This is the fifth in a series of in-depth articles I will be writing about the Orange Bowl. This one focuses on the NFL decisions of players on both Iowa and Georgia Tech. Check out my profile for more Orange Bowl articles and stay tuned for more to come before Jan. 5.
Over the past few decades, it has become increasingly clear that college no longer lasts four years for many student athletes. Many of the top collegiate players have begun to leave school for the NFL in search of money and to avoid career-ending injuries.
For both teams playing in the Orange Bowl, the prospect is no different. Iowa and Georgia Tech both have numerous juniors who are rumored to be considering leaving school early for the NFL, a big decision to make considering how good both teams could be if everyone stays.
Georgia Tech will likely be hurt more than the Hawkeyes if their players decide to leave early for the NFL draft. The four juniors considering the jump are running back Jonathan Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and safety Morgan Burnett.
The Yellow Jackets will be more damaged in 2010 by their departing juniors than Iowa will be because the Tech players are more playmakers and skill position players.
Plus, all have a decent likelihood of going.
The most obvious departure is Derrick Morgan. Morgan is one of the best defensive ends in the nation, and most experts see him as a top-10 pick if he leaves.
Most players will leave for the NFL if they are projected to be picked on the draft's first day (the first two rounds), and top-10 money will be hard for Morgan to pass up.
The loss of arguably the best defensive end in team history will certainly be tough for Georgia Tech heading into 2010.
An already-struggling defense loses its one start quality player, leaving that side of the ball very vulnerable next season.
If Morgan leaves—and he almost undoubtedly will—expect the Yellow Jackets' ranking to drop a few spots lower than it would have been at the start of next season.
Another big loss would be running back Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, and, in Paul Johnson's flourishing triple option offense, that total would likely increase in 2010.
But, once again, money means more to many players than an increase in college rushing yards.
He is also projected to be a first-round pick and will go no later than early second round. From projections alone, that's a pretty good indication that he'll leave and hurt the Tech offense in the process.
Since he is the focus of the triple option, Dwyer will certainly be missed by the Yellow Jackets.
Of course, quarterback Josh Nesbitt will keep the offense one of the nation's best, but Dwyer could solidify the team as the best offensive team in the country.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is another key player considering making the jump. He had over 1,000 yards receiving last season and helps add balance to the offense.
Because of his presence, opposing defenses are forced to keep their safeties back, allowing the run game to flourish even more.
Thomas is also a very big deep threat for the Yellow Jackets and has helped complete many of their big offensive plays this season.
Thomas is projected to be drafted in the middle of the second round if he decides to leave early for the NFL. Once again, this could be too good of an offer to pass up. Expect him to jump to the NFL, hurting the Tech offense as a result.
The final Tech player who is considering leaving for the NFL, safety Morgan Burnett, is the least likely to leave, but, unfortunately, is the least essential to his team.
Burnett had a down year this season in what was a down year for the entire Tech defense, especially the secondary. He could clearly benefit from another year in school to help develop his game. And since he likely won't be drafted on the first day, I don't see him making the jump.
The losses of Morgan, Dwyer, and Thomas would be big blows to the Yellow Jackets in 2010.
They have the potential to be a mid-top 10 team if everyone stays, but I don't see that happening.
If all three players leave, expect Tech to be ranked just outside of the top 10. But if Dwyer and Thomas, or one of the two, stay, expect a ranking anywhere between eighth and 10th.
Either way, Georgia Tech will be the ACC favorite in 2010 and likely will have a terrific season, but the prognosis would be much better if even two of those four players stay.
While Iowa's ranking will certainly be affected by the decisions of its two junior prospects, it won't be affected as much by the NFL draft as Georgia Tech.
Neither player, offensive tackle Brian Bulaga or cornerback Amari Spievey, is as vital to the Hawkeyes as Dwyer, Thomas, and Morgan are to Georgia Tech.
But that doesn't go to say that neither will be missed. Arguably the biggest loss would be Bulaga, simply because the offensive line loses two other starters to graduation.
Bulaga will be one of the top junior tackles available if he decides to leave early. His combination of strength and speed make him an outstanding NFL prospect, and he will likely be chosen toward the end of the first round if he leaves school, meaning he is likely to take the money and run, especially after missing part of this season due to injury.
The loss of Bulaga would be substantial for Iowa, considering it already loses two other linemen. He would definitely be a big help to the running game, but with running back Jewel Hampton returning after missing all of 2009, that unit will already receive a boost.
If he leaves school, the loss will definitely be felt in the trenches, but it wouldn't affect the team overall as much as the losses of Dwyer, Thomas, and Morgan would hurt Georgia Tech.
Spievey is trickier to figure out.
His stats aren't spectacular, but he has great hands and is a big time playmaker. I think he could benefit from another year in school, especially because he could move from being an on-the-cusp first-day pick to a first-round lock.
But, I still think he will leave. Again, money means a lot to many players, and Spievey is no exception. Look for him to be an early second-day pick and be a good NFL cornerback in the future.
While he is a very good player, the loss of Spievey would be felt even less than the loss of Bulaga.
With or without its star corner, the Hawkeye secondary will be outstanding next season, with safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood anchoring one of the best units in the Big Ten and perhaps the country.
Spievey would certainly be a good addition and help make the group even better, but his decision is not entirely essential to the team.
Like Georgia Tech, Iowa is projected to be ranked in or around the top 10 in August. It's hard to project, but I see the Hawkeyes landing anywhere between seventh and 12th.
If both players stay, I see them at seventh or eighth. If just one leaves, I see them at around ninth or 10th. And if both leave, I see them at anywhere between 10th an 12th.
Once again, Iowa will be in great position to start the season regardless of its players' NFL decisions, but if both come back, they will be in even better position to make another run at a BCS bowl or be a sleeper for a national championship.
In the relatively new era of players leaving early for the NFL, neither Iowa nor Georgia Tech is an exception to the rule. Both teams have players facing a tough decision; whether to stay in school and risk an injury, or to take the NFL money in run.
Regardless of the decision each player makes, the prognosis looks very good for both teams heading into 2010. But the outlook could be even better for Iowa and Georgia Tech if their NFL prospects decide to stay in school for their senior seasons.