Bowl Watch

The phrase "moving forward" has annoyed many this year, but Jim Wexell is running with it in assessing the Pittsburgh Steelers' future this weekend in the bowl games.

While Mike Tomlin goes off to watch some of his youngsters in a near-meaningless regular-season finale, the rest of us "personnel junkies" will watch bowl games and evaluate college prospects at positions of need.

Here's how I'll move forward into 2008:

Tonight, 8:00 – Holiday Bowl (Texas-Arizona State) – There are some quality centers this year and Mike Pollak (76) of Arizona State is one of them. ASU coach Dennis Erickson called him the best lineman he's been around. Pollak had a terrific game against USC NT Sedrick Ellis and will go against Texas DT Frank Okam tonight.

Friday, 5 p.m. – Sports Bowl (Michigan State-Boston College) – BC left tackle Gosder Cherilus (77) has the frame to some day look like Jonathan Ogden. In what's shaping up as a deep crop of quality tackles, Cherilus could tempt the Steelers in the first round. Michigan State has a 255-pound back named Jehuu Caulcrick (30), who, like so many big backs of late, will find his way into the middle rounds.

Friday, 8:30 p.m. – Emerald Bowl (Maryland-Oregon State) – OSU RT Roy Schuening (67) is considered one of the top guard prospects in the country, and some believe he could play center. Oregon State already has a feisty center in Kyle DeVan (75), who could be a late-round or undrafted sleeper.

Saturday, 1 p.m. – Car Care Bowl (UConn-Wake Forest) – Another center prospect, and possibly the best in the country, is Wake's Steve Justice (74). He could stand out like a first-rounder in this game. The Steelers will also be looking for a defensive end, and Wake's Jeremy Thompson (98) has the body to play in a 3-4.

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – Liberty Bowl (Central Florida-Mississippi State)Kevin Smith, the nation's leading rusher, says he's staying in college, so the player to watch is 3-4 OLB prospect Titus Brown (54) of Mississippi State. Watch his change-of-direction skills to see if he could drop into coverage.

Saturday, 8 p.m. – Alamo Bowl (Penn State-Texas A&M) – A&M tailback Jorvorskie Lane (11) is only a junior, but he may leave this year. The 263-pounder would be another mid-round big back. A&M's Cody Wallace (70) is another center-guard prospect. PSU's Dan Connor (40) is a second-round ILB and that's probably too early for the Steelers since Lawrence Timmons has moved inside.

Sunday, 8 p.m . – Independence Bowl (Colorado-Alabama)Antoine Caldwell (59) could be Alabama's right tackle next year, or the Steelers' center. He's played both positions this year, and if he comes out as a junior he could be a third-round gem. Colorado has an interesting cornerback in Terrence Wheatley (26), but if Tomlin does indeed want to bring in cover corners he should also watch Alabama CB Simeon Castille (2).

Monday, 12:30 p.m. – Armed Forces Bowl (Air Force-California) – I don't suppose Cal playmaking WR-KR-PR DeSean Jackson (1, Jr.) could slip to the Steelers? Root for a poor game from a special player here.

Monday, 2 p.m. – Sun Bowl (Oregon-South Florida) Jonathan Stewart (28, Jr.) will be the fast, powerful guy with the huge thighs in the ugly green uniform. Can't miss him. And that may well be true in April, too. The Steelers might be staring at this intriguing running back in the first round, but can they afford the luxury? South Florida superstar CB-PR Mike Jenkins will be long gone, but CB Trai Williams (21) is a second-rounder. If Stewart has an off night, South Florida MLB Ben Moffitt (59) will be the reason. He's a fourth-round ILB, ala Larry Foote.

Monday, 2 p.m. – Humanitarian Bowl (Fresno State-Georgia Tech) – Tech running back Tashard Choice (22) should be at his healthiest here. His lead blocker, Mike Cox (40), is a bigger Dan Kreider who could go as early as the fifth round. Tech DE Darrell Robertson (90) is a mid-round 3-4 OLB "tweener" prospect.

Monday, 5:30 p.m. -- Insight Bowl (Indiana-Oklahoma State) – Indiana's best prospect, in my mind, is cover corner/return man Tracy Porter (9). He has the look of a high second-rounder. Gigantic WR James Hardy (82, Jr.) might just be a second-round possession receiver. Oklahoma State has a big WR in Adarius Bowman (12), but he too needs to show speed. You can't just be big in the league. Cowboy RB Dantrell Savage (22) is in the Verron Haynes mold: He's an honors student with good speed and he likes to block. He's built low to the ground, like a bowling ball.

Monday, 8 p.m. – Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Auburn-Clemson) – I tried to get through Part I of this preview without naming a bowl sponsor. Sorry, but this could not be helped. Anyway, opinion varies wildly on Joey Porter-clone Quentin Groves (54) of Auburn. A DE who has the hips to play 3-4 OLB, Groves can take games over in the final minutes, bringing up these questions: Is it due to adrenaline? And why doesn't he play that way all the time? Auburn TE Cole Bennett (87) could be the late-round, hard-blocking TE the Steelers need. Clemson has a half-dozen prospects, but the Steelers already have the best of them -- James Davis (1) – in pro match Willie Parker.

(To be continued on New Year's Day.)


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