College football’s bowls are steeped in tradition…and controversy. Southern Cal and Oklahoma will play for the national title, leaving undefeated Auburn out in the cold. Cal suspects a conspiracy in the polls to push Texas into the Rose Bowl game over the Golden Bears. Pitt receives a coveted Bowl Championship Series berth for winning what’s left of the Big East after its best teams jumped to the ACC, while better teams must settle for bowls with less prestige and smaller purses.
The Associated Press just discovered that the BCS is using the AP poll and has demanded that they stop, distancing itself like a vice president from an Oval Office indiscretion. Many want to see the BCS modified or scrapped altogether in favor of some sort of playoff system.
Playoff proponents, please do me one small favor when criticizing the current setup: Resist the temptation to use the phrase "The BCS is BS." I chuckled when I first heard that…in 1998, the year the BCS came into existence. Over the last six years, all humor has been brutally beaten out of all variations of that dead horse of a one-liner. But fans, writers, and broadcasters proudly drag it out every winter, like an old string of burned-out Christmas lights, as if the time in storage has somehow restored whatever cleverness, originality, and freshness that it may have once had. Please, get some new material.
I digress. Here’s our guide to the bowls played after Dick Clark…er…Regis Philbin does his thing. We don’t mention every prospect, just those that we find particularly intriguing. We provide the prospects’ jersey numbers to help you find them on the field, and asterisks (*) indicate underclassmen who are at least three years removed from high school, making them eligible to enter the draft.
Saturday, January 1
Cotton Bowl: Tennessee vs. Texas A&M
(10:00 a.m., FOX)
Tennessee RB Gerald Riggs, Jr.* (#31) can break tackles, as might be expected of the son of a former NFL power back, and has the burst to break off long gainers. WLB Kevin Burnett (#2) has flashed big-play ability and would likely move inside in a 3-4 defense, although he has some experience as an edge pass rusher. WR Terrence Murphy (#5) is an explosive athlete who can separate from defensive backs. DE Mike Montgomery (#95) came on strong as a senior, but is light for a 3-4 end and may not be able make the move to outside linebacker.
Outback Bowl: Georgia vs. Wisconsin
(10:00 a.m., ESPN)
Georgia WR Reggie Brown (#1) is the Bulldogs’ go-to receiver, especially in the red zone where he can use his great leaping ability. WR Fred Gibson (#82) is taller and can stretch the field. OTG Max Jean-Gilles* (#74), who shifted inside from tackle this year, has the feet to develop into a quality NFL lineman. DE David Pollack (#47) is a tenacious competitor who may be able to move to 3-4 outside ‘backer. Physical MLB Odell Thurman* (#33) hasn’t had his best season and has a history of off-the-field problems. FS Thomas Davis* (#10) is similar in some ways to the Cowboys’ Roy Williams in that he has a knack for making plays and is at his best playing up in the box. Wisconsin OLG Dan Buenning (#67) plays with solid fundamentals and can pull and trap. DLT Antaaj Hawthorne (#77) wreaks havoc inside, especially when opponents try to stop him with only one blocker. Injuries have slowed DLE Erasmus James (#90), but he has the burst and pass rush skills to be a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Gator Bowl: Florida St. vs. West Virginia
(11:30 a.m., NBC)
Florida St. WR Craphonso Thorpe (#1) looks like he hasn’t fully regained his form after a 2003 leg injury. Bookends OST Alex Barron (#70) and OTT Ray Willis (#77) may be the best tackle tandem in college football. Barron has the athleticism to become a top pass protector, while Angleton-product Willis’ forte is run blocking. DT Travis Johnson (#99) makes plays behind the line of scrimmage but has some off-the-field baggage. DRE Eric Moore (#55) is a tweener who should be able to move to rush linebacker. LCB Bryant McFadden (#8) has nice tools and is still developing as a player. West Virginia WR Chris Henry* (#5) is a dangerous deep threat when his head is screwed on straight, but was ejected from one game this season and suspended for another. BCB/KR/PR Adam "Pac Man" Jones* (#9) makes plays in all three facets of the game. He needs to be drafted by the same team as Central Florida S Atari Bigby so that all of the video game puns get confined to a single secondary.
Capital One Bowl: Iowa vs. LSU
Iowa DLT Jonathan Babineaux (#45) lacks size for a 3-4 D-lineman but his 20.5 tackles for loss this season show his ability to penetrate. DLE Matt Roth (#31) has come on strong recently after starting the season slowly. MLB Abdul Hodge* (#52) punishes opposing ballcarriers. WLB Chad Greenway* (#18) is still developing and has intriguing tools for a 3-4 ILB. LSU OLT Andrew Whitworth* (#76) will probably move to the right side in the NFL. DLT Claude Wroten* (#98) is only in his first year of Division I-A football after transferring from a junior college, but has opened eyes in that short time. DLE Marcus Spears (#84), a former tight end and top high school basketball prospect, is extremely agile for a player of his size and can dominate. LCB Corey Webster (#13) possesses ideal physical tools but has had an up-and-down season, possibly in part due to injury.
Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Texas
(4:00 p.m., ABC)
Michigan WR Braylon Edwards (#1) is an impact player but occasionally loses concentration and drops a ball that he should not. C David Baas (#75) has the strength and toughness to become a quality guard in the NFL. Linebacker-sized SS Ernest Shazor (#25) leads the Wolverines in tackles. CB Marlin Jackson (#3), a former safety, has the size and athleticism to check big receivers at the next level. Texas RB Cedric Benson (#32) has always been able to break tackles but has shown more explosiveness this season. LDT Rodrique Wright’s* (#90) stats are down this year due to an ankle injury and not having Marcus Tubbs next to him. WLB Derrick Johnson (#11) makes plays all over the field and is at his best when he is free to run to the football. He probably fits a 4-3 defense better than a 3-4.
Fiesta Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Utah
(7:30 p.m., ABC)
Pitt OLT Rob Pettiti (#78) has made a name for himself with his play against top pass rusher such as Syracuse’s Dwight Freeney in 2000 and Boston College’s Mathias Kiwanuka this season. Utah QB Alex Smith* (#11) is similar to Philip Rivers in that he doesn’t have prototype tools and almost looks awkward at times, but his production and efficiency cannot be ignored. ORG Chris Kemoeatu (#68), whose brother is a nose tackle for the Ravens, is a nasty drive blocker who has been known to cross the line between intense and dirty.
Monday, January 3
Sugar Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
(7:00 p.m., ABC)
Virginia Tech has a fine cornerback tandem in FCB Eric Green (#1) and BCB Jimmy Williams* (#2). Green is more of a pure cover corner while Williams, a former safety, has great size and a more aggressive mentality. Auburn QB Jason Campbell (#17) has boosted his stock significantly as his production has caught up to his potential. The Tigers’ backfield also features RBs Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (#24) and Ronnie Brown (#23). Both have excellent vision and balance, but Williams (who also returns kickoffs) is more shifty and elusive while Brown is bigger and runs with more power. Massive OLT Marcus McNeill* (#73) can dominate at times and should get even better with more experience. CB Carlos Rogers (#14) is a better athlete than football player at this point, although he has improved this season.
Tuesday, January 4
Orange Bowl: Southern Cal vs. Oklahoma
(7:00 p.m., ABC)
USC QB Matt Leinart* (#11), a big lefty with a strong, accurate arm, could be the first player taken if he comes out. While DT Shaun Cody (#84) can penetrate and make plays, anchoring at the point of attack is not his strongpoint. NT Mike Patterson (#99) lacks height but plays with great leverage. SS Darnell Bing* (#20) is a big hitter with size. Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton (#9) runs great routes and is a very elusive runner with the ball in his hands. C Vince Carter (#50) is quick and agile but lacks the bulk to outmuscle bigger defensive tackles. ORT Jammal Brown (#55) hasn’t given up a sack this season. The Sooner defensive ends have racked up 17 sacks and 25 tackles for loss and both could project to 3-4 OLBs. Dan Cody (#80) is bigger but occasionally drops into coverage, while Jonathan Jackson (#49) is more of a speed rusher. MLB Lance Mitchell (#10) has the strength to shed blockers and punish the ballcarrier. SS Donte Nicholson (#8) can play the run and is not a liability in coverage. CB/PR Antonio Perkins (#28) is a star as a return man. Jammal Brown Home