Bowl season is here! With the college football postseason on our doorstep, there's plenty of matchups to discuss as teams prepare to play their final games of the 2015 calendar. Scouts always like to see who stands out during bowl season matchups against other winning programs. This week on the Eagle Eye in the Sky Podcast, I talked about a few key players I'll be keeping an eye on this weekend. On the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, we chatted with Bryan Perez from DraftBreakdown.com about some big-name underclassmen, namely Alabama's Heisman Trophy-winner Derrick Henry. But who are the biggest names you should be keeping an eye on over the first few days of bowl game action? Let's look at five of the biggest matchups that fans should keep their eyes on ...
1. Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel vs. Arkansas State Defense
R L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - Saturday at 9 PM - ESPN
I've expressed my feelings on Tech's running back Kenneth Dixon in the past, and he will be the best player on the field tonight in New Orleans, but quarterback Jeff Driskel shouldn't be forgotten. Considered by many to be an afterthought after being a decorated recruit at the University of Florida who had a disappointing career in Gainesville, Driskel arrived at Louisiana Tech this offseason and earned the right to be a captain within a few months of being on campus. On the field, the senior has improved in a number of ways, and has proven that the talent many thought he had in high school is still there. He's got good size, good feet and strong accuracy. He flashed the ability to be poised in the pocket make anticipation throws. Driskel doesn't have the strongest arm, and I do want to see him be a bit more consistent against pressure.
In a senior quarterback class that I feel is one of the deepest from top to bottom that we've had in a long time, Driskel joins the ranks of potential mid-to-late-round draft picks looking to make an NFL roster and develop into quality NFL players.
Driskel will be going up against an Arkansas State defense that finished first in the Sun Belt conference with 26 interceptions and second with 30 sacks. Senior defensive back Rocky Hayes finished the season with six picks and 44 tackles on the year, while sophomore defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones lead the conference with nine sacks. Driskel, who will be at the Senior Bowl in January, will benefit from a strong outing against one of the most productive pass defenses in the "Group of Five" non-power conferences.
2. San Jose State RB Tyler Ervin vs. Georgia State Defense
Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida - Saturday at 7 PM - CBSSN
One of the most productive runners in college football this year, San Jose State's Tyler Ervin was certainly off my radar entering the season, but his name belongs at or near the top of the list when you're talking about senior runners in this class. At 5-10, 177 pounds, Ervin is undersized, but he makes up for it with his quickness, change of direction and creativity as a runner. The Spartan has the wiggle to consistently make the first man miss, and while he isn't powerful he is competitive with the ball in his hands, always fighting for extra yardage.
Ervin is a decisive runner, and wastes little time getting downhill when he sees green grass. He'll be the best player on the field in this game, and one of the most exciting players to watch at the Senior Bowl in January. Georgia State doesn't have a ton of draft prospects on the defensive side of the football, but they sport the fourth-rated run defense in the Sun Belt, allowing just 4.4 yards per carry.
3. Toledo RB Kareem Hunt vs. Temple LB Tyler Matakevich
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl
FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida - Tuesday at 7 PM - ESPN
This is perhaps the best one-on-one matchup in the first round of bowl games from Saturday through Tuesday night. Sure, Toledo isn't the big-name opponent that many in Philadelphia were hoping to see the Owls draw in the postseason, but this is the same Rockets team that went into Fayetteville and knocked off Arkansas back in September. The Rockets' undefeated non-conference slate helped them reach a 9-2 record overall on the season. Perhaps the most impressive part of Toledo's win over the Razorbacks was the fact that Kareem Hunt was not in the lineup.
At 5-11, 215 pounds, Hunt is built bigger than the aforementioned Ervin, but shares similar quickness, change of direction and "make you miss" ability that will help him find a place at the next level. A player I've compared in the past to a Gio Bernard-type back, Hunt isn't a powerful runner, but he takes care of the football, has good hands out of the backfield and is decisive with the ball in his hands. He'll be a good test for a very talented and senior-laden Temple defense.
If you have followed college football at all this year, then you're familiar with Temple's Tyler Matakevich. The first-team All-America linebacker won the Bronco Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards to finish out a decorated career as a four-year starter with the Owls. He'll line up one final time for the Cherry and White on Tuesday evening down in south Florida. Matakevich isn't a great athlete. That will be the biggest question he'll have to answer for scouts both at the Senior Bowl and at February's Scouting Combine, but he's tough, he's instinctive and as reliable as they come. He hasn't missed a practice, much less a game, in his four years on North Broad Street.
4. Utah State LB Kyler Fackrell vs. Akron RB Conor Hundley
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho - Tuesday at 3:30pm ET - ESPN
Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell started getting buzz in the summer after his redshirt sophomore season in 2013, when Mel Kiper from ESPN listed him as one of the top five underclassmen linebackers in the country. Fackrell tore his ACL in the first game of 2014, and returned this season for another year of really strong play for the Aggies. At 6-5, 246 pounds, the former high school quarterback is a beast in the weight room and offers the kind of versatility that will make defensive coaches drool. With the potential to win as a pass rusher, on the edge against the run and in coverage where he shows good spatial awareness, Fackrell can play in pretty much any scheme and succeed. Running back Conor Hundley leads the Zips with 883 yards rushing (4.7 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
5. BYU EP Bronson Kaufusi vs. Utah OL Isaac Asiata and Siaosi Aiono
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl *
*Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas - Saturday at 3:30 PM - ABC
In what will likely be considered the headline game of the opening Saturday of Bowl season, the Utah-BYU contest is full of some interesting prospects. When Utah has the ball, however, keep a close eye on BYU edge rusher Bronson Kaufusi. A tall, long edge player with surprising athleticism for a 6-6, 265-pound man, it's unusual to see players that big drop in coverage and look comfortable in space. Kaufusi, whose dad is the defensive line coach for the Cougars, has improved in several areas from a technique perspective this season. His ability to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt will be attractive to teams across the NFL. The biggest question with him is what kind of a pass rusher is he? If he can continue to prove that he has what it takes to make a consistent impact on third down at the next level, Kaufusi could be in line to be a relatively high pick, otherwise, he'll be a mid-to-late-round selection.
With Kaufusi moving up and down the line of scrimmage, he could potentially be matched up on any of a number of different players. The two to keep the closest eye on, however are left guard Isaac Asiata and the center Siaosi Aiono. The latter is already confirmed for the East-West Shrine Game, so we will see Aiono in person the week of January 18th. Asiata, on the other hand, is a junior who has been called a "riser" by our good friend Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, and should be seen as a player to watch down the road. With senior running back Devontae Booker out of the lineup, a lot of the offensive firepower will come from quarterback Travis Wilson, a 6-7, 217-pound passer with intriguing athleticism for his size.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.