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2014 NFL Draft: 7 Bowls You Can't Afford to Miss

Ryan McCrystalFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: 7 Bowls You Can't Afford to Miss

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    It's the most wonderful time of the year!

    Bowl season is upon us and, as always, there will be plenty of NFL draft prospects on display. 

    The following is a list of seven bowls that every draft fan simply can't miss, featuring prospects with a lot to prove, others needing to bounce back from a rough season, and some under-the-radar prospects you may not have seen yet.

Belk Bowl

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    Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

    Who: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina

    When: Dec. 28, 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN

    This isn't exactly a sexy matchup, but the Belk Bowl will showcase the top tight end in this year's draft class, North Carolina's Eric Ebron. 

    Cincinnati's defense is a favorable matchup for Ebron, which means he'll have an opportunity to close out his college career with a exclamation point. 

    If you haven't seen Ebron yet, this is your chance to scout the next elite tight end prospect. 

    Ebron has the size and speed to develop into a poor man's Jimmy Graham and could sneak into the first round of the 2014 draft. 

Russell Athletic Bowl

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Who: Miami (Fla.) vs. Louisville

    When: Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Here's your final chance to check out the future No. 1 pick of the 2014 NFL draft. 

    Teddy Bridgewater didn't exactly set the world on fire this year, but he remains the heavy favorite to hear his name called first in May's draft. 

    It's safe to assume that most scouts have already formulated their opinions on Bridgewater, so viewing this game is more about entertainment and media perception than anything. But that's hardly irrelevant. 

    A subpar showing by Bridgewater would shape the dialogue about him in the months leading up to the draft and—fair or not—influence the reaction he receives from fans as their new franchise quarterback for the 2014 season.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Who: Arizona vs. Boston College

    When: Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

    In an era of fast-paced passing offenses, this game will be decided on the ground. 

    Two of the top running back prospects in the nation will square off with Ka'Deem Carey leading Arizona against Andre Williams and Boston College.

    Neither defense provides the running backs with an elite test, but it will be an opportunity for scouts to evaluate two of the top runners on the same field.  

    Carey is the more highly touted prospect, with an outside shot at hearing his name called in the first round. He's been a known commodity for a while, so his stock shouldn't fluctuate too much with this one game. 

    Williams, on the other hand, emerged from nowhere this season and is now in contention to be a top-100 selection. Closing out his breakout year with a strong performance would give him momentum heading into the draft process. 

Capital One Bowl

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Who: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin

    When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC

    It's been a miserable campaign for Jadeveon Clowney, who failed to live up to lofty expectations and managed just three sacks during the regular season. 

    Wisconsin's offensive line doesn't boast any elite prospects, but it's strong as a unit and will provide yet another tough test for Clowney.

    It should also be fun to watch Clowney attempt to slow down the Badgers' fierce rushing attack. How the Badgers attack the Gamecocks defensive line will be telling as to how much respect opposing teams have for Clowney's ability against the run. 

Fiesta Bowl

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Who: Central Florida vs. Baylor

    When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

    If your favorite NFL team needs a quarterback, you'll want to tune in to this one. 

    The Fiesta Bowl doesn't provide us a great matchup of teams, but it may be our last chance to watch the highly touted Blake Bortles. 

    This isn't the ideal matchup for Bortles due to the fact that Baylor's defense doesn't provide the staunch test scouts would like to see thrown at him, but the Bears are still a step up in competition from what he's faced for the majority of the season. 

    UCF will likely be trailing heavily favored Baylor for the majority of the game, which means we should see Bortles' arm on display early and often.

Orange Bowl

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Who: Ohio State vs Clemson

    When: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

    It should come as no surprise that plenty of future NFL talent will be on display when Clemson and Ohio State take the field. 

    The most intriguing matchup will take place between Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. Both entered the year with top-10 aspirations, but their stocks have gone in opposite directions since the season began.

    Roby's stock has been in free-fall, and the matchup with Watkins will provide him one last opportunity to gain some momentum heading into the draft process. 

    When Ohio State has the ball, pay attention to the battle in the trenches between Buckeyes left tackle Jack Mewhort and the Clemson defensive line. 

    Vic Beasley will be one of the most active, relentless pass-rushers Mewhort has faced, and this game could have significant implications for both prospects' draft stock.

BCS National Championship Game

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Who: Florida State vs. Auburn

    When: Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

    There is no shortage of NFL talent in this matchup, but the balance is certainly tilted in Florida State's favor. 

    The focus of scouts in this game will be on the Florida State defense, to see how it handles Auburn's athletic rushing attack. 

    This could be a great opportunity for Seminoles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to showcase his rare athleticism from the interior defensive line. 

    On the Auburn side of the ball, left tackle Greg Robinson will have his work cut out for him. Florida State brings pressure from a variety of looks and will likely try to keep Robinson as uncomfortable as possible with delayed blitzes and men coming at him from various angles. 

    A strong performance from Robinson could catapult him into a spot in the top 10.

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