Bowl season is underway! We inch closer and closer to the pre-draft process as teams prepare to play the final games of the season. News on underclassmen entering the draft pours in every day, as do the announcements on which players will be attending the East-West Shrine Game as well as the Senior Bowl (both which we will be covering here at PhiladelphiaEagles.com). This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games of the week, but let's look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on.
1. Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Minnesota Defense
*Holiday Bowl, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California - Tuesday 7 p.m. - ESPN *
The top quarterback seeing the field over the holiday weekend will be a player who once replaced a player named Halliday in the starting lineup for the Cougars. Junior signal-caller Luke Falk has pretty good size at 6-4, 215 pounds and put up outstanding numbers in head coach Mike Leach's spread out Air Raid offense. It is a scheme that doesn't have a ton of success in projecting players to the NFL. There are a lot of traits that translate well to the pro game when I watch Falk play. The second-team All-Pac-12 passer displays good poise in the pocket, natural anticipation as a thrower and pretty good accuracy. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but Falk is a legitimate pro prospect at the position and is certainly worth keeping a close eye on in this game.
Minnesota has a number of players on the defensive side of the ball who are worth looking at. Senior cornerback Jalen Myrick is an undersized, scrappy corner with good speed and pretty good athleticism. He projects as a slot corner in the NFL. The problem? He has no experience inside, doesn't consistently show great instincts in coverage downfield and has very questionable ball skills. Still, his physical tools are worthy of consideration, and he will get a chance to further prove himself at the East-West Shrine Game next month. Other prospects to keep an eye on are linebacker Jack Lynn, defensive tackle Steven Richardson and safety Damarius Travis.
2. N.C. State RB Matt Dayes vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
*Independence Bowl, Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana - Monday 5 p.m. - ESPN2 *
In what figures to be the best bowl games over the next few days, the Independence Bowl has a couple of interesting individual matchups, but none better than this one. Matt Dayes was a second-team All-ACC pick this season for the Wolfpack in his second season as a starter. Undersized at just 5-8, 202 pounds, Dayes is a fun player to watch because of his above-average quickness, good vision and ability to impact the game on third down. He may never be a feature back in the NFL, but I can see him getting more than a handful of snaps a game as a complementary piece in an NFL backfield like current New England Patriots running back James White. Dayes will be at the Senior Bowl next month to continue proving himself to NFL scouts.
Vanderbilt has a disruptive defensive tackle named Adam Butler who will look to make an impact against Dayes and the Wolfpack offense, but the Commodore you need to be focused on is linebacker Zach Cunningham. Arguably the best prospect in action over the next few days, Cunningham has NFL size at 6-4, 230 pounds with sideline-to-sideline range and a physical demeanor downhill. The All-America linebacker does a good job in coverage, knows how to win one on one as a blitzer and is a reliable tackler in the run game. This is the best individual matchup of the weekend among the slew of bowl games.
3. Mississippi State WR Fred Ross vs. Miami (Ohio) Secondary
*St. Petersburg Bowl, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL - Monday 11 a.m. - ESPN *
Last year, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw the ball all over the yard in the Mississippi State offense. Supersized wideout De'Runnya Wilson got all the headlines on the outside with his 6-5 frame, but the leading receiver on that Bulldog squad was Fred Ross, who is now a senior and a second-team All-SEC talent. At 6-1, 204 pounds, Ross isn't the biggest, and he certainly isn't the fastest, but he has reliable hands, runs good routes and competes as a blocker in the slot and on the outside. He doesn't project as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL ranks, but he could find a nice role as a complementary player in a receiving corps.
The top corner to watch in the Redhawks secondary is redshirt junior Heath Harding. At 5-10, 185 pounds, the Ohio native finished third on the team with 65 tackles and paced Miami with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups on the season. Opposite Harding, sophomore Deondre Daniels is listed at 5-11, 190 pounds and finished the season with 27 stops and a pick in his first full season as a starter. Both corners will be relied on to limit Ross' production in this game.
4. Maryland Offense vs. Boston College S John Johnson
*Quick Lane Bowl, Ford Field, Detroit - Monday 2:30 p.m. - ESPN *
Maryland's offense was right down the middle of the road in terms of the other schools in the Big Ten, but there are some players that Boston College's defense will have to limit on Monday afternoon. Quarterback Perry Hills proved to be nothing if not efficient, completing a conference-high 66 percent of his pass attempts for 10 touchdowns on the year. Sophomore Ty Johnson led the team with just over 800 yards rushing, while junior wideout Teldrick Morgan (6-0, 190 pounds) led the team with 40 catches for 407 yards and three scores. The trio will certainly have their hands full with an Eagles defense that fell a bit in the rankings after their No. 1 showing a year ago. It is still one of the most formidable units in college football.
One of the leaders of that defense is senior safety John Johnson. At 6-0, 202 pounds, the former cornerback is really good at the line of scrimmage in press coverage situations against both receivers and tight ends. He lines up everywhere for the Eagles' defense. Johnson is a reliable run defender who can be positioned close to the line and fly downhill from the deep part of the secondary. Reaction quickness is a bit of a question when I watch Johnson, but the fourth-year defensive back has been productive since his switch to the safety spot. He has one final game to prove himself on the back end before heading down to the Senior Bowl in January.
5. Temple OL Dion Dawkins vs. Wake Forest DL Joshua Banks/Duke Ejiofor
Military Bowl, Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland - Tuesday 3:30 p.m. - ESPN
On Tuesday afternoon, the Temple Owls return to Annapolis (where they just won their first-ever conference championship) to take on the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. The Owls once again have a number of prospects to keep a close eye on, with two heading down to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. One of those players is starting left tackle Dion Dawkins. He is one of the best pure tackles in the draft. The Rahway, New Jersey native stands 6-5, 324 pounds and has light feet with a killer instinct that serves him well in the run game. Dawkins has gotten better every week on North Broad Street, and heads into his final game against one of the most underrated defenses in the country.
The Demon Deacons have a handful of senior prospects on defense, with cornerback Brad Watson, linebacker Marquel Lee and safety Ryan Janvion. Along the defensive line, Joshua Banks goes a bit under the radar, but he's deserving of praise as well. The senior finished with 2.5 sacks on the season. Junior lineman Duke Ejiofor (6-4, 270 pounds) was one of the biggest playmakers for Wake Forest all season long. With 10 sacks and 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Ejiofor is a big-time disruptor who Dawkins and the rest of the Temple O-line will have to account for.
Every year prospects come from West Coast schools who most people here out east don't get a true appreciation for until draft season comes around because most of their games don't air until we're getting ready for bed late on Saturday night. This year, one of those players is Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, a junior who our friend Tony Pauline is reporting will likely enter the draft.
Thomas lines up at defensive end in Stanford's 3-4 scheme, but in subpackages will play inside at nose tackle or 3-technique or outside as a 7-technique or even 9-technique defensive end. He is relentless against both the run and the pass. Thomas uses his hands really well, flies out of his stance, is able to win off the ball and can hold up well at the point of attack. Is he a defensive end or an undersized defensive tackle in the mold of an Aaron Donald? That will be one of the biggest discussions regarding him as the draft draws closer. Thomas has been a force up front for the Cardinal through this point of his career and that doesn't figure to change once he reaches the NFL.
One prospect whose season finished earlier than he would've liked, but still accomplished plenty in his career is FAU senior defensive end Trey Hendrickson. He may never be a star in the NFL because he lacks the top-end athleticism, but Hendrickson will stick in the league because of his mindset as a pass rusher. Hendrickson knows how to attack offensive linemen and how to counter once he's initially blocked. He has been one of the most productive defenders in the country the last few seasons. The senior will be at the East-West Shrine Game, and will be one of the top players in attendance.
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.