The Alabama Crimson Tide has developed one of the most coveted receivers to come out of college since, well, since Julio Jones, in Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, certain to have general managers spending lots of hours in the film room, as he is certain to be one of the first players taken.
Speaking of the Heisman Trophy, it seems voters finally “got it right” after two years of naming unsavory characters for that award. Another quarterback went home with the trophy in a landslide voting process, as one of the game’s good guys, Marcus Mariota put together a season worthy of all the votes he received. I want to thank Oregon State for a classy act in congratulating their in-state rivals for going home with college’s most prestigious award.
While Mariota has yet to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, he is probably surfing the internet for property right now in the city of Tampa, especially with the way the Bucs have played this year. At least quarterback-needy teams will not have to worry about checking the police blotter (Jameis Winston).
But before the big names step to the podium during the first year of the newly instituted championship playoff season, there are 10 teams about to kick off the bowl season this Saturday. Beginning the 23-day game schedule is the Mountain West Conference’s Nevada Wolf Pack, facing upstart Louisiana-Lafayette, who turned around a 1-3 season by winning seven of their final eight contests, as they face off in the New Orleans Bowl.
The ever-opportunistic Utah State Aggies bring their “Willie Sutton” like defense (seventh in the nation with 27 takeaways) taking on the ever-stingy Texas-El Paso (tied for second in the nation with just 11 turnovers) battling it out in the New Mexico Bowl three hours after the New Orleans Bowl commences.
The old Las Vegas Bowl adds a little “color” to the early bowl schedule, as they are now under the Royal Purple Bowl umbrella. Gamblers in town are in for a high-scoring game, as Colorado State marches in with rifle-armed quarterback Garret Grayson and his “goomba” in the trenches, receiver Rashard Higgins, the recipient of 17 of Grayson’s touchdown tosses this season.
Their opponent can only wish for some aerial action, but Utah comes into the contest with a quarterback (Travis Wilson) with a litany of injury issues, who will not have the benefit of throwing to the best receiver on the team (Dres Anderson, son of former Los Angeles Rams receiver Flipper Anderson, has been sidelined since late September knee surgery).
It will be bundle up time for family, friends and fans of Air Force and Western Michigan, as they kick off early evening action in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Led by a running game that averaged close to 275 yards per game, Air Force has made a remarkable turn-around, entering this clash with a 9-3 record after stumbling to a 2-10 mark last year. WMU had a similar nightmare season in 2013, going 1-11 before putting together an 8-4 record to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They also hope to earn their first bowl victory in program history (0-5 record).
Ending the day’s festivities is the Racom Media Camella Bowl, as two teams hovering near .500 try to put a happy ending to a trying season. Bowling Green (7-6) is still reeling from three straight losses to close out the 2014 schedule and hopes to take advantage of a South Alabama team that just broke even this year (6-6) with a pass defense that is giving up a frightening 200 yards per game. If Bowling Green gets too overconfident because of South Alabama’s porous defense and .500 record, the Jaguars had a non-conference schedule that included then-top ranked Mississippi State, South Carolina and Navy.
While most of the nation will probably be out at the malls getting those last-minute Christmas check lists filled, I will be chomping on gumbo in one of my favorite cities, watching a quarterback that I think is one of the most underrated players in the 2015 – Cody Fajardo.
The ever-elusive quarterback has an outstanding arm and it is perhaps fitting that he plays his final college game in New Orleans. He might be able to parlay his college exit in that city to his pro debut in the same town. One look at the Saints offense and you see that Drew Brees is getting on in years. Take a look at their depth chart and Brees’ struggles this season – you get the feeling that Sean Payton might be putting Fajardo under the pro microscope this Saturday, to see if he might be the passer the Saints take in the middle rounds to groom behind and eventually replace Brees.
UPON CLOSER LOOK: NEW ORLEANS BOWLUniversity of Louisiana (Lafayette) Rajun’ Cajuns (8-4 record) vs. the University of Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5 record)
NCAA Rankings (National/Conference)
|Scoring Offense||52/03 (30.6 ppg)||49/03 (31.3 ppg)|
|Scoring Defense||76/05 (27.9 ppg)||77/07 (28.2 ppg)|
|Total Offense||53/04 (417.9 ypg)||56/05 (413.0 ypg)|
|Total Defense||86/04 (421.9 ypg)||103/09 (450.1 ypg)|
|Run Offense||23/02 (229.4 ypg)||30/05 (215.2 ypg)|
|Run Defense||44/01 (146.7 ypg)||79/06 (179.1 ypg)|
|Pass Offense||100/09 (188.5 ypg)||92/09 (197.8 ypg)|
|Pass Defense||117/09 (275.3 ypg)||112/12 (271.0 ypg)|
|Red Zone Offense||07/01 (0.925)||03/01 (0.941)|
|Red Zone Defense||17/01 (0.744)||79/06 (0.814)|
|Sacks Allowed||124/02 (1.58 spg)||19/03 (1.33 spg)|
|Sacks Recorded||44/03 (2.33 spg)||65/05 (2.08 spg)|
|TEAM 2014 REGULAR SEASON STATISTICAL LEADERS|
LOUISIANA DRAFT ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
|HARRIS, Alonzo (FB)||Louisiana-Lafayette||Sr||06:00.7||232||4.55||TB||4.7||PFA|
|QUAVE, Daniel “Mykhael”||Louisiana-Lafayette||rJr||06:02.5||316||5.43||OG||4.6||FA|
Current quarterback Terrance Broadway amassed 424 yards in total offense in the 2012 game in a 43-34 defeat of East Carolina to earn game MVP honors. Broadway is second in career touchdown passes at Louisiana with 48 in three seasons. Jake Delhomme holds the record with 64 from 1993-96, but only had 44 in his first three seasons. Broadway also ranks second in career passing yards (7,329), and third in completions (562).
Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire have combined for 28 of the team’s 46 touchdowns this season. The duo had 22 combined touchdowns a year ago. McGuire leads the team with 16 scores. Harris became the third person in school history to rush for 3,000 yards in a career after tallying 133 yards on 13 carries at ULM. He has 3,281 currently. McGuire has scored at least one TD in the last nine contests, accounting for 15 of his 16 TDs during the stretch.
James Butler has caught at least one pass in 10 of 12 games this season. His 61 yards receiving at ULM put him over 1,000 for his career. Butler has the most career receiving yards among active wide receivers on the 2014 squad. Butler has caught 79 passes for 1,077 yards in four seasons.
The Cajuns offensive line returns four starters from the 2013 season, including Daniel Quave, Mykhael Quave, Terry Johnson and Octravian Anderson. Quave holds the most experience having not missed a start in four straight seasons with a school record 51 career starts at right guard.
Christian Ringo set a new school record for tackles-for-loss (TFL) in a game with 5.5, including 2.5 sacks at ULM in a 34-27 win. The 5.5 stops-for-loss is tied for the most in a game this season in college football. Ringo ranks seventh in the nation in with 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and is fifth averaging 1.6 TFL a game. He is also 12th in the nation in sacks with 10.5. He is also ranked fifth in the nation in stops-for-loss by a defensive lineman.
Dominique Tovell leads the team with 158 career tackles, including 25.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and six sacks, while linebacker Jake Molbert is second with 153 career tackles (86 solos) in four seasons. Tovell is second on the team this season in tackles with 70 (51 solos) after posting a season-high nine tackles vs. Troy.
Louisiana has featured six different starting lineups in the secondary this season with Corey Trim and Trevence Patt at corner and Travis Crawford and Tracy Walker as the safeties in the last three games of the season.
NEVADA DRAFT ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
|GARRETT, Charles (CB)||Nevada||rSr||05:10.5||216||4.58||FS||4.4||CMP|
|McNEAL, Jonathan (OB)||Nevada||Sr||06:00.6||228||4.88||MLB|
|TURNER, Richard "Richy"||Nevada||Sr||05:10.6||185||4.61||WR||4.5||FA|
The Pack and Cajuns have met just once, as Nevada tallied a 38-14 victory in 1995. The Wolf Pack has two coaches with Louisiana connections: offensive line coach Ron Hudson coached at the Cajuns for six years and offensive graduate assistant John Decoster was a four-year starter for Louisiana from 2006-10.
Nevada enters the bowl season with momentum after rushing for a season-high 408 yards and closing the regular season with five straight 200-yard rushing efforts. The Wolf Pack leads the nation in points off turnovers per game (13.25) while ranking second nationally in fourth quarter scoring margin (+85). Quarterback Cody Fajardo’s storied collegiate career will come to an end in his 43rd career start, as he is one of 15 seniors who will be playing their final game in a Nevada jersey.
Fajardo enters the bowl ranking second in program history in total offense and third amongst active FBS players in career total offense. The senior has completed 864-of-1,319 passes for 9,535 yards and 57 touchdowns while rushing for 3,433 yards and 44 touchdowns on 623 carries during his career. He is one of seven quarterbacks in the nation to lead their respective teams in both passing and rushing (2,374 passing/997 rushing), joining C.J. Brown, Maryland (2,083/569); Tyler Murphy, Boston College (1,526/1,079); Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech (1,594/965); Keenan Reynolds, Navy (749/1,082); Reginald Bell, Eastern Michigan (1,297/562); and Marquise Williams, North Carolina (2,870/737).
Fajardo and junior tailback Don Jackson will each have the chance to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing against Louisiana. Fajardo has rushed for 997 yards and 13 scores on 164 carries this season. Jackson has rushed for 932 yards and seven touchdowns on 206 carries.
Fajardo and Jackson could become the 30th and 31st players to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season in program history. The last time Nevada had two players rush for over 1,000 yards in the same season came in 2012 behind Fajardo (1,121) and Stephon Jefferson (1,883). Fajardo ranks seventh in Nevada’s career rushing yards record chart.
The Wolf Pack enter the bowl game with nine players having earned All-Mountain West Conference honors. Rush end Brock Hekking was named All-Mountain West for the third straight season, highlighting a group of nine Nevada players on that team – defensive end Ian Seau, center Matt Galas, tight end Jarred Gipson and punter Alex Boy earned second-team honors. Additionally, Fajardo, linebacker Jonathan McNeal, cornerback Charles Garrett and defensive tackle Rykeem Yates earned honorable mention accolades.
Nevada received consistent production from its core receivers, closing the regular season as one of 13 teams nationally boasting at least three players with 40-plus receptions. Nevada is also one of 19 teams with at least four players registering 30-plus receptions. Richy Turner led the Wolf Pack with 58 receptions for 541 yards and four touchdowns. Jerico Richardson added 53 catches for a team-high 626 yards with two scores.
One of the most intriguing position battles of the New Orleans Bowl will be between Louisiana’s offensive line and Nevada’s defensive line. The Ragin’ Cajuns were one of eight FBS teams to have the same five starting offensive linemen in every game of the season. The Wolf Pack will counter with its most experienced position with a veteran crew of defensive lineman.
The Nevada defensive line combines for 107 career starts, an average of 26.75 per player, between seniors Brock Hekking and Jordan Hanson and juniors Rykeem Yates and Ian Seau. Linebacker Jonathan McNeal anchored the Wolf Pack defense in 2014, leading the team in tackles, posting 95 tackles, 5.5 stops-for-loss, five passes defensed, three fumbles recovered, two forced fumbles, one interception and half a sack.
McNeal ranked ninth in the conference in tackles per game (7.9). Defensive end Ian Seau enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, as he led the team and ranked fourth in the conference in sacks with 7.5. Seau posted 36 tackles, 9.5 coming from behind the line of scrimmage, including 7.5 sacks, as he also had two forced fumbles and one pick-six on the season.
THE GAME’S FEATURED DRAFT PROSPECT
CODY MICHAEL FAJARDO: University of Nevada Wolf Pack, #17, 6:01.5-215
To date, Fajardo and Colin Kaepernick are the only players in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history to have thrown for over 9,000 yards and rushed for over 3,000 yards in a career. Even though the team played in the Western Athletic Conference during his freshman season, he holds the Mountain West Conference all-time quarterback record with 11 100-yard rushing performances, adding two more as a member of the WAC.
The Nevada senior has outstanding foot quickness and balance driving away from center, showing impressive body control to throw on the move. He is equally effective passing off the sprint or from drop-back action. He has very quick wrist delivery and the body control needed so he does not have to plant to unleash the long ball.
Fajardo has started 42 of 44 games at Nevada, connecting on 864-of-1,319 passes (65.50%) for 9.535 yards, 57 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He’s carried 623 times for 3,433 yards (5.51 ypc) and 44 scores, as he also participated in 1,942 snaps, generating 12,968 yards in total offense. He’s been responsible for 101 touchdowns and became one of just three players in school history to amass over 10,000 yards in total offense.
This season, Fajardo started every game, completing 225 of 376 passes (59.84%) for 2,374 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as he led the Wolf Pack with 164 carries for 997 yards (6.08 ypc) and 13 scores. He piled up 3,371 yards in total offense via 540 plays, averaging 280.92 yards per game and 6.24 yards per attempt. He engineered an offense that led the Mountain West Conference and ranked third in the nation in red zone offense, converting on 48-of-51 drives (20 scoring passes; 16 touch-down runs; 12 field goals).
THE SCOUTING REPORT
Fajardo has impressive speed dropping back from center and the arm strength to make all the throws. He is a more than just a classic drop-back passer, as he has the body control to be highly effective operating in the spread, as he excels when having to throw on the move. He can be sudden in his movements and shows the pocket presence needed to buy himself time when his protection breaks down, as he is one of the most highly effective ball carriers in the college game at his position (only current QB with at least 2,500 yards rushing and 7,500 yards passing).
The senior has a strong arm that allows him to deliver the long ball with touch and accuracy (see 2014 Arizona and 2013 Cal-Davis, Air Force, San Diego State, UNLV and Fresno State contests). He has the ability to put the ball where the receiver can catch it and shows good balance throwing on the move. One thing you notice is that he has the avoidance quickness stepping up in the pocket and the strength to pull away from pass rushers when pressured.
Fajardo shows above-average elusiveness on the run and has enough change of direction agility and quickness to slide and move around the pocket. Do not be confused about his high amount of rushing yardage - he is not the type that will look to run at the first sign of pressure, but he can make plays with his feet, as he does a solid job of running with a normal stride and good balance.
Fajardo’s ability to take something off the ball to make the easy throws separates him from the rest of this draft class. He has good accuracy on his short throws, even when he fails to set his feet. He throws a catchable ball underneath and it is rare to see those receivers having to adjust. His long-ball accuracy is evident by the way he can lead the receivers by putting the ball on the outside shoulder of his targets.
In the short passing game, Fajardo excels at putting the ball where the receiver can catch it. He throws a catchable ball with zip or touch and does a nice job of keeping the receiver in the route. He can drop the ball over the top and knows how to take something off his attempts on crossing patterns and shows good flare when he airs it out on his deep throws.
When going long, he gets good velocity and timing behind his throws. Like former teammate Colin Kaepernick, Fajardo has that over-powering arm to lead the receivers going deep and can put good touch on those throws. When airing the ball out, he demonstrates excellent trajectory.