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College Football Weekend Preview: NFL Draft Prospects on Display in Bowl-Game Action

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College Football Weekend Preview: NFL Draft Prospects on Display in Bowl-Game Action

The holidays are the perfect time to check out future NFL prospects.

There's usually only one game on at a time, and lots of people are either off from school or work to take them in. Even at those work and family holiday parties, there's usually a television with a football game on in the background, right?

More and bigger bowl games are yet to come, but Saturday features four games from morning through late night to whet your football appetite. It's the perfect time to start learning about Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who you'll probably hear connected to the Green Bay Packers when it comes time for the NFL draft...

Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame vs. Rutgers

Kickoff at 11:00 a.m. CT on ESPN

The skinny: It's been a down season for Notre Dame since going undefeated in the regular season a year ago and appearing in the national championship game, but at least they can end the season on a high note if they can win in front of what should be a packed stadium in front of lots their New York City alumni. For Rutgers, it's their last game before taking off for the Big Ten next season.

Notre Dame pro prospect: Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt––Fellow defensive lineman Louis Nix has already declared for the NFL draft but is injured and won't play in the bowl game. Tuitt is a junior and still hasn't decided if he'll declare, but he reportedly received a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee. He had 11 tackles for loss in 2012 and 7.5 more in 2013, not bad for a big, two-gapping defensive end compared to Chris Canty of the New York Giants.

Rutgers pro prospect: Safety Jeremy Deering––Deering is a good athlete that's played running back, wide receiver, even quarterback in his time at Rutgers but made the switch to safety his senior season. Maybe he's still learning the position, but Deering didn't help the Scarlet Knights pass defense very much. They rank 122nd in the nation against the pass. He's a potential late round or undrafted prospect based on his athleticism alone.

Prediction: Notre Dame might be lacking in motivation, but they're the superior team and it's not even close. 45-13, Irish.

*Queen City Bowl, North Carolina vs. Cincinnati

Kickoff at 2:20 p.m. CT on ESPN

The skinny: Cincinnati might be the weakest three-loss team in the nation, understandably losing to Louisville but questionably losing to Illinois and South Florida. And while North Carolina's 6-6 record might be less than impressive, they come in winning five out of their last six games. Give North Carolina the motivational edge playing close to home while Cincinnati is in the same bowl for two years in a row.

North Carolina pro prospect: Tight end Eric Ebron––Ebron is not unlike Jermichael Finley coming out of college, a 6-4, 245 lb. freak of nature declaring for the NFL draft after just his redshirt sophomore season. Ebron is more accomplished, however, earning All-American and first-team all-conference honors after grabbing 55 passes for 895 yards and three touchdowns this past season. He's a potential first-round draft choice. And guess what? The Packers just might be looking for a mobile tight end to replace an injured Finley.

Cincinnati pro prospect: Inside linebacker Greg Blair––Blair led Cincinnati in tackles each of the past two seasons, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2013 and second-team in 2013. He's not a big sack guy, but he fits the classic inside linebacker mold and is a late-round draft prospect come spring.

Prediction: Go with the home team with the superior edge in talent. 32-23, Tar Heels.

*Tangerine Bowl, Louisville vs. Miami

Kickoff at 5:45 p.m. CT on ESPN

The skinny: It could be the swan song for Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who's reportedly still deciding whether or not to declare for the NFL draft. If he does, some think he could be the No. 1 overall draft choice. Miami is headed in the right direction under head coach Al Golden, going to a bowl game for the first time since 2010 while on a self-imposed bowl ban the previous two years and trying to wade through a scandal that has cost the team several scholarships over the next few seasons.

Louisville pro prospect: Outside linebacker Marcus Smith––Smith is one of those defensive end/outside linebacker hybrids, but he came on big as a senior, racking up 16.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. For his efforts, he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and All-American honors from various organizations. It's players like Smith that have surprisingly made Louisville one of the statistically best defenses in the nation.

Miami pro prospect: Quarterback Stephen Morris––Because he has a natural talent for throwing the ball, Morris will likely be a late-round draft choice somewhere in the NFL, but he remains an enigma. He's never had a completion percentage over 60 in any season he's attempted at least 100 passes, and he seems to wilt under pressure, with a 21-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a senior serving as evidence. Maybe he'll always be an enigma, or maybe he just needs a quarterback guru to bring out the best in him.

Prediction: Miami won't be able to lean on their best player, running back Duke Johson, who was lost for the season due to injury. Louisville will also likely harass Morris into a few mistakes. 35-24, Cards.

*Copper Bowl, Michigan vs. Kansas State

Kickoff at 9:15 p.m. CT on ESPN

The skinny: It's been a rebuilding season for Kansas State, going from an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl last season to a 7-5 record in 2013. But you can always expect a well-coached team from Bill Snyder. As for Michigan, it's been mostly downhill since an early season win over Notre Dame. They'll be without quarterback Devin Gardner due to injury, but it's hard to tell whether that's good or bad.

Michigan pro prospect: Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan––Lewan came into the season as a high-profile prospect going as high as the first round, but several incidents of dirty play caught on tape with him twisting an opponents facemask on the ground along with allegations he assaulted an Ohio State fan off the field will have personnel executives digging to his personality. It didn't help Lewan that Michigan had one of the Big Ten's worst rushing offenses and allowed the second-most sacks this season.

Kansas State pro prospect: Safety Ty Zimmerman––Zimmerman became the first player in school history to earn all-conference honors for four straight seasons and has 13 career collegiate interceptions. He's a classic free safety and should get drafted because of his experience and smart, heady play, but a lot will ride on his measurables in determining whether he goes in the mid-rounds or the late rounds.

Prediction: The Kansas State defense has held opposing offenses to a 13-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. They should be able to at least limit the damage by wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and the rest of the Michigan offense to win, 28-24.

*I refuse to call bowl games by their sponsor names and instead call them by their original or conceptual names.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Comments (5)

4thand1's picture

The new NFL. The playoffs start tomorrow. Its great to have a bunch of meaningful games in week 17. Can you say parity? The salary cap evens the playing field for everyone. What a lot of fans don't realize records don't matter any more. Just get in and making a long playoff run is possible. The Packers have as good a chance as any team. Now, GOPACKGO, GOPACKGO, GOPACKGO !!!!

The TKstinator's picture

I still gotta say trust Ted. Just bring in some more talent. As much as many of us would like to see a stud safety, TT won't reach. That doesn't mean he won't make mistakes; all GM's do. I'll take talent at any position, but I gotta hope it'll be on defense. On offense, all I think we need is a return to health.
Just don't take Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan, you know what I mean?

WKUPackFan's picture

Louisville safety Calvin Pryor has made a lot of plays this year. Not sure where the draft gurus have him ranked.

WKUPackFan's picture

Teddy Bridgewater just broke the infamous Brian Brohm's U of L single season touchdown pass record with 31. Good call Brian on Marcus Smith, he had a big sack/strip fumble. Devante Parker looking awfully good at WR.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Brandon Coleman from Rutgers was a good pro prospect to watch. He is a tall 6'5-6'6" WR who has good speed. He has declared for the draft.

I didn't get to see a lot of the game, but from what I saw, I would definitely consider him in the 2nd-3rd round if he were available.

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