fresno State's defense to note.
Orange Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
When Ohio State has the ball: While QB Braxton Miller has seen his draft stock slide, Carlos Hyde has emerged as a legitimate top running back in the class.
Jack Mewhort is a guy who people haven't been talking about enough. The left tackle is massive and has shown some promise this season. The senior could end up being a second-round pick. Watching him go against Clemson's top defensive prospect will be great.
Clemson's only serious defensive prospect is Vic Beasley, who plays at defensive end and is scary quick off the line. He's only 225 pounds, however, which would keep him at OLB in the NFL. The junior could return to school and try to bulk up a bit, but he's still fun to watch.
When Clemson has the ball: After seeing Ohio State's defense get gashed by an underwhelming Michigan State offense, I think there's a good chance Clemson hangs 50 points on it.
It does have some talent, as Ryan Shazier is a phenomenal outside linebacker who is the best pure 4-3 weak-side linebacker prospect in the nation.
Its secondary is decent, with the frustrating but talented Bradley Roby at corner, and the less frustrating but also less talented C.J. Barnett at safety.
But WR Sammy Watkins will try to put on a show in what is likely his last game as a Clemson Tiger. The speedster is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and he can beat you in so many ways.
It'll also be interesting to see how QB Tajh Boyd plays. He's been forgotten as other prospects have made waves over the past couple months, but he's still talented and has mid-round potential.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford
When Michigan State has the ball: Stanford may have all the big names on defense, but don't overlook Michigan State QB Connor Cook. The redshirt sophomore is unlikely to declare but has been really impressive and could enter next season as a top prospect.
But the real interest here is in Stanford's defensive talent. Trent Murphy is an outstanding pass-rusher who will be scrutinized for his lack of elite burst and true position. He'll likely be a 3-4 OLB in the NFL.
Stanford also has Shayne Skov, who has had a remarkable bounce-back season after looking slow in 2012 following three knee surgeries in 2011. Ed Reynolds is also an understated player who has been a good safety and could sneak up draft boards.
When Stanford has the ball: RB Tyler Gaffney and WR Ty Montgomery are both talented but likely won't be taken higher than the fourth round. Montgomery could be an excellent return man in the NFL.
QB Kevin Hogan also has some talent but is only a redshirt sophomore and most likely will not declare. David Yankey, who has played at both tackle and guard but projects as a guard in the NFL, is Stanford's best prospect and should be a first-round selection. But also look out for true sophomore tackle Andrus Peat, who will be a hot name next season.
Michigan State has the nation's most talented defense, and therefore lots of players to watch. Darqueze Dennard is in the discussion as the best cornerback prospect because of his athleticism and aggressiveness.
Shilique Calhoun has generated some buzz as a redshirt sophomore, and the defensive end has improved a lot and will be fun to watch. But don't sleep on ILB Max Bullough, who is the leader of that defense and could be a third- or fourth-round option for NFL teams that play a 4-3.
BCS National Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn
When Florida State has the ball: Most eyes will be on Jameis Winston, but those interested in the draft will be watching Florida State's skill players, including all three of its running backs. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman are talented, but converted safety Karlos Williams has the most upside.
Receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Rashad Greene are both good prospects, although Benjamin's 6'5" frame and explosiveness make him especially intriguing. TE Nick O'Leary will make a push to be the fourth tight end taken.
OT Cameron Erving is a really interesting prospect who played as a defensive tackle in 2011 before switching to the offensive side and is now one of the better blindside protectors in the nation.
For Auburn, Dee Ford isn't the biggest defensive end, but he has some quickness and should give Florida State's offensive line issues. CB Chris Davis has also become a hot name since his big return against Alabama.
When Auburn has the ball: Tre Mason is shooting up boards after shredding Missouri's defense, but Greg Robinson is the best prospect in this entire game. The big left tackle has a ton of upside but is only a redshirt sophomore.
Florida State has a bunch of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Timmy Jernigan is an athletic defensive tackle who sets everything up for the Seminoles' two talented linebackers.
Christian Jones gets a little more attention, but Telvin Smith is also a heck of a player. Both have the versatility to play different positions in the NFL, so scouts will certainly be watching.
Also make sure to pay attention to LaMarcus Joyner, who has played both safety and cornerback and should play mostly corner against Auburn. Terrence Brooks is another good safety who will be on teams' radars.