We continue our march through Bowl mania during this holiday week. Today we have three bowl games to look forward to, featuring numerous draft eligible prospects. Some more known than others. Let’s get right to it!
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Teams: Utah (6-6) vs West Virginia (7-5)
Kickoff: 10:30 a.m.
Where: Dallas, Texas - Cotton Bowl
In the early afternoon we have a matchup featuring the Utah Utes of the PAC 12 Conference facing off against the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. The game will be played at the Cotton Bowl, located in Dallas,Texas. One of the biggest reasons I am excited about this game is the wide receivers that will be featured. The 49ers will need to address this position as they look to build around Jimmy Garoppolo next season and beyond.
Why You Should Watch
Receivers on both sides. This game should be a shootout, and so if you like high-scoring games, then this will be one to settle in for.
This will be the first bowl game this season between two Power 5 Programs.
How They Got Here
After starting off to a promising 4-0 start Utah (6-6) struggled against far better competition, especially within their conference. After a slump in the middle of the season, the Utes were able to muster to a 6-6 record…the bare minimum for bowl eligibility. Like Utah, West Virginia (7-5) had a nice start to the season as well, before stumbling in conference play. In a way, these teams have had similar seasons. Unfortunately, for this game, West Virginia will be without Will Grier.
Had Will Grier been playing in this game, my pick might be different, however in a potential shootout, I am going to side with the quarterback who has more experience, and will most likely make one less mistake when the game is on the line.
The Pick: Utah
Top Prospects To Watch
Gary Jennings - WR - West Virginia - 6’1” - 210 lbs.
David Sills* - WR - West Virginia - 6’4” - 203 lbs. (Returning To School)
Al-Rasheed Benton - LB - West Virginia - 6’2” - 220 lbs.
Darren Carrington - WR - Utah - 6’2” - 185 lbs.
Lowell Lotulelei - DT - Utah - 6’2” - 320 lbs.
Gary Jennings - WR - West Virginia - #12
It’s too bad Will Grier isn’t playing in this game. However, this will give us a chance to see how Jennings adapts to another quarterback under center. Jennings has been a favorite target to throw to all season, and has strong, reliable hands. This season he recorded 94 receptions for 1,030 yards and 1 touchdown. It would be nice to see him score more touchdowns, however Jennings is a reception machine, moves the chains, and produces respectable yards after the catch. Jennings wont be a team’s number one receiver in the NFL, however he can be an effective number two or three receiver. He reminds me a lot of Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions. Also keep a close eye on David Sills who decided to return to school next season. He just might be next year’s number one receiving prospect.
Darren Carrington - WR - Utah - #9
The Oregon transfer had a successful season for the Utes recording 918 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Including his time at Oregon, Carrington has 2,837 yards and 21 touchdowns. Produces good speed, and has demonstrated the ability to make the short, intermediate, and long range catches.
Quick Lane Bowl
Teams: Duke (6-6) vs Northern Illinois (8-4)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Detroit, Michigan - Ford Field
The late afternoon game will feature the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC facing off against the Northern Illinois Huskies of the MAC Conference. The game will be played at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. For this game, 49ers fans should keep a close eye on the offensive line of the Duke Blue Devils as well as a defensive back for Northern Illinois.
Why You Should Watch
Defense. Unlike the earlier game, this matchup has two teams that play off the strength of their defense. In addition, the Offensive linemen on Duke.
How They Got Here
Duke (6-6) started off on fire winning four straight. However, once conference play began, it was tough sledding for the Blue Devils who had to earn a bowl invite the hard way. Their defense helped them grind out six wins this season. Northern Illinois finished 8-4 and third in the MAC West division. Another squad that relied heavily on their defense.
I’m going to give the MAC some love and predict a victory for the Huskies. Both teams will count on defense and field position all game. However, throughout the course of the season the Huskies offense has been just a bit better than the Blue Devils. The Huskies win, and the MAC get a win against the ACC.
The Pick: Northern Illinois
Top Prospects To Watch
Gabe Brandner - OT - Duke - 6’6” - 285 lbs.
Austin Davis - Center - Duke - 6’4” - 290 lbs.
Shawun Lurry - CB - Northern Illinois - 5’8” - 170 lbs.
Joe Giles-Harris - LB - Duke - 6’2” - 230 lbs.
Sutton Smith - DE- Northern Illinois - 6’0” - 225 lbs. (2019)
Gabe Brandner - OT - Duke - #76
The left tackle for Duke started three straight seasons for the Blue Devils. Has a great blend of pass and run blocking abilities. Creates open holes for the run game, and applies push and pressure, sending defensive ends backwards away from the line of scrimmage. Brandner has gone a bit under the radar at Duke, and at the moment is a day three prospect. I do like his size for his position, and feel that should translate well at the next level.
Shawun Lurry - CB - Northern Illinois - #19
For his career Lurry has 117 total tackles, 14 interceptions, and 33 passes defended. He put his name on the map during his sophomore season when he recored nine interceptions. The senior has demonstrated the ability to be a shutdown corner and isolate the receiver in man to man coverage. My biggest concern is his size at the next level. At 5’8” 170 pounds Lurry will need to continue to bulk up. However, he plays his position with confidence and poise, and has the chance to be drafted on day three.
Teams: UCLA (6-6) vs Kansas State (7-5)
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Phoenix, Arizona - Chase Field
We conclude with The Cactus Bowl which will feature the UCLA Bruins of the PAC 12 Conference facing off against the Kansas State Wildcats from the Big 12 Conference. This will be the second bowl game featuring two Power 5 conferences. Two major questions for this game: Will Josh Rosen (Concussion) play? It sounds like no. Will this be Bill Snyder’s final game coaching Kansas State? It’s a little messy
Whether he plays or not this will most likely be quarterback Josh Rosen’s final appearance with UCLA. However, there are conflicting rumors and reports that he may be hesitant to leave school with the Cleveland Browns selecting first in the 2018 NFL Draft.
How They Got Here
UCLA finished 6-6 and just barely qualified to play in a bowl. Had it not been for some heroics from Josh Rosen at points this season the Bruins would not be here. After a mediocre season head coach Jim Mora Jr. was fired and interim coach Jedd Fisch will lead the Bruins into the bowl game. UCLA hired former 49ers head coach Chip Kelly as their new head coach for 2018 and beyond. This marks Kelly’s return to college since he left Oregon in 2012 for the Philadelphia Eagles. Kansas State finished 7-5 after an up and down year in the Big 12 Conference. There is speculation if head coach Bill Snyder will return in 2018. He has coached the Wildcats from 1989-2005 and 2009-Present. Coach Snyder is 78 years old.
Will Rosen play or will he not is the question. My feeling is that he will not. Like with Will Grier and West Virginia, I don’t see the Bruins winning this game without Rosen and all the changeover happening with the program from a players and coaching standpoint. It will be close, but the Wildcats will pull out the victory.
The Pick: Kansas State
Top Draft Prospects To Watch
Josh Rosen - QB - UCLA - 6’4” - 218 lbs.
D.J. Reed - CB - Kansas State - 5’9” - 188 lbs.
Dalton Risner - OT - Kansas State - 6’5” - 285 lbs.
Kenny Young - LB - UCLA - 6’1 - 240 lbs.
Scott Quessenberry - Center - UCLA - 6’3” - 300 lbs.
Kenny Young - LB - UCLA - #42
For his career Young has 295 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. His ability to stop the run has been impressive throughout his career at UCLA. I do have some concerns about his coverage against the pass. He is also a bit undersized for a linebacker. He does make up for that with efficient straight-line downhill speed. Young has a lot of raw talent with the opportunity to continue to grow and blossom in the right system. It is yet to be determined if he can be a three down linebacker in the NFL, but his arrow is pointing up. He is a day three prospect.
D.J. Reed - CB, KR - Kansas State #2
The dual-threat prospect makes his presence known both on defense and special teams. I am hopeful that Reed will be able to play in this game. At the moment he is questionable. The junior college transfer has now played two full seasons at Kansas State and has totaled 121 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 35 passes defended. He is ranked second nationally in kick returns averaging 35.3 yards. His dual-threat abilities only increase his value. I currently have Reed as an early day three pick who could be knocking on the door of day two.
Josh Rosen - QB - UCLA - #3
Yes, the 49ers may no longer be investing their first round pick at quarterback, however it is only fitting to do a quick write-up on the potential number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. For his career, Rosen recored 9,031 passing yards, 59 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. Has the arm strength and accuracy that will translate well at the NFL level. The interceptions are a concern, and he will need to work on protecting the football. Rosen can make all the passes, is as comfortable as any quarterback I have studied in the pocket, and has perhaps the quickest release of any draft eligible quarterback this season. While he is not a threat to run often with his legs, he has the ability to scramble within the pocket to avoid sacks and defenders. There are red flags regarding his character. His interviews with teams at the combine will be crucial. However, with all that said, should Rosen officially declare, he is locked in as a top five selection and potentially the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.