2008/2009 Bowls - The Last Time You'll See...
Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
Posted Dec 17, 2008

Who are the stars this bowl season that you'll be seeing for the last time? Some are graduating and some, like Georgia's Matthew Stafford, are almost certain be off early to the NFL. Richard Cirminiello spotlights the 64 players who'll try to go out with a bang.

The Last Time You'll See ...

Enjoy these players in their final games

By Richard Cirminiello 

FedEx BCS National Championship
Jan. 8 / 8 p.m. Miami Gardens, Fla. FOX
*BCS #1 vs. BCS #2 
Oklahoma vs. Florida 

Oklahoma: LG Duke Robinson. While the skill position Sooners make all of the headlines, Robinson and the rest of his linemates have done their part to make the offense percolate in 2008. A 6-5, 335-pound mauler, he’s been a starter for three seasons, earning All-America honors at the end of the last two. Next spring will be about revamping an offensive line that’ll go down as one of the best in school history.

Florida: WR Percy Harvin. As injury-prone as Harvin has been throughout his college career, why risk playing another season in Gainesville without getting paid? If he decides to leave that final year of eligibility on the table and tests well at the Combine, he has the electrifying speed and off-the-charts ability as a playmaker to be scooped up in the first round.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Jan. 5 / 8 p.m. Phoenix, Ariz. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS (Big 12 Champion, if available)
Texas vs.
Ohio State

Ohio State: RB Chris Wells. Depending on which other players decide to leave early, Wells has a chance to be the first back selected in April. He’s got the burst and quick feet in a 6-1, 237-pound frame that NFL types covet. Even a foot injury and modest support from the passing game and offensive line couldn’t keep the junior from running for more than 1,000 yards and eight scores. 

Texas: DE Brian Orakpo. After a modest beginning to his career, Orakpo put it all together at a most opportune time for himself and the program. A good fit in Will Muschamp’s up-tempo defense, he’s responded in his senior year with 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, both tops in the Big 12. His package of power and speed portend a very bright future at the next level.

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Jan. 2 / 8:30 p.m. ET  New Orleans, La. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS  (SEC Champion, if available)
 Alabama vs. Utah

Alabama: LT Andre Smith. Smith is thinking long and hard about his future. So are the agents and NFL teams that want a piece of the 6-4, 330-pound fortress on the left side of the ‘Bama line. He’s the prototype at the position, combining immense power in the running game with the light feet of an ace pass protector. Once it sinks in that he could be one of the top five picks in April’s draft, he’ll likely forego his final year of eligibility in Tuscaloosa.

Utah: QB Brian Johnson. The inspirational leader of the Ute program finally got a chance to show what he can do when healthy for an entire season. As a swan song to a rollercoaster ride in Salt Lake City, Johnson has thrown for a career-high 24 touchdown passes, while leading the program to a perfect regular season. With the pressure escalating late in the year, he elevated his game, authoring a masterpiece in the blowout of rival BYU.

FedEx Orange Bowl
Jan. 1 / 8 p.m. Miami Gardens, Fla. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS (ACC Champion, if available)
Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati

Virginia Tech: CB Victor Harris. “Macho” to most, Harris has been the anchor of a young defense that went through a ton of changes this season. A unique combination of size, strength, and athleticism for a cornerback, he’s a difference-maker whenever he gets near the ball. The total package at his position, he’s scored four career touchdowns on picks, played some offense, and been one of the game’s more dangerous special teams performers.

Cincinnati: CB Mike Mickens. The Bearcats are hopeful of getting back Mickens, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a knee injury. As long as he’s on the field, Cincy coaches never worry about getting burned on his side of the field. One of the smoothest defensive backs in the country, Mickens has 14 career interceptions and plays much bigger than his size in run defense.

Rose Bowl presented by Citi
Jan. 1 / 5:10 p.m. ET  Pasadena, Calif. ABC
*BCS vs. BCS  (Big Ten Champion vs. Pac 10 Champion, if available)
USC vs. Penn State

Penn State: WR Deon Butler. As walk-ons go, Butler has set the bar for all future Lions. The kid from Virginia with the questionable size and the burning desire to play in Happy Valley would go on to be a four-year starter, making 175 catches for 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns. His departure, along with Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, will leave Penn State hurting at the position heading into 2009.

USC: LB Rey Maualuga. Part linebacker and part You Tube sensation, few players can intimidate the opposition with his crushing hits like Maualuga. He returned to Troy for his senior season to win a national championship. While that won’t happen, he did enhance his legacy as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play at a school that’s been home to a slew of All-Americans at the position.

The Rest

EagleBank Bowl
Dec. 20 / 11 a.m.. ET Washington, D.C.
Tie-Ins: ACC vs. Army or Navy 
Wake Forest
vs. Navy

Wake Forest: CB Alphonso Smith. Smith will go down in the annals as one of the most exciting defenders to ever play for the Demon Deacons. Although there won’t be many chances to pad his school-record of 20 interceptions, he’s got the opportunistic tendencies to make a few big plays in other ways. A chance-taker, he’s got the instincts and catch-up speed to make up for mistakes.

QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. This final season never panned out as expected for Kaheaku-Enhada. A persistent hamstring injury took care of that. Healthy again, he was back behind center for the Army game, helping the Midshipmen to their third best game on the ground all year. Kaheaku-Enhada has one more chance to run the Navy option before moving on to weightier causes.

New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 20/12:30 p.m. Albuquerque, N.M. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Mountain West vs. WAC 
Colorado State vs. Fresno State

Fresno State: TE Bear Pascoe. In an offense that has struggled to develop quality wide receivers, Pascoe has been an ideal security blanket for QB Tom Brandstater. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, he’s got soft hands and absolutely no aversions to laying out defenders on running plays, which has not been lost on NFL scouts. Pascoe is second on the Bulldogs with 37 catches for 361 yards and four touchdowns.

Colorado State: RB Gartrell Johnson. Kyle Bell was supposed to be the workhorse for the Rams, but injuries got in the way the last two years. As Plan Bs go, Johnson has been brilliant, rushing for more than 2,000 yards in his final two seasons, including nine 100-yard games. A powerful 225-pound runner, he became the first Ram in three years to make the All-Mountain West first team.

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 20 / 8 p.m. ET Las Vegas, Nev. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Mountain West No. 1 vs. Pac-10 No. 4
BYU vs.

BYU: LB David Nixon. Nixon has been the steady rock of the defense for the past few seasons, playing as if he plans to follow former Cougars Bryan Kehl and Brady Poppinga into the NFL. A terrific athlete with sharp instincts as a run defender, he’s got 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and a BYU-best three interceptions.

Arizona: WR Mike Thomas. At 5-8 and 195 pounds, Thomas hardly fits the prototype in a world of receivers who look like redwoods. Stature is just one of the many hurdles he’s cleared to pull within four receptions of becoming the Pac-10’s all-time leading receivers. More than a deep threat, he was named to the all-conference first team as a receiver and a punt returner.

magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl
Dec. 20 / 9 p.m. ET  St. Petersburg, Fl.
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. Conference USA 
South Florida vs. Memphis

Memphis: DT Clinton McDonald. Pound-for-pound, McDonald is the best all-around athlete on the Tiger roster, making him a rather unique interior lineman. While not very big, his speed and technique command extra attention from opposing blockers. Even double-teams haven’t slowed down McDonald, who has 35 tackles and a team-high seven sacks, despite missing parts of four games in the middle of the year.

South Florida: DE George Selvie. Selvie has decided to wait until after the bowl game to make a decision about the NFL. Most signs points to him foregoing that final year of amateur eligibility. Despite having an off year by his 2007 standards, pro scouts remain enamored with his explosiveness and ability to get into the backfield as an end or an outside linebacker.   

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 21 / 8 p.m. ET New Orleans, La. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Sun Belt No. 1 vs. C-USA 
Troy vs. Southern Miss

Southern Miss: TE Shawn Nelson. Nelson’s outstanding career as one of the game’s premier pass-catching tight ends is coming to an end. He’ll begin the New Orleans Bowl with 120 catches for 1,498 yards, and 11 touchdowns. A big target with the speed to stretch the secondary, you’ll be able to catch Nelson’s act on Sundays beginning next year.

Troy: FS Sherrod Martin. Finally healthy for an entire season, Martin got a chance to put all of his potential on display. And he has delivered, making 80 tackles and four interceptions, while attracting the attention of NFL scouts. Martin has received a coveted invite to the Senior Bowl, where he’ll be asked to play some corner as well as safety.   

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Dec. 23 / 8 p.m. ET San Diego, Calif. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Mountain West vs. Pac 10 (WAC if no Pac 10 team available)
TCU vs. Boise State

TCU: LB Jason Phillips. Pegged as a fullback when he arrived from Waller (Tex.) High School, Phillips will go down as one of the best linebackers to ever play in Fort Worth. A four-time All-Mountain West selection and the heart and soul of this defense, he’s a relentless run stopper with more than 300 tackles on the résumé.  

Boise State: RB Ian Johnson. Yeah, Johnson sort of peaked as a sophomore, capping a 1,700-yard season with a few unforgettable moments in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. However, even with a steady decline in production and more carries for Jeremy Avery, he’s still an iconoclastic figure in these parts and an irreplaceable team leader. Johnson will be counted on to pick up some tough yards against a TCU D that leads the nation against the run.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Dec. 24 / 8 p.m. ET  Honolulu, Hawaii ESPN
Tie-Ins: Pac 10 vs. WAC 
 Notre Dame
vs. Hawaii

Notre Dame: SS David Bruton. Of this year’s class of draft-eligible Irish players, no one has greater upside for the NFL than Bruton, a big-hitting safety with the speed and hops usually reserved for cornerbacks. A track guy when he arrived in South Bend, he’ll be leaving as a 210-pound enforcer who has made 93 tackles and a team-high three picks this season.  

Hawaii: DE David Veikune. Veikune took flight in the Oct. 14 defeat of Louisiana Tech, and has been soaring into opposing backfields ever since. The Warriors top pass rusher and MVP of the 2008 season, he’s racked up 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks over the last eight games, which ought to concern a flimsy Notre Dame offensive line.

Motor City Bowl
Dec. 26 / 7:30 p.m. ET  Detroit, Mich. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 7 vs. MAC 
Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan

Florida Atlantic: LB Frantz Joseph. Joseph has been a beast on defense for the past two seasons in Boca Raton, compiling more than 100 stops in each year and setting a school record for tackles. After beginning his career at Boston College, he returned closer to home and helped give an identity to a program that was still in its infancy under head coach Howard Schnellenberger.

Central Michigan: LT Andrew Hartline. For the last two seasons, Hartline has been one of the unsung heroes of the Chippewas’ success on offense. The protector of QB Dan LeFevour’s backside, he’s elevated from the All-MAC second team to the All-MAC penthouse, using his athleticism to seal off opposing rush ends and catch the attention of NFL scouts.  

Champs Sports Bowl
Dec. 27 / 4:30 p.m. ET  Orlando, Fla. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 4 vs. Big Ten No. 4 or No. 5
Florida State
vs. Wisconsin

Florida State: DE Everette Brown. A fourth-year junior, Brown is peaking at the right time in his career. With NFL teams always on the prowl for qualities pass-rushers, he’s a strong candidate to forego his final year of eligibility in Tallahassee. A hybrid between an end and an outside linebacker, he’s parlayed his speed and quick burst off the snap into 20.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, most coming in the second half of the year.

Wisconsin: G Kraig Urbik. At 6-6 and 332 pounds, Urbik is your typical Wisconsin road-grader, opening holes this year for P.J. Hill and John Clay. A former tackle, he’s proven to be a better fit inside, where he’s not forced to play in space. A two-time member of the All-Big Ten second team, Urbik will be taking his run blocking skills to the NFL in 2009.

Emerald Bowl
Dec. 27 / 8:30 p.m. ET  San Francisco, Calif. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 7 vs. Pac-10 No. 5
Miami vs.

Miami: S Anthony Reddick. Reddick is still hoping to earn a sixth year of eligibility, but that’ll hinge on the NCAA’s decision. He’s become one of the inspirational leaders of a young defense, returning to action this year after missing all or parts of the previous three seasons to injury. In a testament to Reddick’s perseverance, he’s made 65 tackles this year to earn honorable mention All-ACC.   

Cal: C Alex Mack. The literal centerpiece of the Bears offense the past few seasons, Mack will be next to impossible to replace next year. A rock at the pivot, he possesses the right mix of intelligence, agility, and toughness to have a long career on Sundays. More than just a three-time member of the All-Pac-10 first team, he’s also the recipient of the Draddy Trophy given to the nation’s top scholar-athlete.

Meineke Car Care Bowl
Dec. 27 / 1 p.m. ET Charlotte, N.C. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 6 vs. Big East 
North Carolina vs. West Virginia

North Carolina: WR Hakeem Nicks. Nicks won’t decide about his future until after this game, but he’s giving a long look at the NFL, especially with the dearth of can’t-miss senior receivers. A three-year starter with 173 career receptions and little left to prove, he’s produced big plays every season in Chapel Hill. There’s no telling how good Nicks might have been had he not been saddled with mediocre quarterbacks.  

West Virginia: QB Pat White. If White’s not the best player in Mountaineer history, he’s certainly in the team photo. The kid from Alabama, who few schools recruited to play quarterback, went on to become a cult-hero in the state of West Virginia. Now the NCAA leader in rushing by a quarterback and a polished passer, his legacy in Morgantown will be felt long after he’s gone.    

PapaJohn’s.com Bowl
Dec. 29 / 3 p.m. ET Birmingham, Ala. ESPN2
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. SEC (or Sun Belt if no SEC team available)
Rutgers  vs. NC State

Rutgers: WR Kenny Britt. You can start saying buh-bye to Britt, who’s leaning toward giving up his final year of eligibility. His stock may never be higher after closing out the regular season on a monstrous tear. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he’s got the long stride, huge mitts, and back-to-back productive seasons to find his way into the first two rounds of next April’s NFL Draft.

North Carolina State: TE Anthony Hill. Although injuries kept Hill from reaching his high ceiling in each of the last two years, those close to the program realize his best days may still be ahead of him. At 6-6 and 265 pounds, he’s like having a third guard on the line, yet has the sticky hands to be a quarterback’s best friend near the goal line. Hill’s caught three touchdown passes in 2008, but was at his best two years ago, making 45 grabs for 478 yards.

Independence Bowl
Dec. 28 / 8 p.m. ET  Shreveport, La. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big 12 No. 7 vs. SEC No. 8 (Or WAC & the third choice of Sun Belt teams if no Big 12 or SEC team available)
Louisiana Tech vs. Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois: DE Larry English. One of the most decorated players in program history, English was recently named the MAC Player of the Year for the second straight season. Although a tweener at 6-3 and 255 pounds, he’s got the burst and natural athleticism that have garnered plenty of attention from NFL scouts. English enters the final game of his college career with 53.5 tackles for loss and 31.5 sacks.

Louisiana Tech: RB Patrick Jackson. Although Jackson is the second option in the running game to Daniel Porter, he’s been no less valuable to the Bulldog offense. A four-time letterwinner, he’s logged almost 600 carries for 2,815 yards and 29 touchdowns, allowing Jackson to stay fresh and the Tech backfield to essentially remain injury-proof over the last few seasons.

Alamo Bowl
Dec. 29 / 8 p.m. ET  San Antonio, Texas ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 4 or No. 5 vs. Big 12 No. 4
Northwestern vs. Missouri

Northwestern: QB C.J. Bacher. Sure, he made way too many mistakes in the passing game, but when Bacher was on, it was as if he was channeling Zak Kustok. He had the right mix of arm strength and elusiveness in the open field to make the Wildcat attack go. He’ll leave Evanston having thrown for more than 7,000 yards and leading the program to its first bowl game in three years.

Missouri: WR Jeremy Maclin. There’s no way he returns, right? Maclin has it all, from good size and great speed to the ability to change the tenor of a game on special teams. Plus, he may not want to be the last star standing in Columbia on a team that’s losing a slew of key players to graduation. Maclin has submitted his paperwork to the NFL advisory committee, which is expected to come back with a first-round grade.

Texas Bowl
Dec. 30 / 8 p.m. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Houston, Texas
Big 12 vs. C-USA 
Western Michigan vs. Rice

Rice: QB Chase Clement. When the program shifted in 2006 from Ken Hatfield’s option to a pro-style attack under Todd Graham, who could have imagined Clement would blossom into a star? No one has had a bigger hand in the Owls’ two recent bowl appearances than the senior, who owns just about every school passing record, accounting for 120 touchdowns, over 11,000 total yards, and a ton of clutch plays late in close games.    

Western Michigan: WR Jamarko Simmons. Simmons will be leaving Kalamazoo with no less than 254 grabs, making him the school’s all-time leader in receptions. A physical 6-2, 230-pounder, he uses his body well in traffic and has a knack for making yards after the catch. Although they won’t be facing each other, the cold war between Simmons and Rice’s Jarett Dillard, two of this year’s top 10 most prolific receivers, will be an intriguing game-within-the-game.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Dec. 30 / 8 p.m. ET San Diego, Calif. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big 12 No. 3 vs. Pac-10 No. 2
Oklahoma State vs. Oregon

Oklahoma State: TE Brandon Pettigrew. Looking back at how Pettigrew has developed in five years, it’s hard to imagine how he got out of Texas without being scooped up by the ‘Horns or the Sooners. Primarily a blocker in high blocker, he’s blossomed into a 6-6, 255-pound downfield threat, who could wind up being the first tight end selected in next spring’s NFL Draft.

Oregon: DE Nick Reed. While Reed might be a try-hard guy who doesn’t fit the NFL prototype at defensive end, he sure has been productive for the Ducks the last two seasons. A relentless pass rusher with a non-stop motor, he’s been named All-Pac-10 first team in back-to-back years, amassing a whopping 42 tackles for loss, 25 sacks, and countless pressures over that time.

Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl
Dec. 30/4:30 p.m.  Boise, Idaho ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 8 vs. WAC
vs. Nevada

Maryland: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. When you can run in the 4.3 range at 6-3 and 208 pounds, it’s awfully hard to resist the temptation of playing at the next level. Heyward-Bey has done about all he could in College Park, and has to be tired of playing catch with sub par quarterbacks. His stock doesn’t figure to get any higher by spending another year in an offense that can only get him four or five touches a game.

Nevada: C Dominic Green. The Pack doesn’t lose much from this team, but it’s going to miss Green, the long-time quarterback of the offensive line. A four-year starter and three-time member of the All-WAC team, his versatility might be the hardest thing to replace. Since arriving in Reno, he has started a game at every position along the offensive line.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 31 / 12 p.m. ET  Fort Worth, Texas ESPN
Tie-Ins: Mountain West vs. Conference USA 
Air Force vs.

Houston: DE Phillip Hunt. The Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, Hunt has had a voracious appetite for quarterbacks ever since cracking the starting lineup in 2006. The one constant in an otherwise suspect defense, he’s used a great work ethic and pure speed around the edge to bag 31.5 career sacks, including a league-high dozen so far this season.

Air Force:
DE Jake Paulson. Paulson hasn’t just been a good pass rusher in his final season with the Academy. He’s been the pass rush for the Falcons, leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The first Air Force defensive lineman to ever earn All-Mountain West first team honors, he’s got the right combination of size and intangibles to make an NFL run once his military obligation is met.

Sun Bowl
Dec. 31 / 2 p.m. ET. El Paso, Texas CBS
Tie-Ins: Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame vs. Pac-10 No. 3
Pitt vs. Oregon State

Pittsburgh: LB Scott McKillop. When H.B. Blades graduated following the 2006 season, he left a gaping void at middle linebacker. McKillop has filled it brilliantly, racking up more than 100 tackles in back-to-back All-Big East first team seasons. While not the most fluid athlete on the field, he’s got the instincts, tackling skills, and drive to always be near the action.

Oregon State: WR Sammie Stroughter. A picture of class and resiliency, Stroughter will leave Corvallis as one of the most popular Beavers in recent years. A perennial playmaker on offense and special teams, he pulled off the rare feat of being named All-Pac-10 as both a wide receiver and a punt returner. He enters the Sun Bowl with 158 career receptions and 17 touchdowns, three coming on special teams.

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Dec. 31 / 3:30 p.m. ET Nashville, Tenn. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC vs. SEC No. 5
Boston College vs.

Boston College: DT B.J. Raji. While no single player is responsible for Boston College’s No. 7 run defense, the return of Raji this season from academic suspension can’t be overlooked. A classic 6-1, 323-pound space-eater in the middle of the line, he’s made life easier for the rest of the defense, occupying more than one blocker and allowing the more athletic Eagles to collapse down and make stops.  

Vanderbilt: CB D.J. Moore. If Moore submits his paperwork to the NFL advisory committee, he’s going to like the feedback he gets. A multi-faceted lockdown corner, he’ll make plays on special teams, and even caught a pair of touchdown passes in a November win over Kentucky. He’s a dynamic all-around athlete, who might be thinking he has little more to gain athletically by returning to Nashville for one final season.

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Dec. 31 / 7:30 p.m. ET  Atlanta, Ga. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 2 vs. SEC
Georgia Tech
vs. LSU

Georgia Tech: DT Vance Walker. Walker has been an ideal fit at defensive tackle for Tech, strong enough to hold up on running downs and quick enough to slice through the gaps and make plays. A fixture in opposing backfields the last two seasons, he’s had 26.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, and four forced fumbles, huge numbers for an interior lineman. Walker is a microcosm of a defensive line that’ll be gutted by graduation next season.

LSU: WR Brandon LaFell. LaFell is just your typical 6-3, 209-pound elite athlete playing wide receiver in Baton Rouge. Despite being surrounded by an unsettled quarterback situation, he still managed to catch 61 passes for 903 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also grabbed the attention of pro scouts, who are eagerly waiting to see if he’ll return to school for his senior year.

Insight Bowl
Dec. 31 / 5:30 ET Tempe, Ariz. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6
vs. Kansas

Kansas: LB James Holt. Teammates Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen may have entered the season with thicker resumes, but Holt outplayed both in a fantastic final campaign. He leads the Jayhawks with 97 tackles and has been a terror on the blitz, collecting a team-high 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. All three linebackers are seniors, making the position an area of need heading into next season.

Minnesota: DE Willie VanDeSteeg. VanDeSteeg has led the Gophers in sacks in two of the last three years, providing a push up front to a program that traditionally struggles getting to the quarterback. More of a grinder than a next-level type of athlete, he’s been able to turn 9.5 sacks into a spot on this year’s All-Big Ten team.

Outback Bowl
Jan. 1 / 11 a.m. ET Tampa, Fla. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC
Iowa vs.
South Carolina

Iowa: DT Mitch King. Yeah, all of the tackles, especially the ones behind the line, will be hard to replace, but King’s intensity and leadership is what will really be missed. Often the smallest interior lineman in the stadium, he’s thrived with an unmatched motor and great quickness, capping his career by being named this year’s Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

South Carolina: WR Kenny McKinley. Of the small group of seniors on this year’s team, McKinley just might be the toughest to replace. Although he missed a quarter of the season with an injury, he still wound up leading the Gamecocks with 48 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns. The all-time receptions leader in South Carolina history, he’s at his best on third downs, the sign of a truly clutch receiver.

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Jan. 1 / 1 p.m. ET  Jacksonville, Fla. CBS
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 3 vs. Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame 
Clemson vs.

Clemson: RB C.J. Spiller. Teammate James Davis is running out of eligibility. Spiller is running out of reasons to return to school for his senior year. He’s an NFL-ready talent with the extra gear that makes scouts salivate. Although Spiller has been the understudy to Davis at Clemson, he’s likely to hear his name called first if he opts to declare early for April’s draft.

Nebraska: QB Joe Ganz. From career caddy to unlikely Husker hero, it’s been an interesting ride for Ganz in Lincoln. He got his break in last November’s loss to Kansas and never lost the job, tossing 38 touchdown passes in the 15 games since. While not blessed with the tools of a future first-day draft choice, his leadership, grasp of the offense, and presence in the huddle have been instrumental in Nebraska’s turnaround this season.

Capital One Bowl
Jan. 1 / 1 p.m. Orlando, Fla. ABC
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2
Michigan State vs. Georgia

Georgia: QB Matt Stafford. As a general rule of thumb, players projected to go in the first 10 picks of the NFL Draft should be advised to leave school early. Stafford is one of those players. Yeah, others have better production and make fewer mistakes, but there aren’t many GMs who’d pass on the junior if given a chance. He’s got the arm strength and pocket presence of a franchise quarterback, and the potential to be the first player overall selected.

Michigan State: RB Javon Ringer. Early in his career, it looked as if Ringer might never stay healthy for an entire season. Once he scattered those doubts, he went on to become one of the premier running backs in the country. The definition of a workhorse, he enters the Capital One Bowl fourth nationally with 1,590 yards on the ground and behind only Ball State’s MiQuale Lewis with 21 touchdowns.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Jan. 2 / 5:00 p.m. ET Memphis, Tenn. ESPN
Tie-Ins: C-USA No. 1 vs. SEC No. 6
East Carolina vs. Kentucky

Kentucky: CB Trevard Lindley. Cornerbacks with Lindley’s speed, hips, and cover skills usually don’t last four years as amateurs. He doesn’t figure to be an exception. As one of the SEC’s best cover men over the last two years, his skill set and overall athleticism is coveted by NFL teams, which won’t let him drift beyond the first day of the draft. Lindley will need to add some bulk, but that’ll come with a dedicated offseason regimen.  

East Carolina: QB Patrick Pinkney. While he’s had ups and downs in Greenville, Pinkney has also been the steady force in the Pirates’ league championship season. He throws a soft ball, can escape pressure when the pocket collapses, and has saved his best efforts for ECU’s biggest games. In upsets of Boise State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Tulsa in the past 12 months, Pinkney did not throw a single interception.

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Jan. 2 / 2 p.m. ET Dallas, Texas FOX
Tie-Ins: Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC 
Texas Tech vs.
Ole Miss

Ole Miss: DT Peria Jerry. You could argue that no defensive tackle in the country was more disruptive than Jerry. And you’d have a good point. Routinely unblockable throughout the year, he leads the SEC with 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and wasn’t even dressed for the opener. At 6-2 and 290 pounds, he explodes off the snap and plays with an energy level that’s often too much for opposing blockers to match.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was NFL-ready a year ago. Besides soaking in more of the college experience, he’s got little to gain by returning to Lubbock in 2009. In arguably the best two-year stretch ever by a wide receiver, Crabtree has obliterated opposing secondaries for 227 catches for 3,097 yards and 40 touchdowns, while winning back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards.

International Bowl
Jan. 3 / 12 p.m. ET Toronto, Canada ESPN2
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. MAC No. 4 or 5
Connecticut vs. Buffalo

Buffalo: QB Drew Willy. Every program that reaches new heights has a signature player carrying the banner. In Buffalo, that man has been Willy. A third-year starter who’s made strides every season, he’s peaked as a senior with 25 touchdown passes, more than 3,000 yards through the air, and just five picks. When this MAC championship team has a reunion in 25 years, Willy will be the master of ceremonies.

Connecticut: DE Cody Brown. Brown has spent the past two seasons in East Hartford being one of the best edge rushers that no one outside the Big East has heard about. While only 6-2 and 248 pounds, he’s a blur around tackle, who often requires more than one blocker. After being overlooked as a junior, he was named to the All-Big East first team after collecting a Husky-high 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks. 

Jan. 6 / 8 p.m. ET  Mobile, Ala.  ESPN
Tie-Ins: C-USA No. 2 vs. MAC/WAC
Tulsa vs. Ball State

Tulsa: WR Brennan Marion. In terms of home run hitters and Oklahoma, Marion ranks below only Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer. The ultimate deep threat, he made the most of his two years since transferring from junior college. Marion enters the GMAC Bowl with 82 catches for 2,356 yards and 19 touchdowns, a video game-line average of 28 yards per reception.

Ball State: TE Darius Hill. Assuming QB Nate Davis returns to Muncie in 2009, he’s going to need a whole new ensemble of targets. Hill is not your average tight end, who blocks on most downs and catches a five-yarder in the flat when everyone else is covered. At 6-6 and 236 pounds, he’s got the speed and big-play potential of many receivers, making 156 receptions during his career for 2,436 yards and 31 touchdowns.