Bowl Season officially begins this weekend in College Football, with five bowl games kicking things off all around the country. As the postseason gets underway, I thought we’d look at the top three names to watch in today’s games, some others to watch out for, and two prospects who won’t play but will watch their teams from the sideline.
Saturday’s Top 5
Here are the top five players you need to be watching in the games today:
1. Fresno State WR KeeSean Johnson
Of the players taking the field on Saturday, KeeSean Johnson is my favorite from what I’ve seen so far. The senior led his team in catches the last three years, and at 6-1, 200 pounds he has pretty good speed, but more importantly he’s a very good route runner and has strong, confident hands. Johnson is one of the savviest receivers I’ve studied so far in this class, and his ability to create quick separation and then finish at the catch point makes him an option to start on the outside at the next level.
I’m excited to watch more of him, as I’ve only gotten to a couple of games so far, but Johnson is a player to watch moving onto the next level. The Bulldog will get one last chance to shine against an aggressive Arizona State secondary before heading to the East-West Shrine Game in January.
Prediction: I actually like Fresno State in to win the Las Vegas Bowl by at least a touchdown. ASU will be down one of its biggest playmakers (more on him later). The thing the Sun Devils should be able to hang their hat on is their run game with true sophomore Eno Benjamin, but I like the Bulldogs to come out on top.
2. Arizona State DT Renell Wren
If you’ve been following along, you know that this year’s NFL Draft is full of talented defensive linemen at the top of the class. When that happens, you’ll see a lot of very talented players potentially fall through the cracks, and I think Renell Wren could be one of those guys. At 6-5 and just under 300 pounds with a long, athletic frame, the senior only started one season for the Sun Devils and put up modest production, but he has very intriguing traits.
Wren lives off his first step inside at nose tackle, where he flies upfield instantly at the snap, changing the line of scrimmage, and creating havoc for offenses. I’ve compared him in the past to former Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Chris Jones, and he’s the kind of guy who could see his stock rise throughout the process. Keep an eye on him against Fresno State; he won’t be hard to spot. Look right in the middle of that ASU defensive line and watch the guy who moves first up front. That will be Wren. He is heading to the Senior Bowl at the end of January.
3. North Dakota State QB Easton Stick
Carson Wentz’s former backup for the Bison, Easton Stick, has started the last three years and been very productive. He’s not the athlete or the arm talent that Wentz is, and that will limit his upside in the eyes of most personnel executives moving forward into the NFL, but there is a lot to like with the senior passer. Stick is a smart, poised quarterback who throws with impressive touch to all areas of the field. I love his toughness in the pocket. He’s currently committed to the Shrine Game, but it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up at the Senior Bowl next month (if no other eligible juniors declare for the draft).
Prediction: North Dakota State takes on South Dakota State in the second edition of the Wentz-Dallas Goedert Bowl. The Bison came away with a decisive win last time, and I expect them to do the same this weekend.
4. Utah State TE Dax Raymond
Dax Raymond declared for the draft as a junior, but since he’s graduating this December he will be heading to the Senior Bowl. At 6-5, 250 pounds, Raymond has the frame to be an in-line blocker but is certainly at his best in the slot where he can run routes against safeties and linebackers, and make plays in the intermediate area of the field. An older prospect at 23 years old, he did a two-year LDS mission in Russia, Raymond is not yet a polished route runner, but with his athleticism he can develop into a solid receiving option at the next level until he gets bigger and stronger to hold up better at the point of attack in the run game.
Prediction: Utah State faces North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl, and I would have gone with Utah State had this game taken place three weeks ago, but a lot has happened since that point. Utah State head coach Matt Wells is off to coach Texas Tech, and his offensive coordinator, David Yost, went with him as well. The team is bringing in a familiar face in Gary Andersen, but I think the transition period is enough to let North Texas squeak this one out.
5. Utah State WR Ron’quavion Tarver
A big-bodied wideout at 6-3, 215 pounds, the Florida native has been a high-volume target in the Utah State offense all season long. He’s not a burner, and is a bit clunky as a route runner, but the senior attacks the football in the air and has been effective in contested situations during his career with the Aggies.
Watching From The Sidelines
There are two prospects who won’t be on the field on Saturday but will be watching their teams from afar as they prepare for the NFL Draft.
1. Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry
At 6-4, 213 pounds, N’Keal Harry is a physically imposing figure on the outside, but he seems to be much more than just another big body. The junior, who has been named first-team All-Pac-12 in each of the past two seasons, is smooth at the catch point and excellent after the catch (he was named an all-conference returner as well this season). Harry declared for the draft, and will not participate in Saturday’s contest against Fresno State, but you can bet you’ll hear plenty about the receiver, who head coach Herman Edwards compared to Dez Bryant just a couple of weeks ago.
2. Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore
Jalin Moore was the first player to accept his Senior Bowl invitation this fall, and he is an intriguing prospect. At 5-10, 210 pounds, Moore shows flashes of power as a runner and can be an effective one-cut guy in a zone scheme. The senior, who dislocated his ankle in October and will not play in Saturday’s game, shows spurts of short-area burst as well. The questions facing Moore have to do with making the first man miss and providing value on third down as a blocker. Still, he’ll be in Mobile as part of a running back group that has plenty of talent.
Prediction: App State is taking on Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl. Despite a coaching change (Scott Satterfield left App State for Louisville), I think the Mountaineers come away with a win. This is a pretty good team, with or without Moore.
What fun is making predictions if we’re not keeping score?
Last Week: 7-2
Season Record: 79-27 (.745)
My two losses were two losses in Conference Championship weekend were with Northern Illinois upsetting Buffalo and Fresno State upsetting Boise State. Let’s keep it going!
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.