NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
College. Football. Playoffs. Those are three words that by themselves hold much meaning to many Americans. Putting them all in one phrase was considered impossible and mind blowing in the past. Now this is a reality, and that reality is just a few days away. However unlike the NFL playoffs, there will be meaningful post-season football that does not include playoff games. Let’s dive into prospects to be looking out for in these crucial games during your boring family New Years Day party. Wednesday, December 31
Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl : #9 Ole Miss vs #6 TCU 12:30 ESPN
Not many teams had a better start to the season then Ole Miss. At one time the Rebels were 7-0 and were thought to be real National Championship contenders. However after a dominant showing in a prime time match up vs Tennessee, Ole Miss lost their next 3 SEC games and their best offensive player, top 2016 NFL draft prospect Laquon Treadwell to a season ending injury. TCU comes into the contest disappointed, but for different reasons. After being left at the altar in the playoff bracket, TCU must get ready for one of the best defenses in the country. This game comes down to the quarterbacks, plain and simple. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace has been up and down throughout his career, however at times shows he has the talent to lead his team against superior competition. I think Bo will play well, but I think Horned Frogs will overwhelm the sinking Rebels. The Landshark defense hasn’t seen a quarterback this year quite like Trevone Boykin. The junior is a spectacular athlete and has some legitimate 2016 draft potential. I expect TCU to knock off Ole Miss in a close one.
Ole Miss Prospects
FS Cody Prewitt: One of the more criticized prospects all season long. He doesn’t possess great speed, which can leave the safety vulnerable over the top. This year for whatever reason, he hasn’t been as active in years past. Nonetheless, I believe Prewitt still can be a successful pro if he puts the work in, currently he’s looking at a mid-round projection.
OT Laremy Tunsil*: Potential 2016 #1 overall pick. It’s tough to find flaws with the sophmore. He has the potential to be an All-Pro NFL tackle for a decade and beyond, only thing that can slow him down is himself.
QB Bo Wallace: When facing weaker opponents Wallace has looked great. He even played well vs Alabama, tossing 3 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. However he’s cooled off since, not tossing a single touchdown pass since November 8 vs Presbyterian. I see Bo as an UDFA.
CB Senquez Golson: Good instincts and great ball skills, he is second in the nation in interceptions with 9. I have him as a mid-round projection.
Other prospects: DE C.J. Johnson, SS Serderius Bryant, DE Robert Nkemdiche* WR Laquon Treadwell* (Hurt – done for season)
QB Trevone Boykin: The redshirt junior has had a breakout 2014 campaign. Boykin has thrown for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns, while only throwing 7 interceptions. Comparing that to his 2013 season of 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, the progress is clear to see. Will he go pro this year? Probably not. However I see a talented 2016 prospect to keep your eyes on nonetheless. The Landshark defense of Ole Miss will be his toughest challenge yet.
S Sam Carter: Shows decent athleticism and very good ball skills on film. He has struggled at times this year but has proven to be a playmaker. I can see him struggling at the next level due to some speed concerns, so I project him to be more of a special teams contributor.
DT Chucky Hunter: Shows decent interior pass rush skills as an undersized DT. I see a late round projection from Hunter. Other prospects: DT Davion Pearson
Thursday, January 1
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: #8 Michigan State vs #5 Baylor 12:30 ESPN
Baylor, like their Big 12 rivals TCU, will come into bowl season feeling snubbed. The Bears were left out of the musical chairs game when Ohio State leapfrogged them into fourth place. As for this contest, arguably the two biggest stars of the game, Michigan State QB Connor Cook and Baylor DE Shawn Oakman have recently announced they will be returning to school for the 2016 season. There has been a war of words on both sides, and I expect this classic bowl game to be once again one of the years finest. Michigan State’s defense can arise some challenges for Bryce Petty and Co. The Sparty secondary is no joke. Trae Waynes is my top rated corner, and is a good bet to be a top 20 pick. Safety Kurtis Drummond is also no slouch in his own right, who has a chance to be a second round pick. This game is a contrast of styles, which I think could advantage Sparty. I think the bruising run game of Sparty combined with the ability to get off the field defensively will be the difference maker. I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I will. I’ll pick a Big 10 team to actually win a big bowl game. Give me Sparty 27-20.
Michigan State prospects
CB Trae Waynes: He is a very solid coverage corner, whose good NFL frame (6’1, 185 lbs) allows him to play admirably in a press man scheme. I had him as my highest rated cornerback even before the Ifo Ekpre-Olomu injury, and I expect to hear his name called on draft day sooner then later.
FS Kurtis Drummond: He’s been inconsistent, but the overall talent is there. Particularly, he struggled against Oregon giving up some big plays and not playing with great discipline. However Drummond really impressed me against a first round caliber TE/WR Devin Funchess, where he showed his best film of the season.
RB Jeremy Langford: Was selected to my highly prestigious All-Underrated Team last week. Langford has had a great year without anybody really caring, at all. Overshadowed by other great Big 10 backs such as Gordon and Coleman, Langford has ran for over 1,350 yards and has found paydirt 19 times this season. If he can improve his burst through the hole, I expect Langford to be a successful player in the NFL, as his bruising style isn’t fun to tackle at any level.
DE Shilique Calhoun: Closed the year out strong, and is expected to be a first round pick come spring time if he declares for the draft. The junior recently stated at a Cotton Bowl presser “I’m not definitely leaving, honestly” which will make Calhoun an interesting situation to monitor up until the January 15 deadline to declare. Other prospects: P Mike Sadler, WR Tony Lippett, ILB Taiwan Jones
QB Bryce Petty: His overall accuracy is his biggest down fall. He has completed 62% of his passes which isn’t terrible by any stretch, but he has missed easy simple throws this year which simply must improve. A once projected first round pick, I see Petty as a day 3 prospect, no question.
WR Antwan Goodley: Built like a NFL running back at 5’11 220 lbs, Goodley when healthy showed he can be a dynamic threat (9-132 vs W. Virgina, 8-158 vs TCU). His problem this year has been staying healthy, as the feeling was he wasn’t 100% for most of the season. I see him as a mid-round prospect.
DE Shawn Oakman: At 6’9, 275+ lbs, he is an absolute freak coming off the line. He has the ability to beat OTs with his pure length and his speed, however is still raw as a prospect and needs to polish up his game. The Baylor top defensive prospect recently announced he will be returning for the 2016 season, making him a top prospect to keep your eye on for the 2016 draft.
Other prospects: WR Levi Norwood, RB Shock Linwood, OT Spencer Drango, ILB Bryce Hager
National Semifinal #1 – The Rose Bowl: #2 Oregon vs #3 Florida State 5:00 ESPN
“The Game” is truly The Game during this holiday season. 2014 Heisman winner, and probable first overall pick Oregon QB Marcus Mariota leads the 3rd ranked scoring offense in college football against a prospect-loaded Seminoles’ defense. However, this is more about the current Heisman winner dueling off against the previous Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. Winston had an up and down year, no doubt about it. His questionable decision making, late throws, and overall inaccuracy throughout the season has been alarming. That being said, no matter how big the hole has been this year, Winston has found a way to lead his team to comeback victory after comeback victory all year long. There is something to be said about that. This game is littered with prospects, but the quarterbacks will be the story line. Oregon will be playing the game without their top defensive back, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was lost due to injury and can be a crushing blow particularly in this game. The match-up for Winston is favorable in my opinion, and I expect him to have a big day. Overall, I think the 9 point spread is too large for this game. I see a close battle to the very end, so give me the quarterback that I don’t have to worry about turning the ball over. Oregon 31, Florida State 27.
Florida State prospects
QB Jameis Winston: #5 has all the physical tools. He possess a very strong arm, supreme athleticism, and good field vision. However, this year he also has been baffling with poor decisions and wildly inconsistent play. However in the money quarter (4th), he’s turned up golden time and time again. Reports are he looks sharp and ready in practice this week, and I expect a big performance out of him New Years Day.
CB Ronald Darby: Good cover corner who’s been the key cog in the Seminole defensive backfield this season. A first round talent who after not getting tested all that much in the pass game against Georgia Tech, will be in the spotlight all afternoon long.
WR Rashad Greene: Continues to be the most reliable pass catcher on FSU’s roster. In a deeper WR pool, Greene continues to slide down draft boards. He does everything well, but nothing great. He will be a nice mid round find in the right system, as I expect him to be a WR3-WR4 in the NFL.
CB P.J. Williams: A clutch, big time performer. Darby is the more polished prospect, but I’ll bet on Williams in the long run. His tape vs my #4 WR Davante Parker is impressive. Last time he played at the Rose Bowl he walked off the field Defensive MVP. Don’t be surprised if he makes a few big time plays Thursday.
DT Eddie Goldman: The first round talent and First Team All-ACC defender is expected to play after suffering an ankle injury vs Georgia Tech. Goldman is crucial to the success of defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr and Demarcus Walker, and is a great matchup agaisnt top center in the country Hroniss Grasu.
Other prospects: DE Mario Edwards Jr, OT Cameron Erving, TE Nick O’Leary, RB Karlos Williams, OG Tre Jackson, SS Tyler Hunter, DT Desmond Hollin, OG Josue Matias, K Roberto Aguayo
QB Marcus Mariota: 372 pass attempts. 38 touchdowns. TWO interceptions. I hear the Tampa Bay weather is nice this time of year. Carry on…
OT Jake Fisher: Was forced into playing LT this season and has delivered for the Ducks. Fisher may be the team’s MVP behind Mariota, as his play patching up the blindside has been crucial to the Ducks’ success this season.
SS Erick Dargan: Without Ekpre-Olomu, Dargan will be in charge in the defensive back field while facing the potent Seminoles attack. Dargan has recently seen his stock elevate, and was just named All-Pac 12 second team.
OC Hroniss Grasu: My number 1 in college football. Ideal for a zone blocking scheme. Better at pass blocking then run, but a rock solid prospect all the way around. Other Prospects: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Hurt), DE/OLB Tony Washington, DE Arik Armstead, RB Byron Marshall, OLB Derrick Malone
National Semifinal #2- The Sugar Bowl- #1 Alabama vs #4 Ohio State 8:30 ESPN No question about it, Ohio State is certainly the most fortunate team in the playoff. Any one of TCU, Baylor, or the Buckeyes deserved a shot at the #4 seed. Sophomore Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a monumental Big 10 Championship win beating Wisconsin 59-0. Jones, in his first start of the year, threw for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns. Similar to the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl is highlighted by a personal battle. Instead of quarterbacks this time, it’s about the men in charge. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer have a great history against each other. The two squared off in two SEC championship games, as well as one other regular season game (Saban is 2-1 vs Meyer). This is going to be a contest. This Ohio State team isn’t your normal Big 10 squad. They have real athletes, and can compete with the big boys between the trenches. The Buckeye defensive front headed by Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, and Adolphus Washington is the biggest advantage the Bucks have in the game. Not sure anybody can stop Amari Cooper 1-1, but I expect Bucks CB Doran Grant to be locked on Cooper for most of the game, a 1-1 battle worth watching. At the end of the day I do expect Alabama to wear down Ohio State and win the game, but I see this being closer then most expect. Alabama 34 – Ohio State 31.
SS Landon Collins: I expect Saban to move Collins around in an effort to cause some big plays and confuse the inexperienced Bucks’ signal caller. My number one overall safety.
WR Amari Cooper: He’s my top offensive player on my board for good reason. Give offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin some credit, he’s moved Cooper around to expose all of Cooper’s talents and he’s gotten the absolute most from the future top 10 pick. He’s grabbed 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
TJ Yeldon: He’s still a 5 running back in my eyes. Yeldon projects well into the NFL, I just don’t anticipate him being a star ever. He does most things well for the Tide, and has turned in a solid 2014 campaign with talented sophomore runner Derrick Henry breathing down his neck for snaps.
OG Arie Kouandjio: Big, strong, and nasty. A top 5 interior offensive line prospect. A projected late first round pick at the moment.
Other prospects: RB Derrick Henry*, DT Brandon Ivory, OT Austin Sheppard, WR Christion Jones, RB Kenyan Drake (Hurt, possible solid UDFA), C Ryan Kelly, DT Darren Lake, ILB Trey DePriest, ILB Denzel Devall
Ohio State Prospects WR Devin Smith: Surely, Devin Smith checked NEPD before his Big 10 title game fight vs Wisconsin. After talking him up in my conference championship preview, Smith delivered with 3 touchdown catches and 137 yards receiving. All kidding aside, Smith has legitimate 4.4 speed and I believe will be a productive pro.
DT Michael Bennett: I’ve compared him to a poor man’s Aaron Donald earlier this year. Very versatile defender who can shoot the gap against any line. This season, Alabama’s offensive line has been somewhat inconsistent, leaving Bennett a real opportunity to shine New Years Night.
CB Doran Grant: As mentioned earlier, I believe Grant will be used primarily spying Amari Cooper. Grant is Ohio State’s best chance at slowing down the Heisman candidate, which can give Grant an opportunity to put together some good film and improve his draft stock. Other prospects: DE Adolphus Washington, TE Jeff Heuerman, LB Curtis Grant
Other games to keep your eyes on: Orange Bowl-#7 Mississippi State (Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson) vs #12 Georgia Tech
Outback Bowl- #19 Auburn (Sammie Coates, Gabe Wright) vs #18 Wisconsin (Melvin Gordon)
Gator Bowl- Iowa (Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis) vs Tennessee (Cam Sutton*, Curt Maggitt)
Alamo Bowl- #11 Kansas State (Tyler Lockett) vs #14 UCLA (Eric Kendricks, Brett Hundley)
* = Underclassmen, a top 2016 or 2017 prospect to keep an eye on