The Bowl Season's
players to watch out for
The stars who'll be playing their final
game this bowl season
Jan. 8 / 8 p.m. Miami Gardens, Fla. FOX
*BCS #1 vs. BCS #2
Oklahoma vs. Florida
CB Janoris Jenkins. You know you’re special when you start at
Florida as a true freshman. Jenkins is one of those rare gems on the
Gator defense. He has already exceeded expectations in his first
year, blanketing opposing receivers and continuously improving as
the season has progressed. He’s got the hips, speed, and confidence
to be one of the best corners in the SEC as early as next year.
Oklahoma: WR Ryan Broyles. While he sort of got lost in a
receiving corps that included Juaquin Iglesias, Manny Johnson, and
Jermaine Gresham, Broyles was still able to make the first 42 grabs
of his career for 661 yards and six touchdowns. He’s loaded with
speed, explosiveness, and upside potential, all of which will become
more obvious once this year’s starters graduate.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Jan. 5 / 8 p.m. Phoenix, Ariz. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS (Big 12 Champion, if available)
WR Malcolm Williams. After toiling behind veterans Quan Cosby and
Jordan Shipley this season, Williams will be ready to wear the go-to
tag in 2009. He showed glimpses of the future, especially in the
Texas Tech game, finishing the regular season with 17 catches for
304 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-3 and 218 pounds, he has the
physical gifts and the work ethic to be a force, especially if Colt
McCoy returns for his senior year.
Ohio State: QB Terrelle Pryor. Everyone knows that the sky is
the limit for Pryor once he improves his reads and fine-tunes his
overall game as a passer. A bunch of practices in December and a
date with a talented defense will only hasten the maturation
process. If Pryor has a breakthrough game and somehow engineers an
upset Texas, the expectations for his sophomore year will ramp up
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Jan. 2 / 8:30 p.m. ET New Orleans, La. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS (SEC Champion, if available)
WR David Reed. Reed came on late in his first season out of Pasadena
City (Calif.) College, and is poised to be the Utes’ go-to receiver
in 2009. The team’s long-ball threat, he’s caught 23 passes for 369
yards and five touchdowns, with most of the big plays coming in
November. He’s got the speed and improving ball skills to be a
50-catch guy once Freddie Brown, Brent Casteel, and Bradon Godfrey
are off campus.
Alabama: LB Dont’a Hightower. It’s early, but Hightower looks
like he has the potential to be the second coming of teammate
Rolando McClain at Alabama. A big, physical linebacker who runs
well, he’s already made an instant impact on the Tide D as a true
freshman. A starter at weakside since September, he’s gobbled up 62
tackles almost entirely on raw ability. Once Hightower has a better
grasp of where to be on the field, he’ll have all-league potential.
FedEx Orange Bowl
Jan. 1 / 8 p.m. Miami Gardens, Fla. FOX
*BCS vs. BCS (ACC Champion, if available)
QB Tony Pike. While it took a spate of circumstances for Pike to get
his turn, he delivered when he finally got on the field. Buried on
the depth chart in August, he’s gone on to throw 18 touchdown passes
and earn a spot on the All-Big East second team. With continued
progress, he stands to give the Bearcats far more stability at
quarterback that they’ve had in 2008.
Virginia Tech: WR Jarrett Boykin. Before the season began,
Virginia Tech put out an APB for a few decent wide receivers. Boykin
answered the call in his first year in Blacksburg, making a
team-leading 28 receptions for 413 yards and two scores. A big,
physical receiver, he’s not shy not about blocking downfield, a job
requirement in this run-first Hokie offense.
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
FB Stanley Havili. Is there a more versatile or athletic fullback
anywhere in America? Havili doesn’t get many touches on a squad
loaded with star tailbacks, but when he does, he usually makes it
count. A tremendous lead blocker for those runners, he’s also a
valuable outlet in the passing game, catching 62 passes for 596
yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons. At just about
any other school, Havili would warrant a dozen or so carries a game.
Penn State: RB Stephfon Green. While Evan Royster got the
majority of the touches this fall, Green did a nice job of laying a
foundation for the future in his redshirt freshman season. The 5-11,
194-pound burner has turned 95 carries into 521 yards and four
touchdowns, while catching 10 passes for 201 yards and another
score. Royster will continue to be the starter, but Green has earned
a place as the big-play option out of the backfield.
Dec. 20 / 11 a.m.. ET Washington, D.C.
Tie-Ins: ACC vs. Army or Navy
RB Josh Adams. The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year was never right
this season, battling an assortment of ailments, including a nagging
ankle injury. With almost a month to get right, he’ll be able to
recapture his freshman form at the expense of the Navy defense. When
healthy, Adams is a terrific back who’s capable of taking a game
Navy: DE Jabaree Tuani. Not your average plebe, Tuani has been
quick to adjust to an expanded role since Michael Walsh was injured
in September. Just a few months removed from Brentwood (Tenn.)
Academy, he’s got 39 tackles and nine tackles for loss, flashing the
speed around the corner that could make him the Middies most
dangerous pass rusher in 2009.
New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 20/12:30 p.m. Albuquerque, N.M. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Mountain West vs. WAC
Colorado State vs.
DE Chris Carter. Although he lines up at defensive end, the
versatile Carter plays with all of the agility and range of a
linebacker. At just 6-2 and 220 pounds, the sophomore will
eventually settle down at linebacker, but for now, he’s a handful
when not being locked up by opposing tackles. In his first full
season as a regular, Carter has parlayed 79 tackles, six tackles for
loss, and 3.5 sacks into a spot on the All-WAC second team.
Colorado State: LB Ricky Brewer. Any efforts to improve the
defense in the offseason will be done around Brewer and fellow
outside LB Mychal Sisson. The game has begun to slow down for
Brewer, who likes to fly around the field and play with reckless
abandon. In what’s been a table-setting year for the second half of
his career in Fort Collins, he’s second on the team to Sisson with
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
LT Matt Reynolds. With Max Hall, Harvey Unga, Dennis Pitta, and
Austin Collie in the same huddle, who bothers watching a freshman
lineman, right? Because he’s got the tools to be one of the best
blockers in the country before too long. A dominant force at 6-6 and
320 pounds, he’ll step out of the shadows of his senior linemates as
soon as this game ends.
Arizona: RB Keola Antolin. While only 5-8 and 180 pounds,
when Antolin gets into open space, his size is irrelevant. He burst
on to the scene in the Oct. 18 win over Cal, rushing for 149 yards
and three touchdowns, and electrifying the offense with his quick
cuts and darting moves. Just a true freshman, he has an exciting
future in Tucson.
magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl
Dec. 20 / 9 p.m. ET St. Petersburg, Fl.
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. Conference USA
South Florida vs. Memphis
QB Arkelon Hall. While there were ups and down in Hall’s first
season out of the College of the Sequoias, he showed enough as a
passer and a scrambler to raise expectations for 2009. Before
breaking his thumb on Oct. 18, he was filling the air with passes,
throwing for more than 350 yards on three different occasions. With
a year of experience behind him, he could be one of Conference USA’s
most dangerous hurlers next fall.
South Florida: LB Kion Wilson. Earlier, in the year, Wilson
came to Tampa as one of the most decorated JUCO recruits in the
country. By November, he was playing like it. He had double-digit
tackles in three of the Bulls’ final four games, flashing the power
and open field tackling from middle linebacker that’ll make him one
of the defensive leaders in 2009.
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
LB Korey Williams. Before getting his jaw broken in an off-field
altercation, Williams was beginning to look like the next big thing
in a Southern Miss linebacker. In the first four games of his
career, the redshirt freshman had 21 tackles and four tackles for
loss, including nine solos in a loss to Marshall. Although he hasn’t
suited up since, the Eagles are hoping to see him in pads one more
time before spring practice.
Troy: QB Levi Brown. Brown is one of those feel-good Sun Belt
stories that usually only gets told this time of year. A walk-on
transfer from Richmond, he took over for injured starter Jamie
Hampton in October and threw 14 touchdown passes to a mere three
picks. Once Hampton recovers from his ACL tear, the Trojans will be
faced with a good old fashioned quarterback battle in 2009.
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
WR Jimmy Young. Sure, Young has already broken out with 54 catches
for 926 yards and five touchdowns, but he still takes a backseat on
a team dominated by its defense. That could change next year, when a
big chunk of that D will be applying for NFL jobs. Young has good
size to go along with the deep speed to get behind the last line of
Boise State: S George Iloka. Iloka is raw, but he also has
the combination of size, speed, and athletic ability that’s off the
charts for a safety. At 6-3 and 202 pounds, the true freshman gets
tremendous elevation on jump balls and can go stride-for-stride with
most receivers in the WAC. He’s laid the foundation for a tremendous
future in Boise with 55 tackles, five tackles for loss, four picks,
and 10 passes defended.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Dec. 24 / 8 p.m. ET Honolulu, Hawaii ESPN
Tie-Ins: Pac 10 vs. WAC
TE Kyle Rudolph. The new Tight End U. has located its newest member
of the fraternity. Forced into a prominent role when starter Mike
Ragone tore his ACL in August, Rudolph has responded with 25 catches
for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. At 6-6 and 252 pounds, he
already has the size of a future Mackey Award candidate to go with
the long stride to create nightmares for opposing linebackers.
Hawaii: QB Greg Alexander. Okay, Alexander is not the
second-coming of Colt Brennan, but he sure has done a nice
impression since replacing Inoke Funaki in October. The first-year
transfer from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College with the rocket arm
has thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions since
entering the lineup six games ago. He’s also shown unexpected
mobility for a 6-5, 240-pounder, scrambling for positive yards in
each of those games.
Motor City Bowl
Dec. 26 / 7:30 p.m. ET Detroit, Mich. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 7 vs. MAC
vs. Central Michigan
TE Jamari Grant. Although he lines up at tight end, at 6-5 and 210
pounds, Grant has the size and the moves of a rangy wide receiver.
Along with fellow junior Rob Housler, he’s stepped up in the absence
of injured starter Jason Harmon to catch 40 balls for 572 yards and
four touchdowns. With all three slated to be back in 2009, the Owls
will quietly have one of the deepest corps of tight ends in the
Central Michigan: LB Nick Bellore. Despite popular opinion,
they do play some defense at Central Michigan. The headliner of the
unit is Bellore, who leads the MAC with 135 tackles in just his
sophomore season. While not always the best athlete on the field, he
plays with a level of tenacity and field vision that keep him around
the ball at all times.
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
RB Jermaine Thomas. Thomas showed enough in his first season out of
high school to be considered the heir-apparent to senior Antone
Smith in the running game. At 6-1 and 180 pounds, he’s a blazer with
good vision in the open field and enough wiggle to make defenders
miss. Thomas has made the most of his 66 carries, averaging more
than seven yards and putting up 130 yards against a good Georgia
Wisconsin: WR David Gilreath. The antithesis of the
stereotypical plodder in Madison, Gilreath has an incendiary quality
that began to emerge in his sophomore season. Third in the Big Ten
behind Javon Ringer and Shonn Greene in all-purpose yards, he had a
100-yard game rushing and receiving in November and leads the
Badgers in kickoff and punt returns.
Dec. 27 / 8:30 p.m. ET San Francisco, Calif. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 7 vs. Pac-10 No. 5
WR Travis Benjamin. In Benjamin, the Hurricanes are hopeful their
harboring the second coming of Devin Hester or Santana Moss in
Miami. He’s got world-class speed and the acceleration to jet past
defenders in the blink of an eye. He showed flashes as a receiver
and on special teams, and should really begin taking flight as a
playmaker in 2009.
Cal: WR Nyan Boateng. Even though he’s tied for the team lead
with 26 receptions, Boateng is capable of so much more. Physically
speaking, the transfer from Florida has few peers, combining a sleek
6-2, 210-pound frame with tremendous speed and elevation. Once he
fine tunes his overall game and gets better consistency from the
quarterbacks, he’ll be tough to keep quiet.
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.
LB Bruce Carter. Carter may be a linebacker these days, but he plays
with all of the explosiveness and big-play ability of a former high
school running back. He has blossomed in his second season into the
type of defender and special teams performer who can change the
momentum of a game with his speed and range. Carter leads the Heels
in tackles for loss and sacks, and has four blocked punts, three
coming in the Connecticut game.
West Virginia: WR Jock Sanders. Think Noel Devine with better
pass-catching skills. Sanders is a diminutive slot receiver who the
Mountaineers like to get in space in a multitude of different ways.
He’s caught a team-high 48 passes, averaged almost six yards on 45
carries, and leads the team in touchdowns scored. No. 9 is the kind
of gamebreaker who can go the distance with one timely block.
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
RB Jourdan Brooks. If the Scarlet Knights learned one thing in the
post-Ray Rice era, it was that no single back was going to replace
the All-American. Brooks took turns with Kordell Young and Joe
Martinek playing the feature role, twice going over 100 yards on the
ground. He could offer the greatest upside of the three
underclassmen, blending a 250-pound frame with a nice kick once he
gets through the hole.
North Carolina State: LB Nate Irving. If not for an injury in
the middle of the season, Irving appeared headed for the All-ACC
first team. When he returned in November, the Pack was a different
team, tightening up on defense and winning the final four games. A
sideline-to-sideline playmaker with game-changing skills, he still
came up with 73 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and a team-best four
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
QB Chandler Harnish. Injuries to starter Dan Nicholson forced
Harnish into an expanded role that he embraced in the final two
months of the season. An athletic redshirt freshman, he twice rushed
for more than 100 yards and had big games through the air versus
Toledo and Kent State. While this wasn’t supposed to be Harnish’s
time to shine, the unexpected reps will be a boon to the entire
program in 2009.
Louisiana Tech: WR Phillip Livas. While Livas isn’t very big,
his contributions to the Bulldog offense have been enormous. The
most versatile and dangerous weapon on the roster, he’s run for 322
yards, caught a team-high 39 passes, scored six times, and is the
school’s best special teams player. Now that he’s comfortable in the
Tech offense, he can spend the second half of his career making a
name for himself outside Ruston.
Dec. 29 / 8 p.m. ET San Antonio, Texas ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 4 or No. 5 vs. Big 12 No. 4
LB Quentin Davie. While Davie sort of hit the wall in November, the
coaching staff saw enough in the first half to know he has
substantial upside. A terrific all-around athlete at 6-4 and 215
pounds, the sophomore could be asked to put his hand in the dirt if
he’s able to pack on some pounds in the offseason. Davie has flashed
a natural ability for getting into the backfield, collecting 9.5
tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Missouri: NT Jaron Baston. Baston was quietly one of this year’s
pleasant surprises, doing a nice job of replacing All-Big 12 first
teamer Lorenzo Williams. In his first year in the lineup, he’s been
in on 43 stops and has eight tackles for loss to earn honorable
mention all-conference. At 6-1 and 305 pounds, the junior plays with
good leverage and is surprisingly nimble for his size.
Dec. 30 / 8 p.m. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Houston, Texas
Big 12 vs. C-USA
S Travis Bradshaw. Bradshaw must’ve known something that others
didn’t when he turned down scholarship to walk on at Rice. Just a
redshirt freshman, he’s been one of the big surprises on defense for
the Owls, making 81 tackles, breaking up five passes, and really
having an impact toward the end of the year. Bradshaw has been
particularly effective in run defense and as an open-field tackler.
Western Michigan: WR Juan Nunez. In a complimentary role, Nunez
has carved out a productive niche in the Bronco passing game, making
55 catches for 661 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he better
start getting used to more attention. Three of this year’s top four
receivers, Jamarko Simmons, Schneider Julien, and Branden Ledbetter
are seniors, meaning the sophomore will be play sans protection next
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
WR Damian Davis. In 2007, Dez Bryant showed signs of his massive
upside before erupting this year. Although Davis doesn’t have as
high of a ceiling, he’s done the same thing this fall, getting his
feet wet with 16 catches for 348 yards and two scores. He still
needs to fill out his 6-5, 185-pound frame, but with his roommate
getting so much attention on the other side, he stands to be the
Oregon: LB Spencer Paysinger. Paysinger has sort of gotten lost
on a defense with more recognizable names. That’s too bad because
he’s really delivered as a sophomore, making 86 tackles, and nine
tackles for loss, while doing a nice job in pass defense. He’s got
good range, tackles well in the open field, and is, pound-for-pound,
one of the strongest players on the defense.
Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl
Dec. 30/4:30 p.m. Boise, Idaho ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 8 vs. WAC
RB Davin Meggett. Da’Rel Scott is still the focal point of the
running game, but Ralph Friedgen might have to find ways to get
Meggett more reps next year. As a true freshman, he’s gone for 422
yards and four touchdowns on just 79 carries, running downhill and
low to the ground. Scott’s inability to stay healthy puts a premium
on Meggett getting prepared for an expanded role going forward.
Nevada: DE Kevin Basped. While Basped has already broken out on
a WAC level, it hasn’t exactly had a ripple effect outside the
region. That could begin to change following the H-Bowl. The
sophomore is a 6-6, 240-pound predator, who deserves more national
attention. An imposing physical presence who’s still growing into
his frame, he has 18.5 tackles for loss and a league-leading 10
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.
WR L.J. Castile. Yes, he’s still raw, but when you’re a gifted 6-3
and 210-pound athlete, coaches have a tendency to be patient. A
quarterback when he arrived in Houston, the sophomore has gradually
assimilated to his new position, catching 29 passes for 511 yards
and eight touchdowns. The Cougars are hoping Castille’s last game,
five grabs for 144 yards and three touchdowns, provides a
springboard into next season.
Air Force: QB Tim Jefferson. In early October, Troy Calhoun made
the bold move of turning his offense over to Jefferson, a true
freshman. The coach has never looked back. Sure, the learning curve
will be steep for awhile, but he’s shown flashes as a dual-threat
behind center, and the experience of playing in a bowl game will pay
tangible dividends in 2009 and beyond.
Dec. 31 / 2 p.m. ET. El Paso, Texas CBS
Tie-Ins: Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame vs. Pac-10 No. 3
WR Jonathan Baldwin. It’s only a matter of time before Baldwin
develops into a bona fide star. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, he possesses
an almost freakish combination of size, speed, and physicality. Now,
all he needs is more reps and more looks from QB Bill Stull. Baldwin
has 18 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns, largely being
underutilized in his first year out of high school.
Oregon State: DT Stephen Paea. Paea has come a long way in a
short period in his athletic career. A rugby player growing up in
his native Tonga, he’d only played two seasons of football before
arriving at Oregon State via Snow College. You couldn’t tell by
watching him play this season. In the first significant action of
his career, the disruptive Paea parlayed 37 tackles, 11 tackles for
loss, and five sacks into honorable mention on the All-Pac-10 squad.
Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Dec. 31 / 3:30 p.m. ET Nashville, Tenn. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC vs. SEC No. 5
QB Dominique Davis. An unfortunate broken collarbone to Chris Crane
has provided a glimpse into the future at Boston College. While
Davis was always pegged as the successor behind center, no one
expected the wraps to come off so soon. The redshirt freshman has
played the last three games and will get all of the first-team reps
in December, which will surely hasten his development heading into
Vanderbilt: TE Brandon Barden. In his first season since
transferring from Virginia Tech, Barden has emerged into a reliable
target on intermediate routes. An athletic 6-5, 245-pounder, who
played quarterback in high school, he’s caught 27 passes for 204
yards and four touchdowns. With more time at the position and in the
weight room, the sky will be the limit for the redshirt freshman.
Dec. 31 / 7:30 p.m. ET Atlanta, Ga. ESPN
Tie-Ins: ACC No. 2 vs. SEC
S Cooper Taylor. On a defense crammed with veterans, Taylor had no
problem fitting in as a true freshman. A rangy 6-4, 195-pound
athlete, he’s an ideal nickel back, who can cover receivers and
press up to stop the run. In his first go-round with the Yellow
Jackets, Taylor is second of the team with 65 tackles, showing
marked improvement as the season wound down.
LSU: QB Jordan Jefferson. Jefferson’s baptism under fire is
expected to continue in Atlanta. The true freshman with the
considerable upside started the regular season finale against
Arkansas, struggling at times, yet throwing two touchdown passes and
flashing good acceleration outside the pocket. The staff will use
this game and the 15 practices that go with it to get a better read
on the quarterback situation for 2009.
Dec. 31 / 5:30 ET Tempe, Ariz. NFL Network
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6
DT Jamal Greene. It took some time to get to this point, but Greene
has begun to show why he was one of the top recruits out of the
state two years ago. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he’s extremely powerful,
yet moves surprisingly well laterally. He’s had a tackle for loss in
four of the last six games, a preview of what’s to come from the
sophomore in 2009.
Minnesota: LB Simoni Lawrence. In just his first season out of
Valley Forge (Penn.) Military Academy, Lawrence has had an instant
impact on the Gopher defense. A linebacker who moves like a safety,
he’s had no problems adjusting to the speed of the Big Ten, ranking
fourth on the team with 64 tackles, while proving to be a useful
option on the blitz.
Jan. 1 / 11 a.m. ET Tampa, Fla. ESPN
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC
CB Amari Spievey. It’s been a long journey getting back to Iowa
City, but the Hawkeyes are thrilled that Spievey’s back. Originally
signed by the Hawkeyes in 2006, he had a rough time being so far
from home and his grades began to suffer. After spending one season
at Iowa Central to get things in order, he’s returned to the Iowa
defense and enjoyed an outstanding first season of action. For
Spievey, the best is yet to come.
South Carolina: DT Ladi Ajiboye. Forget the numbers when
evaluating Ajiboye’s importance to this Gamecock defense. Quick off
the ball, he never takes a play off and has the athletic ability to
fight through blocks and makes stops for minus yards. Just a
sophomore, he’ll have an opportunity to be one of the catalysts of
the D in 2009.
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
DE Da’Quan Bowers. After getting his feet wet as a true freshman,
Bowers should be ready to explode a year from now. An athletic 6-4,
275-pounder, he has an immense upside that’ll begin to reach the
surface next year. Once he improves his technique and understanding
of the defense, he’ll have a chance to be one of the true
pass-rushing monsters of the ACC.
Nebraska: RB Roy Helu. Helu. wasn’t quite ready to be the Husker
workhorse early in the season. He is now. The sophomore went on a
tear in November, averaging 127 yards a game and giving Nebraska
some much-needed balance during a solid stretch run. A tough,
efficient runner, Helu is making a strong statement to be the focal
point of the offense in 2009.
Capital One Bowl
Jan. 1 / 1 p.m. Orlando, Fla. ABC
Tie-Ins: Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2
RB Caleb King. If, as expected, Knowshon Moreno bolts for the NFL,
King is a name to keep in mind for 2009 and beyond. Similarly built
to Moreno at 5-11 and 212 pounds, he’s got the potential to be the
next big thing at the position, provided he learns to do the little
things better. A missed block in the Florida game cost the redshirt
freshman playing time at the end of the year. Mark Richt might want
to get King and Richard Samuel some reps in Orlando in anticipation
of what’s to come next year.
Michigan State: TE Charlie Gantt. A year after not catching a
single pass behind Kellen Davis, Gantt pulled down 19 for 302 yards
and four touchdowns in a statement sophomore season. Determined to
be more than just a faceless blocker on running downs, he dropped
weight in the offseason and worked on improving his ball skills. The
results have been greater confidence from the Spartan quarterbacks
and more chances to make plays in the passing game.
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
QB Mike Hartline. With Randall Cobb likely sidelined following knee
surgery, Hartline gets 15 practices and the Liberty Bowl to get a
jump on a quarterback race that’ll continue again in the spring.
Hartline had his struggles in the first half of the year, but is
clearly the better passer of the two, which will be needed to make a
dent in a pretty good East Carolina pass defense.
East Carolina: NG Linval Joseph. The average fan will never
appreciate a player like Joseph. Pirate coaches feel he’s
indispensable. A 6-6, 300-pound brick wall in the middle of the
defensive line, he’s one of the unheralded reasons why East Carolina
was so stingy in the second half of the year. Plenty tough at the
point of contact, the sophomore has trimmed away excess baby fat to
dramatically improve his quickness and endurance.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Jan. 2 / 2 p.m. ET Dallas, Texas FOX
Tie-Ins: Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC
Texas Tech vs.
QB Jevan Snead. Snead’s anonymity on a national level has a short
shelf life. By this time next year, he could be one of the hottest
quarterbacks in the country. After a slow start, he caught fire,
throwing 13 touchdown passes and just two picks in the Rebels’ final
five games. More important, he’s helped lead the program to an 8-4
record that’s included road wins over Florida and LSU. For much of
the nation, the Cotton Bowl will be a first chance to get a really
good look at Snead’s rising stardom.
Texas Tech: WR Tramain Swindall. In all likelihood, the Red
Raiders will be looking to replace two of this year’s top three
receivers, Michael Crabtree and Eric Morris, in 2009. Swindall has
shown in his redshirt season that he’ll be capable of filling some
of the void. A fluid, 6-3 and 175-pound athlete, he’s already caught
42 passes for 528 yards and two touchdowns, while getting a better
grasp of Mike Leach’s system.
Jan. 3 / 12 p.m. ET Toronto, Canada ESPN2
Tie-Ins: Big East vs. MAC No. 4 or 5
LB Justin Winters. Winters is a well-kept outside of Upstate New
York. That could change if the International Bowl does the unlikely
and attracts any audience outside of the Northeast. In his first
full year of action, the sophomore leads the Bulls with 118 tackles,
while chipping in 7.5 tackles for loss. A glorified safety at 6-1
and 202 pounds, he makes plays with his quickness and ability to
Connecticut: CB Jasper Howard. Now that star corner Darius
Butler has played his final games for the Huskies, Howard has taken
over as the team’s stopper in pass defense. While not very big, he’s
a dynamic athlete who’s not afraid to step and support in run
defense. He’s tied for second on the team with 37 solo tackles, has
four interceptions, and leads the Big East in punt returns.
Jan. 6 / 8 p.m. ET Mobile, Ala. ESPN
Tie-Ins: C-USA No. 2 vs. MAC/WAC
Tulsa vs. Ball State
WR Damaris Johnson. Johnson surely did his homework last year when
he signed a letter of intent to play for Tulsa. He’s a perfect fit
for the Hurricanes’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense. While only 5-8 and
175 pounds, he’s got the jets and the moves in the open field to be
a game-breaker as a receiver, running back, or kickoff returner.
Basically, the Tulsa staff will be looking for new ways to get the
ball in Johnson’s hands over the next three years.
Ball State: WR Briggs Orsbon. After Dante Love suffered a
career-ending spinal injury in September, Orsbon responded better
than a true freshman should have under those circumstances. He
wasted no time earning the confidence of QB Nate Davis, and finished
the regular season with a team-best 65 catches for 767 yards and
five touchdowns. With a full offseason to get better acclimated with
his surroundings, he’ll return next year even more confident and
prepared for success.