Bowl Traces, Part I

COUCH, Pa. -- Making something from nothing is easy if you have the time, the TV, the understanding wife and a pen and notebook. So let's take a leisurely look back through that notebook at the recently concluded college bowl season.

Starring in the Tangerine Bowl were N.C. State's Philip Rivers and Kansas' Bill Whittemore. Before we commence raving about the former, let's talk a little bit about the latter. Whittemore may only become a seventh-round pick but he looks like a winner from this vantage point. He can read the field and gets the ball there. It might be a little wobbly, like his knees, but the feeling is he's college football's version of Billy Kilmer, a real gamer. Now, Rivers just knocked me out with his accuracy, ability to scan the field and the fact he was calling many of his own plays, if we are to believe the announcers. Of course, Kansas' defense was horrible, but Rivers put everything on the money, either in leading his receiver or dropping it in over the proper shoulder. The scouting reports aren't glowing on the 6-5, 236-pounder, with an estimated 40 time of 5.04, because his mechanics are sloppy and his arm isn't super strong. My feeling, though, is teams will trust what they see on film. Rivers is a winning quarterback, who completed 71 percent of his passes as a senior. And lest it's believed he piled up big numbers against the Dukes and North Carolinas of the ACC, Rivers was equally brilliant in big games. At Ohio State and Florida State this season, he passed for a combined 737 yards (11.5 per completion), 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with a college passer rating over 150. The Steelers would be wise to consider drafting Rivers, even in the first round. He's not only a guy you can build an offense around, he's smart enough and experienced enough to help as a rookie. The No. 11 pick is probably too high for him, but it's unlikely Rivers would reach the 12th pick of the second round, particularly with Buffalo picking 11th. A possible trade down or second-round trade up by Kevin Colbert for Rivers wouldn't be a surprise. Later, as a bonus, the Steelers could draft Rivers' favorite target, Jerricho Cotchery (6-1, 200). The two piled up some eye-popping stats over the last four years. ... Boise State was something of a disappointment in the Fort Worth Bowl. Quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie didn't look nearly as impressive as he did last year on the blue, blue grass of home. If you're small, you'd better stand out and the 6-0 Dinwiddie didn't stand out. ... Oregon State pounded a stout New Mexico defense in the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Eve. Running back and first-round prospect Steven Jackson (6-3, 225) rushed for 149 yards and scored 5 touchdowns behind a suspect offensive line. If Las Vegas were to post odds on such things, Jackson would be the favorite in the Steelers' draft derby. He's big, fast and can catch. My concern is he runs too tall and would become an NFL punching bag. He was impressive against New Mexico, and it's probably the best New Mexico defense in many, many years, and yes I remember Brian Urlacher played there, but Jackson doesn't make me sit up on my couch and say ‘He da man.' You can't follow lists and numbers with the No. 11 pick. You have to know a champion when you see one and I don't quite see one in Jackson. ... Hawaii, from what friends tell me, had a 7-point lead in the final minute of the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Day and was still throwing. Hooray for Houston, which intercepted and scored before losing the game in overtime. Somewhere down the line Hawaii Coach June Jones will whine about somebody running it up on him, as Nebraska had the audacity to do this year. Just remember this game the same way we remembered Frank Solich doing it a few years ago, and then cheer when the dope gets fired. ... Bowling Green has an outstanding quarterback in Josh Harris, who's probably too raw to interest a Steelers team that already wasted a developmental QB pick on Brian St. Pierre last year. If they're going to draft a quarterback this year, it must be a thoroughbred only, and that stable numbers four with Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Rivers and Drew Henson. The latter's value has certainly dropped with the rise of Roethlisberger, and also with the New York Yankees keeping his bloated baseball contract alive. The Steelers have expressed their interest in Henson to the Houston Texans, and Henson has returned the favor through his agent, so the sides have their faraway eyes on each other. Henson remains a fallback option if the team wants to take a chance on Rivers lasting until their pick in the second round. ... Why such an interest in quarterbacks anyway? Well, for one, Tommy Maddox's value has dropped upon the realization that his style – no-huddle and rapid fire – is not the style the Steelers want to expand upon. Also, Maddox is showing a troublesome lack of mobility, and he'll be 33 years old next season. A replacement must be found within a few years and the Steelers' method – taking a chance on a late-rounder and wishing – hasn't worked. For the future of the organization, they must look into a good, young signal-caller now. Make that a very good young signal-caller now. ... Back to the Motor City, Northwestern hung in the game because of senior RB Jason Wright (5-10, 210), who carried 21 times for 237 yards, one game after rushing for 251 vs. Illinois. Against Michigan and Ohio State, this Frank Pollard clone carried a combined 25 times for 89 yards (3.6). ... The Insight Bowl featured two pro RB prospects, and Kevin Jones (6-0, 209) played up to his potential with 153 yards on 16 carries. He's fast, strong, can catch, but hasn't shown much durability during his stay at Virginia Tech. Can you take a chance on that at pick No. 11? Tough call. The speed makes him very interesting. The same goes for Tech CB DeAngelo Hall (5-11, 198), who ran a ridiculous school-record 40 time -- ridiculous in that Va. Tech's track is noted as being an ultra-fast surface. He showed that speed here and a a physical style to match. It's not difficult to believe Colbert and Bill Cowher will spend some time in Blacksburg, Va., this spring. As for Cal RB Adimchinobe Echemaandu (6-0, 225), the senior gained only 35 yards this night, and didn't grab our attention until subsequent TV graphics in other bowl games had him as the leading 2003 rusher vs. USC with 147 yards and then Oregon State with 146. Those occurred on back-to-back Saturdays, so perhaps an injury slowed him down. He's worth investigating. TO BE CONTINUED

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