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Draft prospects to watch in college football’s semifinal games

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We highlight and profile the 2018 NFL draft-eligible prospects in Monday’s College Football Playoff Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Happy New Year Faithful! The College Football Playoff has at last arrived, and features the top four teams in the nation facing off for the right to play in next week’s National Championship Game in Atlanta.

In the first game we start out west for the Granddaddy of Them All…Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual featuring the #2 Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference facing off against the #3 Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC Conference. We then head to the Big Easy for the All-State Sugar Bowl and “Round 3” featuring the defending national champions #1 Clemson Tigers of the ACC facing off against the #4 Alabama Crimson Tide of the SEC.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

Teams: #2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs #3 Georgia (12-1)
Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. PT
Location: Rose Bowl - Pasadena, California
Watch: ESPN

Interesting Note

Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield has been battling an illness all week. During his press conferences he sounded okay at best. It does seem like he will be playing at less than hundred percent in this game. Definitely something to watch for throughout the course of the game.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How They Got Here

Oklahoma (12-1) has the best player in college football this year in quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Heisman winner had a near perfect season in Norman. The team also got a spark from first year head coach Lincoln Riley. Other than a slip-up against Iowa State at home, Oklahoma took care of business including wins on the road in Ohio State, and claiming the Big 12 Conference crown, defeating in-conference rival TCU.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia (12-1) began the year with former 5 star quarterback Jacob Eason under center. However, after a minor knee injury, fellow 5 star recruit and true freshman passer Jake Fromm take the reins and never relinquished them. Second year head coach Kirby Smart has the program well-ahead of schedule and clinched the SEC Championship with a victory over the SEC West division champs, Auburn.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Auburn Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

Marquee prospects playing on both sides. This is also a game featuring a high-powered offense in Oklahoma against a fast and aggressive defense in Georgia.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Auburn Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

This should be a very close game. For Oklahoma, even with Mayfield not at a hundred percent, should be capable of scoring points. While Fromm is a true freshmen quarterback he gets the least daunting defense of the three other teams in the playoff. This will be by far the best defense Oklahoma faces all year. With all do respect to the Heisman winner, when push comes to shove, it comes down to what team has more stops on third down, and for that I will go with the bulldogs.

The Pick: Georgia

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas Christian vs Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Top Prospects To Watch

Roquan Smith - LB - Georgia - 6’1” - 225 lbs.
Aaron Davis - CB - Georgia - 6’1” - 195 lbs.
Deandre Baker - CB - Georgia - 5’11” - 180 lbs.
Lorenzo Carter - Edge - Georgia - 6’6” 243 lbs.
J.R. Reed - Safety - Georgia - 6’1” - 194 lbs.
Dominick Sanders - Georgia - 6’0” - 200 lbs.
Nick Chubb - RB - Georgia - 5’10” - 225 lbs.
Sony Michel - RB - Georgia - 5’11” - 215 lbs.
Terry Godwin - WR - Georgia - 5’1” - 215 lbs.
Isaiah Wynn - OT - Georgia - 6’2” - 302 lbs.
Lamont Gallard - Center - Georgia - 6’2” - 295 lbs.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo - Edge - Oklahoma - 6’1” - 240 lbs.
Jordan Thomas - CB - Oklahoma - 6’0” - 185 lbs.
Steven Parker - Safety - Oklahoma - 6’1” - 204 lbs.
Baker Mayfield - QB - Oklahoma - 6’1” - 220 lbs.
Jeff Badet - WR - Oklahoma - 6’0” - 178 lbs.
Mark Andrews - TE - Oklahoma - 6’5” - 254 lbs.
Dimitri Flowers - TE - Oklahoma - 6’2” - 247 lbs.
Orlando Brown - OT - Oklahoma - 6’8” - 345 lbs.
Bobby Evans - OT - Oklahoma - 6’4” - 312 lbs.

Player Spotlight

Roquan Smith - LB - Georgia - #3

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Auburn Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Smith is one of the fastest and aggressive linebackers available in this draft. This season Smith had a total of 113 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 passes batted. Smith is a dual-threat linebacker who defends effectively against the run and has the ability and range to contribute and make a presence in pass coverage. His quick first step, jump, and speed give him the lateral ability to cover from sideline to sideline.

Some may be concerned about his size as a linebacker, however if he is in the right system, he can be utilized in a variety of ways. He can run downhill and deliver hits, plays sideline-to-sideline, and shows tremendous poise and leadership. Smith has been fun to watch all season, and will be fun to watch tonight against Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense. Keep a close eye on #3 who I expect to be the first linebacker selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Mark Andrews - TE - Oklahoma - # 81

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas Christian vs Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 John Mackey Award Winner (Best Tight End) had himself another fine season in Norman. He totaled 908 yards for 8 touchdowns, and surpassed 100 yards on 3 occasions. Based on the tape, Andrews was one of Mayfield’s favorite and most reliable targets all season long. Andrews often lines up as a receiver and his big window, redzone target appeals to scouts and evaluators. His ability to line up as a blocker and move the chains as a receiver offer tremendous value to any offense. Andrews is most likely the best tight end in this class, and probably the first tight end to hear his named called in April.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Press Conference The Greenville News-USA TODAY NETWORK

All State Sugar Bowl

Teams: #1 Clemson (12-1) vs #4 Alabama (11-1)
Kickoff: 5:45 p.m. PT
Location: Superdome - New Orleans, Louisiana
Watch: ESPN

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Why You Should Watch

If Round 3 is anything close to what the first two rounds offered us, then that alone should be worth it! Clemson and Alabama have provided quite the rivalry in the young College Football Playoff era. For the winner it will be a third straight appearance in the National Title Game. For Clemson, a chance to defend their crown, and for Alabama a chance at two titles in three years. Like The Rose Bowl Game, plenty of marquee prospects on both sides of the ball. Lastly, the 2 best defenses in the country!

Interesting Note

Round 3!

How They Got Here

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Press Conference The Greenville News-USA TODAY NETWORK

For Clemson (12-1) it was suppose to be a rebuilding year after winning it all last year. The team was suppose to take a step back after losing Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, and Mike Williams to the NFL. However, Clemson and Dabo Swinney didn’t get that memo. Instead, they picked up right where they left off last season. Other than a slip-up in Syracuse, the Tigers took care of business, clinching a third straight ACC Championship, and 3rd straight College Football Playoff appearance.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Press Conference Bart Boatwright-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama (11-1) will be making it’s 4th straight College Football appearance. The only team to make the 4 team party all 4 years of the playoff’s existence. It comes with some controversy though. Alabama did not win their conference, and were left out of the Conference title game altogether after losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Some feel Ohio State should be in this spot. However the playoff committee got it right. The 4 best teams are in the dance, and Bama is a worthy opponent to the number one team in the country. The Tide are even favored in this game.

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

Prediction

Both of these teams know each other very well. There is a tremendous amount of respect between these two programs starting with the head coaches Dabo Swinney of Clemson and Nick Saban of Alabama. I think the biggest matchup is the Clemson defensive line against Jalen Hurts and the offensive line. If Clemson’s defensive line has it’s way as it usually has all season, then Clemson will win round 3 which should be another thriller! Kelly Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson, but as he has shown all season long that he doesn’t have to be.

The Pick: Clemson

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Top Prospects To Watch

Minkah Fitzpatrick - DB - Alabama - 6’1” - 203 lbs.
Calvin Ridley - WR - Alabama - 6’1” - 190 lbs.
Rashaan Evans - LB - Alabama - 6’3” - 234 lbs.
Ronnie Harrison - Safety - Alabama - 6’3” - 214 lbs.
Da’Ron Payne - DT - Alabama - 6’2” - 308 lbs.
Anthony Averett - CB - Alabama - 6’0” - 185 lbs.
Damien Harris - RB - Alabama - 5’11” - 221 lbs.

Christian Wilkins - DL - Clemson - 6’4” - 300 lbs.
Clelin Ferrell - DE - Clemson - 6’5” - 265 lbs.
Austin Bryant - DE - Clemson - 6’4” - 265 lbs.
Kendall Jospeh - LB - Clemson - 6’0” - 225 lbs.
Dorian O’Daniel - LB - Clemson - 6’1” - 220 lbs.
Ryan Carter - CB - 5’9” - Clemson - 180 lbs.
Mitch Hyatt - OT - Clemson - 6’6” - 305 lbs.
Taylor Hearn - OG - Clemson - 6’5” - 330 lbs.
Hunter Renfrow - WR - Clemson - 5’10” - 180 lbs.
Deon Cain - WR - Clemson - 6’1” - 190 lbs.

Player Spotlight

Minkah Fitzpatrick - DB - Alabama - #29

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best defenders this draft will have to offer should he declare. This season Fitzpatrick had 52 tackles, 1 interception, 7 passes broken up, and 1 forced fumble. Fitzpatrick is one of the most versatile players in the country. On tape he can line up and play nickel in the slot and has the range to be that centerfielder safety and cover a lot of field, especially against receivers in deep route coverages. Fitzpatrick has demonstrated the ability to play both free safety and strong safety as he lined up within he box on numerous occasions this season. Has strong football instincts and can be a massive contributor on any team's defense. Should Fitzpatrick declare, he will be a top 10 selection in April.

Austin Bryant - DE - Clemson - #7

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

The junior’s arrow has been pointing up all season and continues to raise his draft stock with every passing game. This season Bryant had 47 Tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. Bryant was a terror all season in opposing team’s backfields. It certainly helped that he had fellow first round prospects, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins playing alongside him on the best defensive line in the country. Bryant has tremendous speed for a pass rusher and jumps off the line quickly. I like Bryant’s ability to run around tackles, and use his strength to win one-to-one battles with blockers. Bryant has also been able to stay healthy all season which he has had trouble with in the past. Bryant has been one of the best pass rushers in the country this season, and should he declare, will hear his name no later than the second round.