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New Year's Day Early Bowl Games: Game time, TV schedule, Players to Watch

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A look at potential draft prospects to keep an eye on during today's early bowl games.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year Niners Nation! What better way to celebrate than with an all day college football marathon culminating with the first ever College Football Playoff semifinals?!?!

Outlined below is where you can catch the first three games and players to keep an eye on with the 2015 NFL Draft just a little less than five months away.

Outback Bowl: Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3) - 9am PT - ESPN2

I predicted as soon as Auburn WR Sammie Coates declared for the NFL Draft that he'd soon become a ‘draft crush' for many 49er fans. The junior receiver stands 6-2, 201lbs and exhibits freakish athleticism and sub 4.4 speed. Coates is still raw and will need to refine his route running but if the 2013 draft class was any indication, NFL teams will find a way to get him on the field early.

Keep an eye on Auburn TE C.J. Uzomah too. The Tigers don't utilize their TEs too much in the passing game (only 19 targets this season) but Uzomah has improved his blocking and has the necessary traits NFL teams look for in a TE. His 6-5, 264lbs frame and plus speed combined with improvements in the blocking game will garner plenty of attention from scouts.

For Wisconsin, it's all about junior RB Melvin Gordon. Gordon has rushed for nearly 4,000 yards over the last two season averaging 7.7 yards a carry. Gordon shows excellent vision and ability to find cut back lanes. While he's not the fasted RB you'll find, fewer get up to speed quicker. I hope Gordon comes out this year; otherwise, it's a safe bet for another 300+ carries next year at Wisconsin where they love to overload their RBs (see Montee Ball and James White).

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Michigan State (10-2) vs. Baylor (11-1) - 9:30am PT - ESPN

Last year MSU's CB Darqueze Dennard was selected 24th overall by the Bengals. This year, former teammate and fellow CB Trae Waynes could go higher. Waynes is just a junior and hasn't formally declared as of yet. Should he, as most expect, he could be the first corner of the board. Scouts like his size (6-1) and lengthy build but at only 183lbs there are some questions as to how he'll hold up against physical WRs in the NFL.

A dark horse at WR is MSU's Tony Lippett. Don't get confused when you also see Lippett line up at corner as well. He plays on both sides of the ball as of late and has done so quite well. At 6-3, 185lbs, Lippett has proven to be a viable candidate at both positions in the NFL though I think he'll stick to WR. He's agreed to play in the Senior Bowl later this month and could continue to play defense to try and improve his draft stock.

Draftnik's on Twitter were dealt a big blow earlier this week when Baylor's mammoth DL Shawn Oakman announced he'd return to school next season.

Baylor QB Bryce Petty will have to shed the ‘system quarterback' label often applied to players in spread attack systems were the QB is rarely asked to make more than one or two reads. Petty's strength is efficiency and his ability to hit receivers on the run. He may be worth a look in the mid rounds as a developmental backup.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri (10-3) vs. Minnesota (8-4) - 10am PT - ABC

There might not be a more physical running back in the upcoming draft than David Cobb. The 5-11, 229lbs back doesn't wow views with electric speed or ability to bounce plays to the outside. Instead he lowers his shoulders and plows forward. Cobb also shows nice hands out of the backfield. In 541 career carries, Cobb has never lost a fumble.

Mizzou's bookend defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden will need to have big games today if the Tigers hope to stop Minnesota's rushing attack. The two have combined fro 22 sacks but will tasked with setting the edge and trying to contain Cobb.

Ray set the Mizzou single season record with 13.5 sacks. He's a freakish athlete with natural ability to bend around the corner and attack the QB off the edge. He's a bit small at 245lbs and could stand to add some bulk before the NFL. The junior has yet to declare but figures to be a first round pick when he does.

Golden is a senior so his technique is a bit more refined. While he's not as explosive as Ray, Golden has enough speed and strength to contribute right away. Ray could make a transition to OLB in a 3-4 but Golden seems like a perfect fit as a strong side DE in a 4-3.

Check back later today as I'll have the players to watch for the College Football Playoff Semifinal games beginning at 2pm PT.