We can publish all the mock drafts we want, but it doesn't change the fact that most college football players' draft statuses are still changeable. Subsequently, the bowl games are very important as they are the last opportunities for these players to make an impression on NFL scouts.
So which guys will seize their opportunity and boost their draft stock in their season finale? Here are the 10 players that are primed for huge bowl performances and subsequently higher spots in the 2012 NFL Draft.
With Ryan Williams and Darren Evans out of the way, Virginia Tech Hokies running back David Wilson has blossomed this season. Wilson is third in the nation with 1,627 rushing yards. He has nine rushing and one receiving touchdown on the season.
Wilson started the year with almost no NFL attention, but in recent weeks has been described by many as a possible first-round draft pick. However, he struggled in the Hokies' last game against the Clemson Tigers. A big game in the Sugar Bowl could help solidify his standing with NFL scouts.
Michigan is ranked 18th in the country in total defense, but their run defense is their weakness. Wilson will be able to exploit the Wolverines, especially with the help of the 6'6'' Logan Thomas in the read-option.
Justin Blackmon will be a first-round draft pick, I don't think there's any doubt about that. Blackmon has been almost unstoppable with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. He has 1,336 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, and both of those are reductions from his production last season.
However, there are concerns about his speed, which for an NFL wide receiver is just so-so. A huge performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal could be the difference between him being picked 15th or in the top 10.
The Stanford defense only ranks 78th in the country in passing yards allowed. Blackmon and the Cowboys will be able to attack the Cardinal through the air early and often.
LaMichael James has elite speed and quickness, but there have been questions about his vision, patience, and durability as a smaller running back (5'9'', 185).
However, you can't argue with results. Despite working in a crowded Oregon Ducks backfield with Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, James has been prolific throughout his entire career. In just three seasons, he has 4,923 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns.
Facing a Wisconsin Badgers defense that only ranks 46th in the country in rushing yards allowed, James is poised for a big night in the 2012 Rose Bowl Game. Right now he is considered by some to be a third-round draft pick, but a huge game in Pasadena will move him up to the second round.
After the way they were embarrassed by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Capital One Bowl last year, I think the Michigan State Spartans will come out fired up when they take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl on January 2nd.
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins has had a very successful career with the Spartans. He's thrown for 8,831 yards and 65 touchdowns in three years as the starter in East Lansing. He will be fired up for his last collegiate game, and take the Georgia Bulldogs eighth ranked passing defense by surprise.
A solid game against a very tough defense will help Kirk Cousins move up from his current status as a third or fourth-round draft pick.
With all the attention that Kellen Moore (deservedly) gets, most people forget that the Boise State Broncos have a very talented tailback in that backfield as well. This season, Doug Martin has rushed for 1,148 yards and 15 touchdowns despite playing in a pass-happy offense.
While I do think Moore will have a huge game against the porous Arizona State Sun Devils defense (which ranks 88th in yards allowed) in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, the player who will help his draft stock most on December 22nd is Martin. Martin will run for over 100 yards and collect a few touchdowns, which will help get him some attention from NFL scouts who may not have noticed him yet this season.
Like Justin Blackmon, LSU Tigers cornerback Morris Claiborne is almost certainly a first-round draft pick. And like Blackmon, Claiborne has an opportunity in his bowl game to showcase his talent to a wide audience.
With Tyrann Mathieu playing opposite him, opposing offenses have been unable to avoid Claiborne this season. Subsequently, the six-foot-tall junior has six interceptions in 2011.
The first time around, Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron had some success against the Tigers, completing 16-of-28 passes for 199 yards. But the LSU defense has gotten better and better each week. They will be even more stifling this time around. Claiborne will have a huge interception in this game, and move up to a top-three draft pick come April.
Dwayne Allen has had a monster year for the Clemson Tigers this season, hauling in 48 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns. He is considered (by most) the top tight end prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Allen really came on the last few weeks of the season. He caught three touchdowns in the Tigers last two games of the season, against the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks and the No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game.
He won't be facing nearly as good a defense when the Tigers take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sugar Bowl. The Mountaineers pass defense ranks 31st in the country, and they're only that high because they play in the Big East. Jarrett Lee and the LSU Tigers exploited West Virginia through the air all night when they faced off in September.
At 6'4'' and 255 pounds, Allen has the frame of an NFL tight end. He also has good speed and great hands. He will catch at least one touchdown against West Virginia, and subsequently move up to a top 20 draft pick.
In a defense that is replete with first-round draft potential like Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Mark Barron, solid NFL prospects like free safety Robert Lester can get lost in the shuffle.
Even projected second-round talent in the Alabama Crimson Tide defense like Dont'a Hightower and Josh Chapman seem to get more attention than Lester. This is a mistake. Lester led the SEC last season with eight interceptions. He has great ball skills and is a solid tackler.
Despite all the talent around him, Lester will be the one to come up with a huge turnover off the mistake-prone Jordan Jefferson in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, which will help him move up to an early second-round draft pick in 2012.
Alshon Jeffery is arguably the most talented wide receiver eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft. But he has had a very disappointing season. Jeffery only has 45 catches for 614 yards this season, after posting 88 receptions for 1,517 yards in 2010. He is considered a late first-round/early second-round draft pick by most scouts.
However, he has a huge opportunity to augment his draft stock in the Capital One Bowl. Jeffery and the South Carolina Gamecocks will be facing the vaunted Nebraska Cornhuskers defense. Throughout his career, Jeffery has been best in big games, catching two touchdowns against the Auburn Tigers last season and accumulating 130 receiving yards in the Gamecocks bowl game last December.
Jeffery is poised for a breakout performance, and it will come January 2nd. He will have his best game of the season and solidify his status as a sure first-rounder.
With his well-publicized suspension at the beginning of this season, Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver DeVier Posey missed a lot of opportunities to make an impression on NFL scouts this season. He's now considered a third or fourth-round draft prospect.
As such, I think he will seize his opportunity in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl against the Florida Gators. Posey's talent is undeniable, as he caught 15 touchdowns in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.
Posey finally got back into the swing of things in the season finale against the Michigan Wolverines, catching three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He will have another big game against Florida as he tries to end his college career on a high note and salvage his draft stock.