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December 30th bowl game draft prospects for 49ers fans to watch

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We highlight and profile the 2018 NFL draft-eligible prospects in Saturday’’s Taxslayer Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

We are reaching the conclusion of Bowl Season in college football. Today marks the beginning of the New Year’s Six Bowls with the College Football Playoff soon to follow. With many intriguing prospects in action today, let’s get started on an exciting Saturday of football!

Taxslayer Bowl

Teams: #23 Mississippi State vs Louisville
Kickoff: 9:00 a.m. PT
Where: Jacksonville, Florida - EverBank Stadium
Watch: ESPN

Our day begins with a noon kickoff between the Louisville Cardinals of the ACC facing off against the #23 Mississippi State Bulldogs of the SEC. This game will be played at EverBank Stadium home of the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Florida.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

This will all but likely be Lamar Jackson’s final collegiate appearance before he prepares for the NFL Draft. Jackson has been one of college football’s most electrifying players in the country these past two seasons. He was a Heisman finalist this year after claiming the award last season.

Interesting Note

Dan Mullens, who coached Mississippi State since 2009 recently left the program after accepting the head coaching position at Florida.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

How They Got Here

Louisville (8-4) had high aspirations with the return of Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. It started with a home loss to the playoff bound Clemson Tigers, and ended with a third place finish in the Atlantic division behind Clemson and N.C. State. Mississippi State (8-4) were part of some thrilling games. Some, ending in their favor, and some ending in heartbreak. They had the playoff bound Alabama Crimson Tide on the ropes till the very end.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

It would only be fitting to have one last Lamar Jackson show before he takes his act to the NFL. Between the coaching changeover in Starkville and the abilities of Jackson, I am going to predict the Cardinals pull away with a marginal victory.

The Pick: Louisville

NCAA Football: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Top Prospects To Watch

Lamar Jackson - QB - Louisville - 6’4” - 205 lbs. (1st)
Trevon Young - OLB - Louisville - 6’3” - 254 lbs. (6th-7th)
Trumaine Washington - CB - Louisville - 5’10” - 181 lbs. (5th)
Martinas Rankin - OT - Mississippi State - 6’5” - 315 lbs. (2nd-3rd)
Donald Gray - WR - Mississippi State - 5’9” - 198 lbs. (6th-7th)
Jordan Thomas - TE - Mississippi State - 6’5” - 295 lbs. (7th-UDFA)

Player Spotlight

Martinas Rankin - OT - Mississippi State - # 55

Auburn v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Rankin was the do-it-all tackle in the country this season. Had the ability to play at multiple spots along the line of scrimmage. Demonstrated the ability to take on different assignments at any given moment in the game. Faced elite competition within the SEC and the West division, and held his own very well against the likes of the Alabama defensive line, Arden Key of LSU and Lorenzo Carter of Georgia. Rankin was welcomed to Mississippi State in 2015 as the number one tackle prospect from the junior college level. He has now blossomed into one of the best tackles in the country. The biggest plus is that left tackle seems to be his most comfortable position. Pay close attention 49ers fans, because if the team doesn’t address tackle in the first round, Rankin could very well be on the team’s radar on day two.

Trumaine Washington - CB - Louisville - # 15

Kent State v Louisville Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Washington had a productive and positive season in the Cardinals secondary. This season Washington recorded 39 tackles and 4 interceptions. While Washington was targeted quite a bit, he made the most of it becoming one of only 4 Louisville players in history to record 10 interceptions and 20 passes broken up. Was recently named to the 2017 All-ACC Football Team. He led the team this season with his 4 interceptions.

Special Note

Jaire Alexander (cornerback, Louisville) and James Hearns (OLB, Louisville) will not be playing in this game as they begin preparations for the 2018 NFL Draft.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Teams: #20 Memphis vs Iowa State
Kickoff: 9:30 a.m. PT
Where: Memphis, Tennessee - Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Watch: ABC

Shortly following the Taxslayer Bowl will be the Liberty Bowl featuring the #20 Memphis Tigers of the American Athletic Conference facing off against the Iowa State Cyclones of the Big 12. The game will be played at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. For Memphis, nothing better than playing a Bowl game in your own backyard!

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

Anthony Miller is the real deal ladies and gentlemen! Just a fun and exciting receiver to watch in an electrifying offense.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Interesting Note

For Memphis, this is practically a home game. Can they play that to their advantage? For Iowa State…it’s been a magical season with some wild upsets. Do they have one more in them?

How They Got Here

Memphis (10-2) finished runner-up to the Peach Bowl bound, AAC Champion, and undefeated Central Florida Knights, in what was a shootout that topped all shootouts this season. Memphis has a high-powered offense, but it was their defense that kept them out of a New Year’s Six Bowl. Don’t let Iowa State’s record (7-5) fool you. They earned some highly regarded victories against some noteworthy opponents defeating the playoff bound Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, defeated Texas Tech on the road, and crushing TCU’s playoff dreams. Now they need to find consistency heading into 2018.

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

If the game turns into a shootout, advantage Memphis. If it becomes a defensive battle, I like the Cyclones chances. After careful thought I am going to side with the Tigers. After they swallowed a tough pill in the AAC title game, I think they use the “Home” field advantage to play on their terms…and that usually means a shootout.

The Pick: Memphis

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Top Prospects To Watch:

Anthony Miller - WR - Memphis - 5’11” - 190 lbs. (2nd-3rd)
Riley Ferguson - QB - Memphis - 6’4” - 210 lbs. (4th-5th)
Jonathan Cook - CB - Memphis - 6’0” - 198 lbs. (7th-UDFA)
Genard Avery - LB - Memphis - 6’1” - 255 lbs. (5th-6th)
Allen Lazard - WR - Iowa State - 6’5” - 222 lbs. (4th-5th)
Jake Campos - OT - Iowa State - 6’8” - 300 lbs. (5th-6th)
Joel Lanning - LB - Iowa State - 6’2” - 232 lbs. (6th-7th)

Player Spotlight

Anthony Miller - WR - Memphis # 3

NCAA Football: Navy at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most exciting receivers in a class that we are still trying to fully grasp as a whole. Doesn’t get the love and attention like James Washington and Calvin Ridley due to playing in the AAC, but his play speaks for itself. This season Miller recorded 78 receptions for 1,212 yards, and 14 touchdowns. He plays his best out of the slot, but many believe he can be a weapon that can be utilized all over the field. Has a strong route tree, and can make plays on the short, intermediate, and deep routes. Reliable hands, and good speed. There will be people who are concerned about his height, but people were concerned about Antonio Brown’s height as well. Dare I say, Miller reminds me of Brown when he was playing at Central Michigan. Miller is the real deal!

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

Teams: #9 Penn State vs #11 Washington
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Arizona - University of Phoenix Stadium
Watch: ESPN

We have reached the Premium Bowls. We start in the Desert at the Playstation Fiesta Bowl which will feature the #11 Washington Huskies of the PAC 12 Conference facing off against the #9 Penn State Nittany Lions of the BIG 10 Conference. The game will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

Saquon Barkley…Saquon Barkley…Saquon Barkely. Jokes aside, there is a lot of future NFL talent on both sides that 49ers fans should get to know entering draft season.

Interesting Note

We are entering an era of college football where more and more highly touted prospects choose to pass on playing in a Bowl Game and begin preparations for the draft. I completely understand and respect that choice with millions and millions of dollars on the line. However, Barkley will be playing, and here’s a statement from Barkley that I’m sure everyone can appreciate. “I just try to live in the moment, enjoy it and have fun with it. I’m surrounded by special people. I’m not looking too far in the future”.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Colorado vs Washington Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

How They Got Here

Penn State (10-2) had national title aspirations on their minds entering this season after a crushing defeat to USC in last year’s Rose Bowl. For a while the Nittany Lions were on a roll, and Barkley was a one-man wrecking crew. However a long road trip with defeats to Ohio State and Michigan State derailed Penn State’s title dreams, and Barkley’s Heisman’s campaign went out the window. Washington (10-2) entered this season along with USC as the PAC 12’s best chances of reaching the playoff. Like Penn State, the Huskies lost twice on the road.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

Last year Penn State traveled cross country only to lose in heart breaking fashion in the final seconds to USC. This time around they will enjoy the long flight home, and bring back some hardware to Happy Valley.

The Pick: Penn State

Top Prospects To Watch

Saquon Barkley - RB - Penn State - 5’11” - 211 lbs. (Top 10 Pick)
Marcus Allen - Safety - Penn State - 6’2” - 205 lbs. (3rd-4th)
Christian Campbell - CB - Penn State - 6’1” - 194 lbs. (7th)
Jason Cabinda - OLB - Penn State - 6’1” - 232 lbs. (3th-4th)
Juwan Johnson - WR - Penn State - 6’3” - 226 lbs. (6th-7th)
DaeSean Hamilton - WR - Penn State - 6’1” - 206 lbs. (5th-6th)
Mike Gesiciki - TE - Penn State - 6’6” - 252 lbs. (3rd-4th)

Vita Vea - DT - Washington - 6’5” - 332 lbs. (1st)
Dante Pettis - WR - Washington - 6’1” - 185 lbs. (2nd)
Keishawn Bierria - LB - Washington - 6’1” - 223 lbs. (5th-6th)
Azeem Victor - LB - Washington - 6’4” - 232 lbs. (4th-5th)
Myles Gaskin - RB - Washington - 5’10” - 193 lbs. (4th-5th)

Player Spotlight

Saquon Barkley - RB - Penn State - # 26

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Some consider Barkley to be the number one overall player in this draft, and for good reason…This season Barkley recorded 1,134 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns. In addition, Barkley reeled in 47 receptions for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns. Barkley has lethal speed, with elite balance, vision, and poise. A power back, that can shift and cut, evading the quickest defenders. His cutting ability is among the best I have ever studied. Barkley is truly a special talent, and worthy of a top five selection. It will be a heated debate amongst fans, but Barkely would be a seamless fit in Shanahan’s offense. The question is, can the 49ers justify selecting a running back in the first round? The Rams, Cowboys, and Jaguars don’t seem to have any regrets doing so.

Keishawn Bierria - LB - Washington - # 7

NCAA Football: Washington Spring Game Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Bierria had a productive junior season for the Huskies. Playing alongside fellow linebacker Azeem Victor, the duo were amongst the best linebacker pairings in the country. Thanks to a suspension Victor received, Bierria was able to shine on his own this season. He recorded 49 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 2 passes batted. The matchup between Bierria and Barkley will be a fun one to watch and analyze.

Capital One Orange Bowl

Teams: #6 Wisconsin vs # 10 Miami
Kickoff: 5:00 p.m.
Where: Miami, Florida - Hard Rock Stadium
Watch: ESPN

In the evening, we return to the sunshine state for our second New Year’s Six bowl of the day, the Capital One Orange Bowl featuring the #6 Wisconsin Badgers of the BIG 10 and the #10 Miami (FL) Hurricanes of the ACC. The game will be played in Miami, Florida at Hard Rock Stadium, home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the…Miami Hurricanes.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

This should be a highly contested game between two evenly matched teams. In addition, one of the best Tight Ends will be featured in this game.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Interesting Note

This game will feature two conference runner-up’s. It is also a battle of two top 10 teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings. There isn’t more of a “Home” game than this for Miami. It’s the stadium they play in all season long!

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How They Got Here

The U arrived ahead of schedule, and introduced the Turnover Chain to the nation. The Canes and the chain almost ran the table and certainly got the nation’s attention. Miami (10-2) would fall to a more seasoned Clemson squad in the ACC title game. Wisconsin (12-1) was a game away from the College Football Playoff before falling in the BIG 10 title game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

Miami might be the home team, however their last two games, especially against Pittsburgh were incredibly underwhelming. With all the injuries on offense for Miami and Wisconsin’s suffering defense, the Badgers should win this one. Miami will probably keep it close, but the Badgers bring home the oranges to Madison. The good news for Miami fans...It only gets better from here. You’re in good hands with Mark Richt, and it’s great to see the U back!

The Pick: Wisconsin

Top Prospects To Watch

Troy Fumagalli - TE - Wisconsin - 6’6” - 248 lbs. (2nd)
Michael Deiter - OT - Wisconsin - 6’6” - 328 lbs. (2nd-3rd)
Derrick Tindal - CB - Wisconsin - 5’11” - 181 lbs. (7th-UDFA)
Chad Thomas - DE - Miami - 6’6” - 265 lbs. (3rd-4th)
Dee Delaney - CB - Miami - 6’0” - 193 lbs. (7th)
Braxton Berrios - WR - Miami - 5’9” - 186 lbs. (7th-UDFA)

Player Spotlight

Troy Fumagalli - TE - Wisconsin - # 81

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The senior ends his career at Wisconsin with 38 receptions for 471 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Fumagalli is the dual-threat tight end that all scouts, evaluators, and coaches seek at the next level. Fumagalli can line-up as a receiver, run routes, and serve as an effective blocker in run and pass protection along the line of scrimmage. He might have some of the biggest hands for a tight end prospect in the last few years. I believe he will have the ability to be a three down tight end in the NFL.

Chad Thomas - DE - Miami - #9

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

One of the brightest spots on the Hurricanes defense this season, Chad Thomas had 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. He has a physical skill set that evaluators seek at the next level. However, there were inconstancies with play throughout the season. On tape, there were some games where his presence could be felt play in and play out, and other games where he was practically invisible. However, he demonstrated strong leadership on the defensive side of the ball, and served as a team captain. With an up and down season, it will be interesting to see how scouts and teams value him during the draft process.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and joyous New Year! May 2018 bring us health, happiness, and a successful season for our San Francisco 49ers!