Bowl Watch III

Jim Wexell concludes his Bowl Watch series for Steelers fans.

The third leg of an exhausting bowl season has some clunkers, to be sure, but there are some big games this week, starting tonight in Jim Harbaugh's and Andrew Luck's final showings for Stanford.

Monday, Jan. 3

Orange Bowl, 8:30 p.m. – Stanford vs. Virginia Tech. This should be a good game. With Tech's bowl experience, coaching, hot quarterback play, defense, special teams and underdog chip, I'd normally call for the upset, but Stanford will be riding a lot of emotion because of the probable departures of both coach and quarterback. And of course Luck (12) is the premier draft prospect in the country as a redshirt sophomore. Stanford has a WR in Ryan Whalen (8) and a FB in Owen Marecic (48), who also plays middle linebacker. He's a very good lead blocker. On defense for Stanford, three interesting prospects: round 3-4 NT Sione Fua (92), tall CB Richard Sherman (9) and playmaking junior safety Delano Howell (26).

For Tech, I'll be watching CB Rashad Carmichael (21) for the first time healthy. He came off the bench for the second half of the ACC championship game on his sprained ankle. But I think it's important to always keep an eye on VT's boundary corners since they're so physical, and Carmichael could interest the Steelers in the second round. I really like Tech's TE, Andre Smith (88). He's a big blocker with hands and long arms. He appears to have speed and looked like an alert, winning player who's not being talked about in the media.

Tuesday, Jan. 4

Sugar Bowl, 8:30 p.m. – Ohio State vs. Arkansas. Ryan Mallet has the size and the arm to win big in the NFL, but he strikes me as a coach-killer. I don't have any evidence, and don't need any because he'll go too high to interest the Steelers. I'm not even sure the Steelers will need a TE, or, if they let Matt Spaeth leave in free agency, what kind of TE they'd look at. I doubt it'd be a playmaking H-back like Arkansas' D.J. Williams (45) because that's not their style, but I wouldn't mind it becoming their style with Williams. See if he blocks at all here. Arky's LT has me puzzled, too. I'm having a hard time buying into DeMarcus Love (65) as either a tackle or a guard, and he's the kind of prospect who could be staring the Steelers in the eye in the first round. So far, I'd pass. Ohio State is full of enigmas. I don't know what to make of DE Cameron Heyward (97). After last year I thought he was a top-5 guy. This year he could be available late in the first. Is it OSU's immersion in the 3-4 that's making him appear so passive? And I'm not sure going up against Love will settle anything in my mind. OSU as always has prospects in the secondary. They're ranked this way: CB Chimdi Chekwa (5), FS Jermale Hines (7) and CB Devon Torrence (1). Offensively, the best senior prospect is LG Justin Boren (65). WR Dane Sanzenbacher (12) is a sticky-fingered, Welker-type playmaker whose 40 time will be important at the combine.

Thursday, Jan. 6

GoDaddy.com Bowl, 8 p.m. – Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (Ohio). Each side has a mid to late-rounder: WR Armand Robinson (11) for Miami and FS Jeremy Kellem (20) of MTSU.

Friday, Jan. 7

Cotton Bowl, 8 p.m. – LSU vs. Texas A&M. Excellent matchup on the blind side with A&M OLB Von Miller (40) and LSU LT Joseph Barksdale (78). Miller is the thin but ultra-quick 3-4 pass-rusher who'll be long gone by the end of the first round. The interest here is Barksdale, a big RT-OG prospect in the upper mid-rounds. Also check out Bobby Hebert's kid T-Bob Hebert (53) at RG for LSU. He's only a junior, but I wanted to write his name. NT Drake Nevis (92) is another must-watch for LSU, which is led by CB/RS Patrick Peterson (7), a top-five junior.

Saturday, Jan. 8

Compass Bowl, noon – Pitt vs. Kentucky. The question right now is who's coaching Pitt and are they practicing? Dave Wannstedt didn't want to coach this game before the Haywood fiasco, wanted to stick Pitt in the end, but he denied it to Pitt when it got wind of it. That was then. Now the situation has to be even worse. The guess is Wannstedt will oversee Phil Bennett on the sideline. Nice job, Steve Pederson.

Anyway, lazy star receiver Jonathan Baldwin (82) can try not to head down the Dewayne Jarrett path in this game, but the guy I want to watch one last time at Pitt is LT Jason Pinkston (77). He's probably a second-round guard, but has been credible at LT. Problem is, you pretty much have to be 6-5 to play OT in the NFL. On defense for Pitt, pass-rusher Jabaal Sheard (97) could be LaMarr Woodley. See if he drops at all.

Kentucky has an interesting all-around scatback in Derrick Locke (20). I don't need to watch him as much as Baldwin does. Locke could teach Baldwin a lesson in what it means to play with heart.

Sunday, Jan. 9

Fight Hunger Bowl, 9 p.m. – Nevada vs. Boston College. Love Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick (8) as a late-rounder, if he makes it that far. He has great mobility and a rocket arm. But I really love OLB Dontay Moch (55). Internet reports have him running a 4.25 40. I chuckled, but then saw him downfield covering wide receivers against Boise State. That's when he wasn't crushing the QB. Wouldn't mind Moch in the first round, need or not, scheme fit or not. We'll have the pleasure of watching him go up against Boston College LT Anthony Castonzo (74), a probable first-rounder. BC OLB Mark Herzlich (94) doesn't appear to be a scheme fit in Pittsburgh, but he's an interesting story as a stud-cancer patient-returning to stud-dom guy.

Monday, Jan. 10

BCS Title Game, 8:30 p.m. – Auburn vs. Oregon. Oregon must have the greatest sophomores in the world – and redshirt soph RB LaMichael James (21) is one of them – because they've stunned me in getting this far without any big-time draft prospects. Another Matthews boy – Casey Matthews (55) – put me to sleep as a two-down run-plugging ILB. DT Brandon Bair (88) has emerged this season, but he wasn't on my in-season list.

On the flip side, Auburn has the two most dominant players in college football this season. Both are juniors. QB Cam Newton (2) is Josh Freeman with even better athleticism, and Freeman is supposed to be Roethlisberger with better athleticism. Newton is a beast who could even play TE if he can't figure out NFL defenses as a QB. The other question is his character. Why did you throw your laptop out the window if you didn't think it was stolen? There are other questions, too. But if he has a burning desire to be great, and gets with a good coach in a stable organization, Newton could become one of the greatest of all-time. Of course, Luck will be, and should be, the safer No. 1 draft pick.

While Newton dominated offensively for Auburn, DT Nick Fairley (90) was unblockable in the middle of the defensive front. He's a top-10 talent, sorry Steelers fans, but keep an eye on Auburn LT Lee Ziemba (73), a thin-but-sturdy pass-blocker who'll surprise in the run game. I must be blind because most experts rank him as a fifth-rounder. This amateur would take Ziemba in the second round.


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