I love watching college football. There's more pomp, pageantry and spirit about it than any other sport, and you get a glimpse of tomorrow's NFL stars.
Watching college football is great fun, but it is also a key part of our NFL Draft study at Pewter Report. The bowl games I didn't view live on television were taped and I will be watching and re-watching those games in the coming days to see which players would fit nicely into a red and pewter uniform come April.
Here's a couple of the standout performances from my NFL Draft study of a few bowl games. I'm still getting to the others that are on tape and may include those in an SR's Fab Five down the road. Some of these guys are headliners, others are players you may have never heard of, but come April you will.
LIBERTY BOWL - Colorado State vs. TCU
Colorado State versus Texas Christian University. Not a marquee matchup for most college football fans, but this game had a couple of interesting headliners. Colorado State running back Cecil Sapp (5-foot-11, 225), who reminds me of San Francisco's Kevin Barlow, rushed for 1,495 yards and 17 touchdowns this year. He's a tackle-buster who runs with power and has enough speed. Barlow finished with a 99-yard day in the Rams' 17-3 loss. Good day, right? Well, considering Barlow had 84 yards on his first two carries, including a 59-yard jaunt on his first carry, and was held to 15 yards on the next 18 carries, not really.
The reason? TCU's No. 1 ranked rush defense led by Horned Frogs senior linebacker LaMarcus McDonald. McDonald (6-foot-1, 224) is smallish and quick, just like the Bucs like their linebackers, and really attacks the line of scrimmage. He had 113 tackles, 10 sacks and three fumble recoveries this season. He wasn't asked to drop into coverage that much, but has the instincts, tackling ability, quickness and aggressiveness that should make Tampa Bay interested in him. His lack of size will make him a second- or third-round pick.
I also like Sapp, too. He's projected to go anywhere from round 2-4. TCU's defense was for real, holding the Rams to just 143 yards of total offense.
HOLIDAY BOWL - KSU vs. ASU
I would be remiss if I didn't mention my alma mater, Kansas State, beating Arizona State in yet another fantastic Holiday Bowl game. K-State, who was a ridiculous 18-point favorite over a young, talented Sun Devils team, has a history of losing games against unranked bowl opponents who have strong defensive ends.
It happened in 1994 at the Aloha Bowl when Wildcats QB Chad May got sacked four times by Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula, which upped his stock so much that Philadelphia Eagles coach Ray Rhodes traded up with Tampa Bay in the 1995 NFL Draft to select Mamula, which allowed Warren Sapp to fall to the Bucs. So the next time you see a K-Stater, Bucs fans, thank them for Warren Sapp. Mamula ruined the Wildcats' Christmas in a 12-5 loss.
In 1998, Michael Bishop was sacked multiple times by Purdue's talented defensive ends, Chike Okefeor (San Francisco 49ers) and Rosevelt Colvin (Chicago Bears) in a loss in the Alamo Bowl. This year, the stud defensive end was Sun Devils sackmeister Terrell Suggs.
Suggs came into the game with an NCAA record 24 sacks and got two in the first half against Wildcats athletic QB Ell Roberson. Suggs, who is foregoing his senior season and entering the NFL, should be a top 15 pick. Having grown up in Kansas City and seen one of the NFL's greatest pass rushers of all time, Derrick Thomas, in action, I have to say that Suggs is the second coming of D.T. Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers were first-round picks last year and had outstanding rookie seasons. Suggs is a better pass rusher and is also a force against the run. He's a gameplan-changer.
The other headliner in the game was the best defensive back in the land, K-State's Terence Newman. Newman, who had a great night playing corner, receiver and also returning punts, possesses sprinter's speed and will be a top 15 pick as well as the first cornerback taken off the board. The Bucs absolutely love him, but don't have much of a need for him with Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith. They also don't have a first-round pick.
One guy who might be an option is Sun Devils middle linebacker Mason Unck. Unck (6-2, 250) might not have the foot speed to play in the Bucs' scheme, but he's quick, tough and was making plays all over the field on defense and was a demon covering kicks on special teams. K-State's junior middle linebacker, Terry Pierce, is said to be leaning towards the NFL and would be a second-round pick. The Bucs like him, too, but only with luke warm interest. He doesn't have the experience in coverage that is necessary for Tampa Bay's Cover 2 scheme.
HOUSTON BOWL - OSU vs. Southern Miss
The best receiver you've never heard of before this game, Oklahoma State junior Rashaun Woods, had a fantastic outing with nine catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. I'm hoping that Woods comes out for the draft because he's sensational. Yes, he played for an obscure Cowboys team in the Big XII, but I've seen this guy play over the last two years. Woods (6-foot-2, 190) is also one of the few players who actually scored a touchdown on Newman, who was this year's Jim Thorpe Award winner. Woods is that good and he'll likely be a first-rounder.
Southern Miss had a great performance by junior middle linebacker Rod Davis (6-foot-3, 242), who is really a seek-and-destroyer. He's a pretty good all-around linebacker who can tackle, blitz and cover. He's also a great leader. If Davis comes out, he'll likely go anywhere from rounds 2-4.
OUTBACK BOWL - Florida vs. Michigan
Let me start off by saying that I'm not going to even mention Gators junior quarterback Rex Grossman, who recently announced he's entering the NFL, or underclassman receiver Taylor Jacobs in this report. The reason? They're Gators. Don't draft 'em. They'll most likely be busts. Ask Steve Spurrier. How many ex-Gators will be on his roster next year? Not Jacquez Green. Not Reidel Anthony. Not Shane Matthews.
The absolute star of this game was a player I've admired for some time. Michigan linebacker Victor Hobson. Hobson (6-foot-1, 240) had 10 tackles, one sack and a game-clinching interception. If there is one linebacker I really like in college football, it's Hobson. He's a big play waiting to happen. I'm going to be digging into whether the Bucs like him or not, but my initial feeling is that he would look good with a flag on his helmet. He's expected to be a second- or third-round pick.
ALAMO BOWL - Colorado vs. Wisconsin
The guy I really wanted to see was Wisconsin center Al Johnson. The Bucs like him and he didn't disappoint against Colorado. Johnson (6-foot-4, 300) stoned the Buffs defensive line in pass protection and really got good turn and push in the run game. I know drafting a center in the second round wouldn't be a glamorous pick, but if Tampa Bay got Johnson in the second, be happy. Be very happy.
I anticipate the Bucs will part ways with Jeff Christy in March due to salary cap reasons. That leaves them with Todd Washington as the only available center. Johnson would make a nice fit in Tampa and he's shown some great leadership ability for the Badgers.
Colorado defensive tackle Tyler Brayton is also an exciting player, but at 6-foot-6, 271 pounds, I think he's too tall to play defensive tackle for the Buccaneers. He could play tackle or end in the pros. Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli likes his tackles no taller than 6-foot-2. It's all about leverage and maintaining good pad level and taller tackles usually don't have the good knee bend. Brayton is expected to be selected in rounds 2-4.
ORANGE BOWL - Iowa vs. Southern Cal
Yes, the Trojans' team speed on offense defeated a slow-footed Iowa defense. The Big 10 is a physical, pound 'em conference, unlike the Big 12, Pac-10 and the SEC. But the players who impressed me the most were the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Defensive tackle Colin Cole had a sack and was solid against the run and the pass for Iowa. He's a quick, wide-bodied defender who is exceptionally strong and smart. At 6-foot-1, 310 pounds, he's an ideal fit size-wise in Tampa Bay. Cole is projected to be a third-round pick.
Iowa's offensive line is the best in college football. Eric Steinbach is the top-rated guard in the NFL and at 6-foot-6, 283 pounds, he could also play tackle. He's an exceptional athlete and definitely a first-rounder. A very, very good player.
But the guy for Bucs fans to keep their eyes on is Iowa's Bruce Nelson, who at 6-foot-5, 289 is a very good center. Maybe not as good as Wisconsin's Al Johnson, but Nelson is still very talented. His profile has been raised due to Iowa's stellar year, and he'll likely go anywhere from round 2-4.
USC senior receiver Kareem Kelly (5-foot-11, 183) is a track star and also the school's all-time receptions leader. But he's probably the third best receiver on his own team. I'm not a big fan of Kelly's. I've watched him closely in K-State's two wins over USC over the past two years and Terence Newman has absolutely erased him. Newman is an NFL-caliber corner, and Kelly didn't fare well. That scares me.
I do like USC's Sultan McCullough, who is also a track star with blazing speed. But McCollough (5-foot-11, 195) isn't a full-time back and hasn't carried the load. He's likely a situational back in the NFL.
Personally, I don't like quarterback Carson Palmer, who won this year's Heisman Trophy, as much as some do. He's overhyped. This guy had a decent freshman season and a strong second half to a senior season in which he piled up big numbers against a way overrated Notre Dame defense and a hapless UCLA defense. The stats back that up. He certainly didn't put up good numbers in a losing effort at K-State this year. I don't think he'll be a bust in the NFL, but I wouldn't pick him with my first-round pick. Give me a guy like Byron Leftwich, who has had tremendous success for at least two years rather than a Carson-come-lately.
Actually the QB I've liked since last year was Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury. He didn't get much attention until the end of this year because he plays in the Big XII and ESPN doesn't have a TV contract with that division, so he wasn't hyped much. But all Kingsbury did was complete 67.7 percent of his passes for 5,017 yards with 45 TDs and only 13 INTs this year. He also led the Red Raiders in a rout over Clemson in the Tangerine Bowl.
Kingsbury (6-foot-3, 206) is a great rhythmic thrower with a quick release and amazing accuracy. He's deadly on short and intermediate throws and has the arm strength to go deep on occasion.
I still haven't gotten around to evaluating the prospects in the Sugar Bowl yet, and I know that the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Bulldogs have some players who would also look good in the Bucs' colors. I also want to take one more look at Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin, a player who has really grown on me this year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed a little early pre-draft analysis to start the new year.