10 Star Players Who Should Skip Out on Their Team's Bowl Game
On Sunday afternoon, the College Football Playoff committee unveiled its fourth field of four teams who'll battle for the national championship. While that's great for those teams and their fans, 74 other teams will be playing for considerably smaller stakes in 37 non-playoff bowl games.
College players are starting to protect their futures by skipping those games, as LSU's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey did last year. That didn't deter the Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers, respectively, from spending top-10 picks on them in the 2017 NFL draft, so more players may follow their lead in the coming weeks.
Texas junior safety DeShon Elliott and junior offensive tackle Connor Williams have both declared for the draft and announced that they'll skip the Longhorns' bowl game against Missouri, according to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesmen. For various reasons, the following 10 players should likewise sit out of their respective teams' bowl games.
FSU S Derwin James
Derwin James is one of the nation's most talented players on either side of the ball.
After playing just two games last year due to a meniscus tear in his left knee, the Florida State safety proved he was fully healthy this fall. He racked up 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups during his redshirt sophomore season.
The dynamic, versatile James is one of the hardest hitters in college football. He can play safety, linebacker or even rush passers as a defensive end. He'll be highly coveted in the NFL draft and is a likely first-round pick.
However, Florida State's season hasn't gone as planned. The Seminoles went from the No. 3-ranked team in the preseason to rescheduling a Hurricane Irma-postponed game vs. Louisiana-Monroe just to get to 6-6 and continue a bowl streak that began in 1982. Making matters worse, head coach Jimbo Fisher abandoned ship, taking Texas A&M's offer to become its next head coach. Florida State is now headed for the Independence Bowl with interim head coach Odell Haggins.
It doesn't make sense for James to take the risk in such a minimally important game, and he was noncommital on whether he would do so, per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson. FSU should thank him and wish him well on Sundays next fall.
LSU RB Derrius Guice
A year ago, Derrius Guice took advantage of Leonard Fournette's ongoing leg injuries to break out as a star in the SEC. The LSU tailback didn't begin the season as a starter, but he racked up 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, putting himself on the radar as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Comparatively, 2017 has been more of a struggle for Guice. With Fournette having left to go to the NFL, Guice is now the main man in LSU's backfield. He has 1,153 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but his yards per carry are down from 7.6 to 5.3, and he has battled through nagging injuries that forced him to miss a game and have limited him in practice and in games.
LSU won't be in the College Football Playoff, and Guice is a potential first-round draft pick. With an already beat-up body, why would he subject himself to another round of punishment in an ultimately meaningless Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame? Guice would be smart to follow Fournette's path and start getting ready for the NFL draft.
LSU DE Arden Key
When healthy, Arden Key has shown scouts and fans why he will be one of the most coveted pass-rushers in next spring's NFL draft.
As a sophomore, the LSU defensive end/linebacker had 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 12.0 sacks. But as a junior, he has battled through multiple issues. He spent time away from the Tigers in the spring and summer while he was dealing with undisclosed personal issues and recovering from shoulder surgery.
This fall, the 6'6", 265-pound prospect missed four games with injuries, including a knee injury that sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season. He also played with a bent pinky finger, which he had surgery on last week.
NFL scouts know what Key can do. Is it necessary for him to play in the Tigers' bowl game against Notre Dame to prove anything more? Considering his injury issues this season, it wouldn't be the best move for his future.
NC State DE Bradley Chubb
NC State was improved this season under Dave Doeren, finishing 8-4 and winding up second in the ACC Atlantic, ahead of Louisville and Florida State and behind No. 1-ranked Clemson (no shame in that). The Wolfpack were a talented bunch, and having senior defensive end Bradley Chubb on the line sure helped.
Chubb had an amazing senior season, racking up 73 tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks. He has emerged as one of the nation's best linemen and perhaps the top defensive line prospect in this year's draft class.
He already took a risk by returning for his final season, and he didn't miss any time after suffering a dislocated finger against Boston College. However, that injury may make him think twice about playing the Sun Bowl against Arizona State. Rather than suit up in a meaningless game, Chubb should sit out to protect his draft status and his future.
Ohio State DB Denzel Ward
Ohio State knocked Wisconsin from the ranks of the unbeaten and won the Big Ten title Saturday night, but Alabama edged out the Buckeyes for the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff. Rather than have a chance to compete for a national championship, Ohio State instead will face off with USC in the Cotton Bowl, which could be an intriguing matchup against quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Buckeyes have a strong secondary, but how they fare against Darnold could come down to Denzel Ward. The cornerback has been a contributor since the second game of his freshman season, and he's a leader for the defense.
This fall, the junior had 37 tackles with two tackles for loss and two interceptions. He is the kind of cornerback that opposing quarterbacks throw away from. With nothing tangible to play for, Ward's next assignment should be facing off against an NFL quarterback. He'll eventually see Darnold in the pros anyway.
Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
Mason Rudolph wasn't a high-profile recruit coming out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, but he has turned into an excellent pickup for Oklahoma State. He had a tremendous senior season with the Cowboys, throwing for 4,553 yards with 35 touchdowns against nine interceptions while completing 65.0 percent of his passes. He'll likely go down as the best quarterback in OSU history after consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons.
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, Rudolph has a prototypical NFL frame and the resume to back it up. He'll receive attention as a potential first-round pick. However, Oklahoma State didn't meet expectations this season, losing a trio of Big 12 games to finish 9-3 and out of the Big 12 title game.
The Cowboys will face off with Virginia Tech in Orlando's Camping World Bowl, which would be a smart time for head coach Mike Gundy to see what he has in backup quarterbacks Taylor Cornelius and Keondre Wudtee. Gundy should wish Rudolph well in the NFL and get a head start on 2018's offense against the Hokies. It's the right thing to do.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Penn State and Saquon Barkley have something in common: Both had a good 2017 season that ultimately fell short of their goals.
A year after winning the Big Ten title, the Nittany Lions had the College Football Playoff on their radar. But after blowing a big second-half lead at Ohio State, Penn State wound up 10-2 and didn't even win the Big Ten East.
Barkley can relate. A strong Heisman Trophy candidate entering the season, he looked like the favorite after carrying 28 times for 211 yards and a touchdown and catching 12 passes for 94 yards in a last-second win at Iowa. But he had just two 100-yard rushing efforts in his final eight games, and he surpassed 100 combined rushing and receiving yards only one other time in that span.
Barkley is still an electric talent who'll make an NFL team ecstatic in the first round. However, running backs have a limited NFL lifespan. Barkley should save the mileage on his tires for a team that will pay him, not Penn State head coach James Franklin in the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
Texas LB Malik Jefferson
Tom Herman's first season at Texas was something of a mixed bag. The Longhorns will return to a bowl game after missing out in Charlie Strong's final two seasons with 5-7 records. However, they barely scraped in with a 6-6 record, ending the season with a 27-23 loss to Texas Tech.
One can't say that Strong left the cupboard particularly bare for Herman, though.
Take a look at junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, who had an amazing season under Herman's watch. He had 110 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and four sacks, and he was named the Big 12's Co-Defensive Player of the Year. If he declares for the NFL draft, he'll likely be a first-round selection.
Two of his teammates, junior safety DeShon Elliott and junior offensive tackle Connor Williams, have both declared for the draft. Both have already said they'll skip Texas' bowl game in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, too. Jefferson would be wise to follow their lead, although it would be unfortunate for Texas fans.
UCLA QB Josh Rosen
Josh Rosen's UCLA career will be defined by what could have been.
Rosen is a talented, smart quarterback with an excellent arm, but the Bruins never could surround him with enough talent to make a real difference in the Pac-12 South standings. After UCLA dropped to 5-6 in late November, school officials fired head coach Jim Mora Jr. The Bruins beat Cal to qualify for a bowl game, but with Rosen projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, his time in Westwood should be over.
Rosen threw for 3,717 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season, but he battled injuries a year after shoulder surgery prematurely ended his sophomore season. He missed the Utah game with a concussion he suffered against Washington, and he also left the Cal game at halftime after being sacked three times in the first half.
For someone with such a bright future, playing for an interim coach in a less-than-meaningful bowl game doesn't seem optimal. Rosen should say thanks but no thanks and instead focus on the NFL draft.
Wyoming QB Josh Allen
2017 didn't unfold the way Josh Allen had hoped.
The Wyoming quarterback entered the season as one of the most discussed draft prospects and was even mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick. However, Allen threw for only 1,658 yards with 13 touchdowns against six interceptions, well below his 2016 stats (3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions). His yards per attempt dipped also from 8.6 to 6.6.
He also performed poorly on big stages, throwing for 174 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss at Iowa and completing just nine of 24 passes for 64 yards and an interception in a 49-13 loss at Oregon. Allen also missed the final two games of the regular season with a shoulder injury, and Wyoming dipped to 7-5 one season after making the Mountain West title game.
Regardless, Allen is still a likely first-round draft pick if he declares for the NFL draft, as he has an NFL-ready body (6'5", 240 pounds) and a strong arm. It would be smart for him to protect his future and invest in himself by sitting out the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, allowing the Cowboys to get a look at their future.