The premier game of the bowl season kickoff is the matchup between the Fresno State Bulldogs and the USC Trojans in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Not only will plenty of college football fans be tuning in to the most exciting game of the day, but boatloads of NFL scouts will be keenly focused on the game due to the number of NFL draft prospects that will take the field.
Saturday's @LasVegasBowl between USC and Fresno State was just announced as a sell out.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) December 18, 2013
The battle between Fresno State’s offense and USC’s defense will be reason enough to watch this game, but the following players that are sure to go early in the 2014 NFL draft make this a must-watch affair.
Derek Carr (QB), Fresno State
Derek Carr has been shooting up draft boards all season as the leader of the nation’s most devastating passing attack.
His continued excellence, along with some of the draft’s other top quarterback prospects staying in school (e.g. Marcus Mariota and Bryce Petty), have pushed him up draft boards to the point where some are even labeling him as the No. 1 quarterback.
|Yards||TDs||INTs||Yards per Attempt||Completion Percentage||Passer Rating|
Carr’s numbers are certainly fitting of the draft’s best quarterback, but are they the product of playing in the Mountain West Conference?
The senior signal-caller will be trying to disprove those claims as he takes on the best defense he’s faced all year after a less-than-stellar showing in the MWC championship game.
To be clear, Carr’s candidacy as one of the best quarterbacks in the 2014 draft goes beyond his gaudy numbers.
In his latest mock draft, B/R’s draft guru Matt Miller has the Bulldogs gunslinger going off the board as the second quarterback taken (No. 5 overall) and feels that “no player in college football comes with a better mix of strength, velocity and all-field accuracy than Carr.”
Carr has already established himself as an elite quarterback prospect, so he’s a lock to go in the first round regardless of his performance against the Trojans. He does have a lot to gain, however.
A great performance that demonstrates his arm strength and accuracy could convince scouts that he’s the fairest quarterback in all the land.
Draft Projection: Top-15 pick
Marqise Lee (WR), USC
To say the 2013 season has been disappointing for Marqise Lee would be a massive understatement.
Coming into the season, he was supposed to dominate his competition, establish himself as the best receiver in USC history and be a Heisman finalist a year after finishing fourth in the voting for the award.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out the way everybody envisioned it.
Amid inconsistent quarterback play, questionable play-calling, nagging injuries and a midseason head coaching change, Lee’s numbers never got on track with his previous production.
Despite the underwhelming production, the talent is evident, and Lee is still one of the best wide receiver prospects in the country:
According to Rich Hammond of The OC Register, the star receiver will make his decision whether or not to enter the 2014 draft after this bowl game:
Marqise Lee said he would wait until after USC’s bowl game to discuss the NFL with his mom.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) December 1, 2013
Like Carr, there is plenty of respect from NFL front offices regarding the talent and character of Marqise Lee, so the Las Vegas Bowl won’t be a make-or-break game for him.
Nevertheless, an impressive performance against a shaky Bulldogs secondary could start generating momentum for the Trojans receiver to overtake Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans as the No. 1 WR on draft boards.
Draft Projection: First Round
Davante Adams (WR), Fresno State
Someone had to be on the other end of Derek Carr’s passes, and nobody has benefited more from the gunslinger’s arm than Davante Adams.
The redshirt sophomore has compiled the type of numbers that many expected from Marqise Lee this season, but his draft status is still unclear, which means that the Las Vegas Bowl will be a tremendously important game for Adams.
Given that he’s just a sophomore, Adams has a tough decision to make:
Fresno State's Davante Adams weighs whether to ride momentum and go pro after big year (122 rec, 1,645 yds, 23 TD). http://t.co/WIu5R4UHuU— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) December 17, 2013
He could stay in school and try to hone his craft, but he wouldn’t be as productive without Derek Carr throwing him the ball, and that could cause him to fall down draft boards.
Or Adams could head to the NFL with his quarterback, riding the momentum of his incredible 2013 campaign.
How he performs against USC will be a big factor in his decision.
With an impressive performance against a very talented secondary, Adams could create some separation from the second tier of wide receiver prospects (players like Jarvis Landry [LSU], Allen Robinson [Penn State], Kelvin Benjamin [FSU] and Odell Beckham [LSU]).
According to Robert Kuwada of The Fresno Bee, Adams has sought an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and a good outing in the Las Vegas Bowl would be a huge boost for his draft stock.
Draft Projection: Rounds 1-2
Devon Kennard (OLB), USC
Devon Kennard has bounced back nicely from a torn pectoral muscle suffered last season, and he was a leader for the Trojans defense. He’s a tremendous athlete with the type of versatility that teams covet.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated reports that Kennard has played at defensive end, middle linebacker and most recently outside linebacker for the USC defense, and he’s really come into his own as a pass-rusher off the edge.
Kennard leads the Trojans with nine sacks this year, and he would help his draft potential if he’s able to generate pressure on Carr and disrupt the vaunted Bulldogs passing offense.
Draft Projection: Rounds 2-4
Hayes Pullard (MLB), USC
Hayes Pullard, like Devon Kennard, has been a leader and the anchor of the USC defense.
He’s another athletic linebacker who is very disciplined and plays his responsibilities well. Pullard is a stout run defender with an impressive ability to shed blocks and make tackles.
What really separates Pullard as a linebacker prospect, however, is his exceptional coverage skills. Those skills will be on display against Fresno State, so he could solidify his status as a three-down linebacker in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
The aforementioned players are just the top prospects in the game, but there are other players with NFL aspirations like Dion Bailey, Derron Smith and Leonard Robinson (who will be a first-rounder in 2015) to watch also.
With so much talent on display, the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl matchup between Fresno State and USC is one you don’t want to miss.