There’s still more than a week until the college bowl games begin, and more than a month until underclassmen are required to declare for the 2014 NFL draft. But you draft-hungry folks will want to check out these 10 bowl games that feature the most combined talent between the two teams. And yes, we left off the team featuring the possible No. 1 pick in the draft. Sorry, Louisville.
1. Orange Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson — They instead should call this the Green Bowl, as in the future earnings of all the talent that will be in Miami this night. Perhaps the quarterbacks, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and OSU’s Terrelle Pryor, are a bit overrated from an NFL standpoint. But there is talent galore on both sides of the ball. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins could be a top-10 pick. The Buckeyes have a pair of possible first-round defenders in CB Bradley Roby and LB Ryan Shazier. Clemson DE Vic Beasley, despite being undersized, is an elite pass rusher. OSU RB Carlos Hyde has come on, as has OT Jack Mewhort. And both teams have some great 2015 talent as well. This one is loaded.
2. Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State — NFL scouts will be there to watch the players, but they also might have an eye on both coaches, Stanford’s David Shaw and MSU’s Mark Dantonio, too, adding a special layer of intrigue to this one. But we’re also strongly the playing talent. Stanford has some excellent blue-collar and blue-chip players, including a trio — DE Trent Murphy, OG David Yankey and LB Shayne Skov — who could be top-50 picks. MSU CB Darqueze Dennard and DE Shilique Calhoun could join them in that range, and the fast-rising Dennard could go the highest of the bunch. There are another 10-12 players on both teams that will end up in NFL camps. A strong lot.
3. BCS National Championship Game: Florida State vs. Auburn — There might only be one 2014 first-round pick (Florida State OT Cameron Erving) on the field when the national championship is decided, but there certainly won’t be a lack of strong talent. FSU also boasts potential top 100s DT Timmy Jernigan, WR Kelvin Benjamin, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks and LBs Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. The Tigers’ top-end talent is not as elite as the Noles’, but they have top-100 possibilities with RB Tre Mason, DE-OLB Dee Ford and Iron Bowl hero CB Chris Davis. Plus, Auburn also could have its punter (Steven Clark) and kicker (Cody Parkey) drafted, a rare double.
4. Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma — The Tide once more could dominate the draft, although not quite like we’ve seen in recent years. Still, they have elite talents with LB C.J. Mosley, OT Cyrus Kouandjio and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a number of mid-round prospects and a quarterback — A.J. McCarron — who likely will land in the top-50 picks despite scouts being split on his upside. The Sooners could be shut out of the first couple of rounds but have worthy talents in DB Aaron Colvin, C Gabe Ikard, WRs Jalen Saunders and FB Trey Millard.
5. Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin — The Badgers might not have an elite prospect in this class unless RB Melvin Gordon declares, but they otherwise have a solid crop of players, including LB Chris Borland and WR Jared Abbrederis, and NFL teams always mine Madison for offensive line talent. But South Carolina features a top-5 talent in Jadeveon Clowney, a quality DT in Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton and sleeper QB Connor Shaw.
6. Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri — These old Big 8 rivals were pretty barren NFL talent pools as recently as the late 1990s (from 1990 to 2000, the two schools combined to produce only three combined first- or second-round picks), but both programs have combined for 10 first-round picks since 2009. And more talent is in the till on both sides. Mizzou has top-100 talents in DEs Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, CB E.J. Gaines and perhaps WR L’Damian Washington. OSU has prospects in the same range with CB Justin Gilbert, DT Calvin Burnett and WR Tracy Moore. No elite prospects, perhaps, but some quality depth.
7. Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. Central Florida — Even with Bryce Petty returning to Baylor, there will be some excellent prospects in this game. Will UCF QB Blake Bortles come out? He has been a hot name of late and could slip into the late first-round discussion. He and Knights RB Storm Johnson are legit prospects who will make NFL rosters. Baylor is loaded, with OG Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon topping the list.
8. Las Vegas Bowl: USC vs. Fresno State — Don’t be fooled by the early kickoff date. This Dec. 21 game is a gem, featuring a lot of choice talent, even near the top of the draft. Fresno State QB Derek Carr could be a top-five choice, USC WR Marqise Lee won’t be too far behind that, and Fresno State WR Davante Adams has been climbing boards all season, maybe even into Round 1. Still, there’s subtle depth here, too, with a slew of mid-rounders: Fresno State’s OT Austin Wentworth and TE Marcel Jensen, and USC’s LB Morgan Breslin, RB Silas Redd, OT Kevin Graf and LB Devon Kenard.
9. Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas — QB Marcus Mariota might have pushed this one up the list, but (good for the Ducks) he plans on returning to school. Crazy to think that Texas, once the deepest pool of NFL talent, might actually be the little brother in this game for that. But combined, the two schools should produce a fair amount of early picks. Oregon’s Ife Ekpre-Olomu might be the top corner selected, Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat’s still could be a second-rounder, and Longhorns WR Mike Davis could go in Round Three.
tie 10. Sun Bowl: UCLA vs. Virginia Tech and Chick-fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Duke — There was no way we could leave off the Aggies, even though their opponent might only have one player drafted — CB Ross Cockrell — which speaks to the job that David Cutcliffe has done with this Blue Devils team. But A&M might have as many as four first-rounders, with OT Jake Matthews (perhaps the No. 1 pick), QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans and OT Cedric Ogbuhi, along with a few other late-rounders. But don’t overlook UCLA, if QB Brett Hundley comes out; he and LB Anthony Barr both could be top-10 picks, and top-50 OG Xavier Su’a-Filo makes them a highly rated trio. Tech slips under the radar a bit, but CBs Corey Fuller and Antone Exum and DE James Gayle all figure into the middle-round picture.
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