The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 15th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout bowl season as The Watch List will preview every game and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Gasparilla Bowl, South Florida (7-5) vs Marshall (8-4), Thur 12/20 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
    • I first reviewed Tyre Brady’s film in the offseason and came away very impressed. I admit that it may be primacy bias since Brady was the first wideout I studied this draft year. He’s definitely somebody I plan to revisit. I posited that Brady looked like he could develop into a starting X receiver in the NFL. I liked his acrobatic nature, his strong hands and his toe-tapping body control. His speed and fluid change of direction ability will be important traits as he matures as a route runner. Brady’s numbers dipped a bit in 2018 (60-819-9) but I’m still optimistic. In his last two games of the C-USA regular season (before the Va Tech makeup) he went for a combined 11-207-3. I previously suggested a Day Two grade for Brady but after a somewhat disappointing stat line, I’ll bump him down to the 4th round.
  • My Pick: USF, +2.5
    • Both teams are a horrendous 4-8 ATS this season, including 20+ point losses for both in their last contest. USF has been disappointing this season but they might get a bit of an edge playing in-state. Take the points but you won’t feel great about it.

Bahamas Bowl, FIU (8-4) vs Toledo (7-5), Fri 12/21 at 12:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo
    • Thompson is a fifth year senior who was granted an extra year of eligibility after breaking his leg early in 2017. From 2015-2017, Thompson averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. However, that fell to just 13.8 in 2018. The biggest difference for Thompson? He was originally catching balls from the prolific Logan Woodside so it’s hard to say if it’s quarterback play or a slow return post-injury. Pre-injury, Thompson was not fast but he showed skills after the catch, particularly with a killer spin move. He’s inconsistent with his hands, often body catching the ball. One unexpected bright spot was his blocking; he lacks top end strength but shows a willingness and above average technique for the position. He’s likely a late rounder but will latch on to a team as a special teamer.
  • My Pick: FIU, +6
    • FIU has been an underdog three times this season (Indiana, Miami, Marshall) and won ATS each time. For the season they are 9-3 and are 5-0 away from home. Toledo has struggled at QB this season, switching between Mitch Guadagni and Eli Peters (for both health and production reasons). Meanwhile, graduate transfer QB James Morgan has been playing very well for the Golden Panthers and lead the conference in most passing stats. If you’re telling me I am getting the better quarterback and the points, slam dunk.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Western Michigan (7-5) vs BYU (6-6), Fri 12/21 at 4:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU
    • When I came across Kaufusi this past offseason, I felt like I found a diamond in the rough. Here’s a largely unknown guy who measures in at an immense 6090-275 and makes plays in the backfield (18.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 tackles in his career). Not only is he an interesting prospect but he comes from an interesting family. His dad was the longtime defensive line coach at BYU; his older brother Brandon was a 3rd round pick by the Ravens in 2016 (he’s now with the Jets); his younger brother Devin and cousin Isaiah are also on the football team; and his mom is the mayor of Provo! I watched some of Kaufusi against Boise State from 2017 and he honestly did not jump off the screen with burst or explosiveness. He’ll win the workout though.
  • My Pick: Western Michigan, +12
    • I really struggled with this pick. I went into the preview thinking that BYU was going to be a no-brainer pick but the more I looked at the team stats I started to sway towards the Broncos. Western Michigan leads BYU in each offensive team stat, including significant advantages in time of possession and yards per play.  BYU has the better defense so maybe they keep it low scoring.  Twelve is a big number so if I had to bet it, I’ll take the points.

Birmingham Bowl, Wake Forest (6-6) vs Memphis (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
    • I’ve been waxing poetic about Henderson for awhile now so there’s no reason to stop now.  Henderson is a bit undersized at 5090/200 but his playing style belies his size.  He runs downhill with a momentum you can feel through the screen.  When necessary, he can use his shorter stature to his advantage to get through tight holes.  He contributes well in the passing game, averaging 21 receptions per season.  His per-rush numbers are off the charts: per Sports-Reference.com, Henderson leads the NCAA in yards per attempt (8.2) for rushers since 1956.  Henderson will be an interesting study in the offseason because I like his tape and his stats but the rest of the industry does not seem to be buying in yet.
  • My Pick: Memphis, -5
    • I’ve been watching Memphis closely the last two years because they’ve featured two of my favorite prospects (Henderson and Anthony Miller).  So, I may be partial but some of the betting stats are on my side too.  Memphis is 8-5 ATS this season while Wake is just 4-8.  The Tigers have won their last five ATS as a favorite.  Expect a high scoring game because the defenses rank 93rd and 101st.

Armed Forces Bowl, Army (9-2) vs Houston (8-4), Sat 12/22 at 3:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Austin Robinson, LB, Houston
    • Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.  No offense to Mr. Robinson but I would much rather be writing about either Ed Oliver or D’Eriq King in this space.  Both are dynamic playmakers for the Cougs, however neither will be playing in this one.  Oliver is sitting out for self-preservation purposes (he’s likely to be a top 2019 pick) and King suffered a knee injury in November.  (Admittedly, King is not a realistic draft prospect for 2019 but still, he’s so explosive he’d warrant a write-up).  Without any draft hopefuls on the Army squad, Robinson will need to carry the mantle.  He’s a quarterback turned linebacker and exploded in 2018 for 115 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.  Robinson had a mind-boggling stat line against the other triple-option service academy on Houston’s schedule: 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.  I think it’s safe to say that Robinson is going to standout in this one.
  • My Pick: Houston, +3
    • As I mentioned above, Army deploys a triple-option offense which is usually tough to gameplan against.  However, Houston should be prepared because they play Navy every year who features a similar run-heavy offense.  Houston won the last two against Navy by double digits.  The line started out at Houston -1.5 but has moved towards Army.  This feels like a steal to be getting points.  Army is better than Navy and Houston will be missing key pieces but still, I will take them straight up.

Dollar General Bowl, Buffalo (9-3) vs Troy (9-3), Sat 12/22 at 7:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
    • Prior to the MAC Championship, I suggested that Johnson could play his way into a mid-round grade if he played strongly in his last two contests. Game one for Johnson went well. Against NIU, he finished with a 7-124-2 line. The Bulls ended up losing after a furious Huskies comeback but Johnson wasn’t to blame. Johnson is an outside receiver with starter potential; he’s 6020 so a bit shorter than other elite X prospects but he is strong in the air. I’m not as high on him as I was heading into 2019 but he’s still likely to factor into your rookie drafts next season.
  • My Pick: Buffalo, -2.5
    • I haven’t seen any of Troy’s games this year so it’s hard to pick them with less than a field goal advantage. Buffalo has a few NFL hopefuls (including QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I would expect them to field the better team. Buffalo was a three point favorite over Northern Illinois and blew it so that does give me pause. I’d pass on this one if I could.

Hawaii Bowl, Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs Hawaii (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 10:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Lousiana Tech
    • I recently read a profile of Ferguson on The Athletic and was happy to come across his name again when researching this bowl. His 2018 stands out (60 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks) but he has produced consistently all four years at La Tech. His 42.5 career sack number is one of the highest I have seen in recent memory. In fact, according to Sports-Reference.com, Ferguson leads the FBS in career sacks since they started tracking since 2005. Since I was not familiar with Ferguson’s tape, I consulted TheDraftNetwork.com for some insight. According to their scouting reports, we should expect Ferguson to find a home as a run-stopping end in the NFL. He may not be the most athletic prospect in the class but it’s impossible to ignore his production over a four-year career.
  • My Pick: Hawaii, -1
    • This should be an overlooked game that turns out to be a fun watch (plus, your SO will probably already be asleep by the time it gets going so you can watch it in peace). Hawaii features the 9th best passing offense in the FBS while Tech only allows 193.6 passing yards per game (29th best). I agree with Vegas that this will be a close one. I’ll lean towards Hawaii who is a rare bowl team playing a home game. (Bettors beware: Hawaii is 2-4-1 ATS at home this season so be cautious and don’t bet big)

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/5.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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