The Last Time
You'll See ...
players in their final games
Jan. 8 / 8 p.m. Miami Gardens, Fla. FOX
*BCS #1 vs. BCS #2
Oklahoma vs. Florida
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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
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
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.
Dec. 20 / 11 a.m.. ET Washington, D.C.
Tie-Ins: ACC vs. Army or Navy
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.
Navy: 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
TCU vs. Boise
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.
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
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.
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
vs. Central Michigan
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Dec. 27 / 8:30 p.m. ET San Francisco, Calif. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 7 vs. Pac-10 No. 5
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Dec. 29 / 3 p.m. ET Birmingham, Ala. ESPN2
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. SEC (or Sun Belt if no SEC team
Rutgers vs. NC State
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Dec. 29 / 8 p.m. ET San Antonio, Texas ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 4 or No. 5 vs. Big 12 No. 4
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.
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
Dec. 30 / 8 p.m. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Houston, Texas
Big 12 vs. C-USA
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Dec. 31 / 2 p.m. ET. El Paso, Texas CBS
Tie-Ins: Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame vs. Pac-10 No. 3
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.
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
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.
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.
Dec. 31 / 7:30 p.m. ET Atlanta, Ga. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 2 vs. SEC
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.
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.
Dec. 31 / 5:30 ET Tempe, Ariz. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6
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.
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.
Jan. 1 / 11 a.m. ET Tampa, Fla. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Jan. 2 / 2 p.m. ET Dallas, Texas FOX
Tie-Ins: Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC
Texas Tech vs.
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.
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.
Jan. 3 / 12 p.m. ET Toronto, Canada ESPN2
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. MAC No. 4 or 5
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
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
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
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.