On the first day of bowl games, three of the top running backs in the nation will suit up for their respective teams.
Unfortunately, only one of those running backs (San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman) would be recognized by the majority of college football fans. The other two (Temple’s Bernard Pierce and Utah State’s Robert Turbin) have been giving opposing defensive coordinators headaches all season, but are relatively unknown to everyone else.
In order to make sure some of college football’s most outstanding players don’t go unmentioned this postseason, here are five non-household names to pay attention to during the holiday season.
WR, KR, Florida International (versus Marshall in the Beef O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl on 12/20)
Hilton probably couldn’t have imagined that he would play in two bowl games before his career at Florida International had concluded. The Panthers hadn’t even played in a bowl game before 2010.
Now, Hilton has a chance to help his team win a bowl game in consecutive years.
Hilton is a game-changer in every sense of the word. He has the ability to hurt you in the kick return game, the passing game, and the running game. He is a speedster with lots of ability and could be making big plays on Sundays next year.
QB, Southern Mississippi (versus Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on 12/24)
Davis did get his chance to shine on a national stage when he led the Golden Eagles to a victory over then-No. 6 ranked Houston, but the senior quarterback is still relatively unknown to a lot of fans.
Southern Mississippi is pretty balanced offensively, but Davis will have to play well for the Golden Eagles to win the Hawaii Bowl, which is historically a game in which quarterbacks play the central role for winning teams.
A leader for this Southern Miss team, Davis should not have any trouble with the pressure to perform. He can distribute the ball very well and could light up the scoreboard on Christmas Eve.
WR, Western Michigan (versus Purdue in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl on 12/27)
White leads the nation in receptions, total yards, yards per game (among players with more than one start), and is second in touchdown receptions. Yet very few people know who he is.
This is the first time that many fans will get to see White since Western Michigan played Michigan at the beginning of the season. Those fans will be in for a treat.
For good reason, Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder’s favorite target is White. There should be no shortage of Carder-to-White hook-ups during the Little Caesar’s Bowl, and a big performance by those two could result in the Broncos upsetting Purdue.
It should also result in more people getting to know possibly the most underrated wide receiver in college football.
S, Georgia (versus Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on 1/2)
A big reason for Georgia’s 10-3 season is the Bulldogs defense, which has stifled opponents this season (disregarding LSU, which has yet to be stopped by anyone but Alabama).
One of the leaders on that defense is Bacarri Rambo, a leader in what has been an extremely strong secondary for Georgia.
LSU's Tyrann Mathieu may be getting a lot of the attention as far as defensive studs in the SEC are concerned, but Rambo actually leads the SEC in interceptions.
Rambo will likely be a key factor in the Outback Bowl if the Bulldogs expect to slow down Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State offense. Of course, you’ll have to listen closely in order to hear Rambo’s name, because defensive players—and especially cornerbacks—rarely get more than a mention on plays.
RB, Vanderbilt (versus Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on 12/31)
One of the nicer stories of the 2011 college football season has been Vanderbilt, the usual SEC cellar dwellers that have managed to scrap together six wins and qualify for a bowl game.
This would not have been possible without a strong rushing attack, which has been headed by Zac Stacy. Stacy was not even slated to be the starter at the beginning of the season, but thanks to an injury he now holds the Vanderbilt single-season rushing record.
It will not be easy for Stacy in the Liberty Bowl against Cincinnati, which is pretty solid defensively against the run. However, if Vanderbilt wants to have a strong performance for what will essentially be a home game and crowd, Stacy is going to need to have a big game.
If Vanderbilt wins, expect Stacy to be on the highlight reel the next morning.