The Watch List: 2018 Big 12 Preview

Updated: July 21st 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Favorite:  Will Grier, QB, West Virginia.  It feels like cheating when I take the best passer in the conference as my Heisman favorite.  Alas, that’s the way it goes these days.  Grier threw for 3,490 yards in 2017 but he’ll need to approach 4,000 if he’s to be a true Heisman contender.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma.  Murray has name cachet already because of his impending baseball career.  He was selected 9th overall by the Oakland A’s but still plans to play football in 2018.  If Murray is playing well, which I anticipate, he will get a lot of buzz because he has a story media outlets can sell.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State.  No offensive player will mean more to his team this season in the Big 12 than Montgomery will to the Cyclones.  He is not a breakaway runner but he has amazing balance and tackle breaking ability.  He’ll have a number of “how did he do that” highlights again this season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Joe Dineen, LB, Kansas.  Dineen was a Second-Team All-American last season after a 133 tackle season.  He led the Big 12 in tackles and tackles for loss in 2017 (and was top five in the nation in both stats).  He also added 2.5 sacks.  He may not draw the NFL Draft hype that Texas Tech LB Dakota Allen will but Dineen will again prove to be a bright spot on a poor Kansas team.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Keaontay Ingram, RB, Texas.  Ingram was ranked the #6 running back in the class by 247Sports and #10 by Phil Steele.  Ingram is listed at 6010/190 which is good size for an incoming freshman.  He hails from Texas and received an offer from just about every school in the Big 12 and Big Ten so it was a good get for the rebounding Longhorns.  Per 247Sports, Ingram had 39 total TDs and over 2,500 total yards last season.  Texas’ leading rusher last season, with 385 yards, was QB Sam Ehlinger so the depth chart is wide open for Ingram to earn a role.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Ceedee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma.  Lamb was the Sooners third leading receiver last year (46-807-7) as a true freshman.  While the numbers weren’t stellar, Lamb stood out to me a few times when I watched OU play, specifically against Texas Tech.  He took over that Tech game, earning 147 yards and 2 TDs on 9 receptions.  He was a bit inconsistent in 2017 but I would expect that to even out as he gains more experience.  He’ll need to adjust to a new quarterback again this season but I’m expecting a 60-1,000-8 season from Lamb which would put him in the NFL Draft conversation for 2020.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Will Grier and David Sills, West Virginia.  I wanted to avoid listing West Virginia or Oklahoma here to add a little variety to the preview but there just aren’t enough good quarterbacks right now in the Big 12.  Grier and Sills are the name brand tandem to watch.  Grier also has WR Gary Jennings to target.  Last year Jennings led the team in yards and receptions but isn’t the scoring threat that Sills is while playing over the middle from the slot.  A sleeper QB-WR tandem to keep an eye on is Iowa State’s sixth year senior QB Kyle Kempt and WR Hakeem Butler.  Kempt battled injuries but was efficient when he played (145.9 rating, 15 TD to just 3 INT); Butler has great size at 6060 and averaged 17.0 yards per catch.
  • Best RB Corps:  Oklahoma.  The Sooners have one of the best backs in the conference in junior Rodney Anderson (more on him below) but it’s more about the supporting cast.  Lincoln Riley’s backfield also boasts sophomore Trey Sermon who had a great true freshman season (744-5 rushing and 16-139-2 receiving) and is a devy league darling.  New to the mix this season will be redshirt sophomore Kennedy Brooks and freshman TJ Pledger.  Both Brooks and Pledger were 4-star recruits according to 247Sports.  OU’s third-stringer was good for over 500 yards last year so I expect both to contribute.  Defenses will also need to be wary of QB Kyler Murray who has wheels; he rushed for 142 yards on just 10 carries last season in limited duty.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  David Beaty, Kansas.  It should be no surprise to find Beaty in this ignominious position after a 1-11 season in 2017.  In his three seasons with the Jayhawks, Beaty has just 3 wins (and 33 losses).  Kansas won’t be good this season but they will be improved.  I’m thinking that four wins saves Beaty his job and that might not be a stretch given the experience this squad has.

Teams to Watch

 Kansas Jayhawks (1-11 in 2017)

As I mentioned above, Kansas is very experienced.  So much so that Phil Steele ranks them as #1 in his NCAA Experience Chart for 2018.  The Experience Chart is a favorite tool of mine to aid in finding under-the-radar teams for the upcoming season.  While the Jayhawks may not posses much talent, their consistency and maturity will help.  The team returns 19 starters but even more importantly is the depth that they return: they have the second most letter winners returning in the nation.  The two returning quarterbacks, Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender, split time last year due to ineffectiveness and injury.  Leading rusher Khalil Herbert (663-4) is back, as is WR Steven Sims (59-839-6) who also doubles as a return man.  The aforementioned LB Joe Dineen leads the defense.  Kansas should start with two wins against Nicholls and Central Michigan.  It’s feasible they split the next two games, home against Rutgers and at Baylor.  That could be the extent of their wins for the season but because of their experience I would not count out the possibility of getting to four and saving David Beaty’s job.

 Oklahoma State (10-3 in 2017)

I’ll be watching Oklahoma State closely this season, but not because I expect them to improve upon last season.  Instead, I’m half-expecting Mike Gundy’s team to implode in 2018.  The Cowboys lose QB Mason Rudolph, WRs James Washington and Marcell Atemen and three of their four top tacklers.  In contrast to Kansas, OK State is one of the least experienced teams in the nation (ranked #119).  They do return RBs Justice Hill and JD King but the offense may struggle for the first time in years.  Senior QB Taylor Cornelius is the presumed starter but graduate transfer Dru Brown could beat him out.  Whoever is under center will be hoping that WRs Jalen McCleskey and Dillon Stoner can pick up the slack after the departures of Washington and Ateman.  If you’re a bettor, Oklahoma State will be an interesting team to handicap.  The schedule starts favorable with four straight home games (Missouri State, South Alabama, Boise State, Texas Tech) and then features two winnable road games before their bye week (Kansas and Kansas State).  I would pick them to win most of those games, but chances are you can safely take the points against Boise State, Texas Tech and Kansas State.  It’s possible that the Cowboys are 6-1 and riding high heading into their October 27th matchup against Texas, but I think it will be fool’s gold so don’t let them sucker you into a late season bet.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State:  Hill has put together two very encouraging seasons in his first two years as a Cowboy. He averages 5.5 yards per carry and topped 200+ carries and 1,000+ yards in each season. In 2017 he increased his scoring production with 15 rushing TDs. He also got heavily involved in the passing game with 31 receptions and 190 receiving yards. He’s a bit undersized at 185lb but I would expect him to bulk up a bit after another offseason of training. Hill’s production was mostly overshadowed by the high powered passing offense led by former QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington. With that passing battery moving onto the NFL, Hill will see a larger share of the offense.
  • David Sills, WR, West Virginia: David Sills, listed at 6030/201, is a quarterback-turned-receiver who led the nation in touchdown receptions in 2017. Sills only caught 60 balls for 980 yards, both just third best on the team. Sills has had an interesting path to being one of the conference’s top receiver prospects. You may recall that years ago then USC head coach Lane Kiffin offered a scholarship to a middle schooler. That player was Sills. He ultimately went to WVU instead where he was unable to earn playing time as a quarterback. He left the school to go the JUCO route before returning to the ‘Neers for a second stint, this time at WR. You could spin this as either a positive (he’s determined) or a negative (he must not be that good if it took so long to find the field as a receiver) so I’ll reserve judgment for now. Sills has one of the leading quarterback prospects tossing him the ball so I anticipate another big season, although that touchdown rate will be impossible to keep up.
  • Collin Johnson, WR, Texas:  If you’re looking for a high upside X receiver at the next level, look no further than Collin Johnson. He is massive at 6060/220 and would have been one of the biggest receivers in the 2017 class. The Longhorn offense struggled at times in 2017 while they switched between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger. Neither signal caller was particularly great last year but Ehlinger offers some dynamism as a rusher so he’ll likely be the starter (he led the team with 381 rushing yards). At least whoever starts will boast some experience which should help Johnson improve on his 54-765-2 campaign. I want to see Johnson prove himself to be a red zone threat with that size so let’s hope the offense overall is improved. As the cliche goes, you can’t teach size.
  • Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor:  Mims had a few huge games last year for an atrocious Baylor team. Against Oklahoma, he went for 11-192-3. Meanwhile, against Texas Tech he had 12 grabs for 152 yards and a score. Unfortunately, both of those outings, plus two other 100+ yard games, weren’t enough to push the Bears past their opposition. Part of me worries that too much of his production may have come in garbage time (full disclosure: I haven’t studied the play-by-play to see when the bulk of his yards came, it’s just a thought I had while researching). His 6030/200 frame comes with 4.50 speed so if he can prove his value to the team we’ll be talking about him as an NFL Draft hopeful.
  • Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State:  Risner measures in at 6050 and 300lbs and was a potential NFL Draft prospect in 2018 before deciding to return to to school.  He had offseason shoulder surgery, surely one of the reasons he decided to return.  Risner is a two-time First-Team All-Big 12 performer who has starting experience at both C and RT.  That versatility will help increase his stock for the 2019 draft.
  • Dakota Allen, LB, Texas Tech:  Allen is a leading IDP prospect but that’s probably not why you might recognize his name.  In 2016, Allen transferred to East Mississippi Community College after being dismissed from Tech for burglary.  EMCC is better known as “Last Chance U” and is the topic of a popular Netflix documentary series.  Allen featured in the show’s second season.  Tech’s coaches thought enough of the young man to give him another chance so here we are.  Allen had 101 tackles in 2017 to go along with 2 sacks and 2 INTs.  It’ll be interesting to hear what his narrative is, whether a story of redemption or of character concerns.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

For much of 2017, Will Grier was overshadowed by Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph in the Big 12 but that all changes this year when Grier figures to be the conference’s best.  I briefly discussed Grier’s backstory last season so I won’t rehash it here and will instead focus on the stats and the tape.  Grier completes nearly 65% of his passes and has a 3:1 TD:INT ratio for his career.  Last season with West Virginia, Grier finished in the top ten in the NCAA in passer rating (162.7), yards per attempt (9.0) and touchdowns (34).  Those positive stats are backed up by some positive traits that I noticed while watching tape.
When you watch Grier, it’s immediately clear that he has a confidence and a swagger that not all quarterbacks share.  He trusts his arm and is not afraid to let it fly.  He has one of the strongest arms of QBs I have watched so far this offseason.  He can launch it 50 yards downfield on the run but can also quickly fire the ball to the sideline on a quick screen.  That arm strength costs him some touch though, which was evident on a number of fade patterns near the end zone.  As good as his arm strength is, Grier’s best attribute for me was his pocket presence.  He does not get rattled as he slides and steps up.  His feet are active while in the pocket which allows him to escape and evade with ease (his spin move reminded this Cowboy fan of one Tony Romo).  All the while, he keeps his eyes downfield and scans through his progressions.  I did note a few negatives in Grier’s game as well.  His short yardage accuracy and mechanics can improve.  He has a tendency to jump-pass short throws which often fell incomplete (or worse) in my study.  Grier also had a few balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.  The jump-pass tendency and the batted balls combine to lead me to believe he’s closer to 6000 than 6020 as listed.  Grier shows the ability to anticipate receivers and lead them, especially on deep post routes where he’s adept at splitting the safeties, but that anticipation can be inconsistent.  Grier is seemingly capable of the impossible, like his on-the-run hail mary touchdown against Kansas State, but he does have some work to do on the little things.
He’ll be hoping to continue on the path to the NFL Draft that Mayfield and Rudolph walked last season.  Grier is a top ten prospect at the position for me right now so I would anticipate him going sometime in Day Two come next April.

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

David Montgomery was one of my favorite players to watch last season even though I wasn’t writing about him in a fantasy context since he was just a true sophomore.  This year I’m excited to look at him through the fantasy lens.  Montgomery’s highlight reel runs last season were abundant.  According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery broke their record for most missed tackles forced in a season, breaking Dalvin Cook’s record by more than 10%.  Montgomery rushed for 1,148 yards and added 36 receptions for 296 yards.  He had 11 rushing TDs which is good but not great, ranking 3rd in the conference.  The biggest cause for concern is Montgomery’s yards per carry: 4.4.  Of the fifty backs currently in my 2019 database, only two had averages lower than Montgomery and neither is remotely close to his quality.
The low yards per carry average, in my opinion, is a result of Montgomery’s boom-or-bust tendency.  I don’t actually track the stat but it felt like he had more no-gain runs than other running back prospects I studied this offseason.  When Montgomery breaks loose though, he’s dangerous.  He has fantastic change of direction, cutting ability and contact balance.  It doesn’t matter where on his body he is contacted, he can usually keep his progress moving forward for extra yards.  He repeatedly used a back cut at the line of scrimmage paired with enough acceleration to get around the whiffing defender.  Montgomery is such a good pass blocker that I stopped taking notes on positive blocks.  He’s also successful in the passing game, displaying good hands that he uses to snag the ball away from his body more often than not.  Iowa State trusted his route running ability enough to have him running patterns from motion or lined up wide.  When split out, he often runs a short stop route; out of the backfield he’s adept at finding space in the middle of the zone.  On numerous occasions, Montgomery flashed a nifty spin move as he caught the ball on swing passes; it was super effective at making the first defender miss.  He does lack elite speed but all of his other attributes help cover up the deficiency.
Since Montgomery is a factor in the passing game, he has the potential to be a three down back in the pros.  Right now he’s my RB1 for 2019 and I would anticipate him being in the 1.01 conversation for next season.  (Film watched: Texas 2017, Oklahoma State 2017)

Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

Before I get into Anderson’s successes on the field last year, I first need to touch on the injuries that kept him off the field in 2015 and 2016.  In 2015, Anderson suffered a broken leg in the second game of the season (he had just one carry before the injury).  Before the 2016 season even started, he broke a bone in his neck which forced him to miss the entire season.  At the time, coach Bob Stoops was quoted as saying, “there’s no paralysis or anything like that.”  Hardly reassuring.  Anderson also has a potential red flag in an alleged sexual assault from 2017.  Ultimately the district attorney declined to press charges, saying that they were “unwarranted,” but I can’t help but think it will ding his NFL Draft stock.  It’s a shame that his injury history may be disqualifying to many fantasy owners, myself included, because Anderson put out some great tape in 2017.
The word I wrote most often when watching Anderson’s tape was “momentum.”  He runs with great power and above average speed and often powers over and through defenders.  While he may not have elite top speed, his acceleration appears to be elite after my limited watch of his film.  Despite his 6020/220 size, Anderson is able to change direction and stop on a dime when necessary.  On numerous occasions he was stopped cold in the backfield only to step back to find a small seam to gain some positive yardage.  Anderson is a good pass blocker and I think with more experience could become one of the best at the position in next year’s draft class.  My biggest gripe with his film against Georgia was his poor showing in the passing game.  I am sure he has the talent, because he showed it in other games, but his routes rarely afforded him any space and his hands failed him on at least two plays against Georgia.  Hopefully further film study will put that concern to rest.
In 2017 when I was writing about Clemson WR Mike Williams, who also suffered a broken neck, I said: “Ultimately, I am too hesitant to take Williams…At this point, I’d rather be the guy who misses on Williams… [rather] than the guy who takes him despite the neck injury…and is stuck with a bad contract.”  That’s basically where I am with Anderson at the moment.  There’s no doubt he has talent but because of the sunk cost of drafting bust rookies in the RSO format, I will be avoiding him.  (Film watched: Georgia 2017, 2017 Highlights)

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 at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season 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:,,,,,
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • 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

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 14th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  During the college bowl season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year.  Note: times listed are Eastern.

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • UAB: 67th scoring offense, 106th passing offense, 37th rushing offense; 46th scoring defense, 22nd passing defense, 72nd rushing defense
  • Ohio: 14th scoring offense, 94th passing offense, 17th rushing offense; 59th scoring defense, 109th passing defense, 10th rushing defense

The offensive/defensive rankings in this one make for an interesting matchup.  Neither team throws the ball well but both run the ball with aplomb (UAB averages 190 yards per game while Ohio averages 245).  When UAB is running the ball it’ll be strength against strength with the Ohio rush defense.  Ohio’s offense is led by the two-pronged ground attack of JUCO transfer QB Nathan Rourke and RB AJ Ouellette.  Rourke has an incredible amount of rushing touchdowns: 21.  That is 2nd overall in the FBS – not among QBs, among all players.  It’s four more than Lamar Jackson has.  Ouellette is injured and his status for the bowl is unknown.  He finished 5th in the MAC in rushing but durability is a concern as I pointed out back in Week 10 before his most recent injury.  Backup RB Dorian Brown is also questionable so the bulk of the carries may have to go to undersized freshman Julian Ross (who went 19-81 against Buffalo in the team’s last game).  UAB also has their own mobile QB, AJ Erdely, who transferred from Middle Tennessee State.  Eredely’s rushing stats pale in comparison to Rourke, but he completes more passes (61.8% vs 54.2%) and has a better TD:INT ratio.  UAB’s lead back is freshman Spencer Brown (1,292 yards, 10 TDs).  It’s worth noting that this is UAB’s first season back in the FBS after ending their football program in 2014.  Bill Clark is a name that nobody knows but that should be getting national recognition.  He has done a fantastic job getting UAB to just its second ever bowl while also setting the school record for wins in a season since joining the FBS in 1996.  I’m really torn on this one.  As much as I’d love to root for a UAB bowl victory, which would have been improbable in September, the Bahamas Bowl will come down to the health of Ohio’s running backs and whether their rush defense can slow down Brown.  I’ll guess that one of the injured Ohio backs can play and that UAB won’t be able to slow down the tandem with Nathan Rourke.  Prediction: Ohio

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Central Michigan: 54th scoring offense, 48th passing offense, 93rd rushing offense; 68th scoring defense, 23rd passing defense, 91st rushing defense
  • Wyoming: 108th scoring offense, 101st passing offense, 120th rushing offense; 13th scoring defense, 5th passing defense, 74th rushing defense

This is an odd game to break down.  When I first saw that Wyoming ended bowl eligible and was picked for a game, I figured I would have to go deep on QB Josh Allen but I find myself more excited by the Chippewas.  Allen, as you probably know, is a first round NFL Draft prospect who struggled mightily this season before hurting his shoulder.  That 101st ranking for the Cowboys’ passing offense is not a typo – they were that bad.  Honestly, the shoulder injury might have done more to help his draft stock rather than hurt it.  Before going down, Allen was averaging just 165.8 yards per game with a disappointing 56.2% completion percentage.  His passer rating was 124.0 (ranked 97th in the FBS).  Allen’s yards per pass also decreased about 25% from last season.  So, if the stats are so bad, why is Allen still considered a first round draft prospect?  Because he can do things like this.  That play is loaded with positives if you watch closely.  First off, Allen is under center (which he does a minority of the time but it’s more than most other QB prospects).  Second, he really sells the play fake, using his prototypical size to hide the ball from the defense.  Third, he delivers a nicely timed ball to his back who is running a wheel route from the backfield.  Despite all the negatives, it’s this potential that has scouts excited.  I’m hopeful that Allen plays so we can see him once more heading into the NFL Draft.  Heading into the season, I predicted good things for Central Michigan and thought they would be a “spoiler” in the conference.  Turns out, I had that right.  CMU won close games against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, both of which were predicted to finish ahead of them in the division by Phil Steele; they even got a win over Ohio, the predicted best in the East division.  CMU has two players I like: former Michigan QB Shane Morris and big play WR Corey Willis.  Morris turns the ball over too much (13 INTs) and does not complete enough of his passes to be a real worry but he’s experienced and a former Michigan man so I like him.  If you throw out a bad game against Boston College his stats would look better (yeah, yeah, I know I’m cherry picking).  In the preseason, I compared Willis to John Brown from the Arizona Cardinals and thought his draft stock could mirror that of 2016 stat-stuffer Taywan Taylor.  Unfortunately, injuries slowed Willis and limited him to just eight games.  Still, those games were encouraging.  He totaled 42-625-9 on the season and had four big games since returning from injury.  Willis has at least one touchdown in five straight games, scoring eight of his nine touchdowns in that span.  It doesn’t get much more under the radar than Willis: has him as the 46th ranked receiver in his class while Phil Steele had him as the 72nd ranked draft eligible receiver.  I might be the only draft analyst advocating for Willis but I really am a believer and will enjoy watching him in the bowl game and at the combine.  Prediction: Central Michigan

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Texas Tech: 26th scoring offense, 11th passing offense, 96th rushing offense; 98th scoring defense, 124th passing defense, 53rd rushing defense
  • South Florida: 16th scoring offense, 54th passing offense, 9th rushing offense; 37th scoring defense, 58th passing defense, 23rd rushing defense

Here’s a prop bet for you: take the over on the total number of yards earned by Texas Tech and South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.  I’ll guess that combined the teams gain somewhere between 950-1,000 yards combined.  This one may not feature the best football but it will be fun to watch.  It’ll be long too with all the scoring so I recommend DVRing it and watching it on fast forward later in the day.  Not surprisingly this is the first matchup between the two teams in their history and it was made possible by the fact that the SEC didn’t have enough teams to fulfill all of its bowl tie-ins.  That isn’t to say the SEC was weak, it’s just that Georgia, Alabama and Auburn will all be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl which means less teams for the lower bowls.  Texas Tech’s offense is led by junior QB Nic Shimonek and WR Keke Coutee.  Shimonek is very efficient as a passer and ranks near the top of many passing categories such as completions, completion percentage and passer rating.  His TD:INT ratio is 30:8 which is good too.  Even though he has thrown the ball well this season, he was briefly benched for a game by coach Kliff Klingsbury.  Shimonek came off the bench versus Texas in that game and led the team to a win; he’s already been confirmed as the bowl game starter.  His top target, Coutee, has an 82-1,242-9 line on the season.  South Florida is powered by the legs and the arm of QB Quinton Flowers.  Flowers has 31 total passing and rushing touchdowns this season and 107 during his career.  It’s a shame he’s so undersized (6’0″ and 210lbs) or he’d be a fun draft prospect to evaluate; chances are he’ll still give the NFL a shot but likely after a position change.  Flowers is a winner: he has led the Bulls to a 29-9 record over the last three seasons.  He should notch another one here to cap off a prolific career.  Prediction: South Florida


Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Army (8-3) vs San Diego State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Army: 43rd scoring offense, 130th passing offense, 1st rushing offense; 30th scoring defense, 40th passing defense, 54th rushing defense
  • San Diego State: 50th scoring offense, 118th passing offense, 12th rushing offense; 15th scoring defense, 26th passing defense, 8th rushing defense

Oh San Diego State, one of my favorite teams of the year.  Their 12th ranked rushing offense is paced by RB Rashaad Penny who has undoubtedly made himself a millionaire this season with his meteoric rise.  In the preseason, I mentioned Penny as a special teams difference maker.  In Week 3, I discussed how Penny helped the Aztecs overcome their first Power 5 opponent in Arizona State.  By Week 5, the Aztecs made it into my “Games to Watch” segment with Penny as the headliner.  Come Week 6, I spotlighted Penny as my top player to watch that week and had already run out of superlatives for his success.  A week later, Penny was in my “Heisman Watch” segment.  Sure, Penny’s meteor has fallen back to earth but he’s still a great player who deserves your attention.  Penny has 2,169 total yards (most in the FBS) and 24 total TDs on the season.  Those scores break down to 19 rushing, 2 receiving, 2 kick return and 1 punt return.  He truly is a jack-of-all-trades and may be a top ten RB in the 2018 rookie class.  Army is led by senior QB Ahmad Bradshaw.  Bradshaw is a “quarterback” only in the sense that he takes the ball from under center each play.  He passes so infrequently that shows his rushing stats ahead of his passing stats (he went 1-1 for 20 yards against Navy).  He is a very effective rusher who averages 7.5 yards per attempt, for a total of 1,566 yards and 12 TDs this season.  Not surprisingly, Army has a stable of backs with 500+ yards including Darnell Woolfolk, Kell Walker and Andy Davidson.  If you didn’t watch Army’s last game against Navy in the snow, you missed one heck of a game that Army pulled out late.  The game against Navy is, without a doubt, the biggest game of their season but I’m sure they will get up again next week for SDSU.  Ultimately, I think the strong Aztec defense plus Penny will be too much to overcome for Army.  In case this one is close, I will note that San Diego State has a good kicker in John Baron; he only went 12-15 this season because the offense converted drives into touchdowns but he can be counted on in the clutch.  Prediction: San Diego State

Dollar General Bowl, Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Toledo: 11th scoring offense, 20th passing offense, 26th rushing offense; 56th scoring defense, 49th passing defense, 68th rushing defense
  • Appalachian State: 33rd scoring offense, 72nd passing offense, 28th rushing offense; 33rd scoring defense, 45th passing defense, 43rd rushing defense

Saturday Dec. 23 is looking to be a great day of good games, finishing off with yet another high scoring affair in the Dollar General Bowl.  Toledo ended the season on a three game winning streak including the MAC Championship against Akron.  Toledo is led by the strength of their offense.  Senior RB Terry Swanson is the standout back of the bunch (1,319 yards, 14 TDs).  Swanson went for 466 yards and 3 TDs over the last three games of the season including 180-2 in the MAC Championship.  Freshman RB Shakif Seymour has earned a larger role of late, especially after a five touchdown game against Bowling Green.  The top target for QB Logan Woodside, more on him in a moment, is WR Diontae Johnson.  Johnson is a big play guy who averages 17.5 yards per reception and also has two return touchdowns this season.  The aforementioned Woodside is Toledo’s best draft prospect but he’s maybe a 7th rounder at best heading into the combine.  I watched Woodside earlier in the year against Eastern Michigan and he mostly disappointed in that one.  He had fantastic numbers last season (4,129 yards, 45 TDs, 69.1% completion percentage) but just about all of his stats except INTs has regressed in 2017.  It’s looking more and more like Woodside will be an UDFA but who knows maybe that works out the best for him so he can choose his landing spot.  I included Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore in my Early 2018 Positional Rankings for one reason: his pass blocking will get him drafted.  Per Pro Football Focus, Moore has the highest pass blocking efficiency by a running back in the FBS.  It was a good thing to see Moore get 12 receptions this year (just five in his first two seasons) because if he’s going to be on the field in pass blocking situations in the NFL he better work on his receiving skills.  Moore battled a foot injury this season and missed some time but when he was healthy he was very productive.  He had two games over 200 yards (239 and 241) and two games over 100 yards where he also scored 2 TDs.  The Mountaineers QB Taylor Lamb is a four year starter who will be playing in his last game for the team.  He’s a dual threat (539 yards and 5 TDs rushing) and careful with the ball (just 6 INTs this year).  I went into researching this game thinking I would take Toledo and Woodside but I’m now leaning towards App State.  They have the better defense and I have a gut feeling Lamb will show-out.  Prediction: Appalachian State

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Fresno State: 79th scoring offense, 66th passing offense, 77th rushing offense; 9th scoring defense, 37th passing defense, 14th rushing defense
  • Houston: 67th scoring offense, 38th passing offense, 54th rushing offense; 39th scoring defense, 118th passing defense, 46th rushing defense

Fresno State is probably the bowl team that I have the least feel for – I can’t recall watching a single minute of their games this season before the MWC Championship.  Fresno won four straight to earn that MWC Championship game berth, including a win over 23rd ranked Boise State.  Lead WR KeeSean Johnson could be a longshot 2019 NFL Draft prospect if he improves his stats again in 2018.  His receptions, yards, yards per reception and touchdowns have all increased year over year.  In 2017 he finished with 66 receptions, 918 yards and 8 TDs.  Fresno’s rush attack is led by a trio of underclassman including freshman Jordan Mims (142 attempts, 604 yards, 6 TDs), sophomore Josh Hokit (117-519-7) and freshman Ronnie Rivers (95-473-5).  Mims is the go-to guy, he had 10+ carries in eight straight games before the MWC Championship game, but it’s definitely a “hot hand” situation.  The Cougars offense is not in good shape, despite their middling rankings, and clearly misses former head coach Tom Herman.  They are currently on their third starting quarterback, having settled on dual threat freshman D’Erig King in late October.  Since taking over, King has 6 passing TDs and 7 rushing TDs.  Houston has one player that you must watch: DT Ed Oliver.  Oliver is just a sophomore so he’s not draft eligible but I’ll bet he’s in the conversation for a Top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.  He’s 6’3″ and 290lbs but athletic.  His stats won’t be amazing because he is often double teamed but he still managed 69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2017.  Total gut call but I have more faith in Fresno State’s offense after doing my research so I’ll take them and the bonus that is their strong defense.  Prediction: Fresno State

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • West Virginia: 19th scoring offense, 12th passing offense, 72nd rushing offense; 92nd scoring defense, 101st passing defense, 105th rushing defense
  • Utah: 59th scoring offense, 43rd passing offense, 70th rushing offense; 42nd scoring defense, 54th passing defense, 36th rushing defense

West Virginia enters the Heart of Dallas Bowl with their 12th ranked pass offense in flux.  QB Will Grier is questionable after a finger injury ended his season early.  In the game and a half the Mountaineers played without Grier, backup Chris Chugunov went 24-46 for 326 yards and 1 TD.  The team did lose both of those games though, one against Texas and one against Oklahoma.  I covered Grier back in Week 8 but since he’s injured I won’t go into more detail here other than to say that I am lower on him than others.  The must-watch offensive prospect, in my opinion, on West Virginia is QB turned WR David Sills.  Sills has good height at 6’3″ and uses that size to be a dominant red zone target.  Sills totaled 18 TDs on the season (enough to lead the FBS); 12 of those TDs came in the red zone. predicts Sills to have 4.58 speed which not elite but is good enough and subsequently has him as the 6th ranked WR in his 2019 draft class (note: that does not include other 2018 guys who come out early). has him as the 14th if he were to come out this season.  I have Sills as my 10th WR for 2018 so I really like his potential.   I’ll predict that coach Dana Holgorsen calls up a key trick play where Sills gets to throw the ball and remind everybody that he used to play QB.  Utah is also dealing with an injured quarterback as Tyler Huntley is questionable for the bowl.  Troy Williams, a former Washington transfer who started in 2016, has not played particularly well in relief duty this year (2 TDs, 4 INTs, 54.5% completion percentage).  Senior WR Darren Carrington was unable to cement his status as an NFL Draft prospect but he’ll still get a late round look (66-918-6 this season).  The Utes best shot at a win is to ride RB Zack Moss.  Moss has 1,023 yards rushing, 9 rushing TDs, 28 receptions and 234 yards receiving this season.  When Utah has the ball, pay attention to West Virginia S Kyzir White, brother of Bears WR Kevin White.  White is a top safety prospect who has 81 tackles and 3 INTs this season.  As long as Chugunov can get the ball to Sills and target-hog Gary Jennings (94 receptions) the Mountaineers will be fine against a mediocre Utah team.  Prediction: West Virginia

Quick Lane Bowl, Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Northern Illinois: 51st scoring offense, 87th passing offense, 38th rushing offense; 26th scoring defense, 57th passing defense, 11th rushing defense
  • Duke: 86th scoring offense, 80th passing offense, 59th rushing offense; 25th scoring defense, 12th passing defense, 62nd rushing defense

Duke was recently in the college football headlines because head coach David Cutcliffe was offered, and declined, the Tennessee job.  Considering what a sideshow that search became, I think we would all agree that was a good decision by Cutcliffe.  Cutcliffe has brought relevance to a struggling Duke program (they went to four straight bowls from 2012-2015) but finished just 4-8 last season.  I’m not a Duke fan and don’t follow the team closely but from afar I have to say that I like Cutcliffe and appreciate that he shunned a bigger job to continue building at Duke.  Maybe one reason Cutcliffe decided to return was the opportunity to continue working with redshirt sophomore QB Daniel Jones.  Jones has prototypical height at 6’5″ but needs to add weight to his 215lb frame.  Of the 18 quarterbacks who were drafted since 2010 and measured at 6’5″ or taller at the combine, none weighed less than 223lbs.  Per my two favorite draft sources, has him as the 15th ranked quarterback if he came out in 2018 while NFLDraftScout pegs him as the 6th best if he waits until 2020.  Jones will be best served by another season or two in college because he wouldn’t get drafted today based on his production.  His completion percentage is too low (55.7%) and his TD:INT is poor (12:11).  Part of that could be excused by a lackluster supporting cast but a top quarterback prospect needs to transcend his team.  Keep an eye on Jones to see if he improves next season.  The NIU quarterback situation is the polar opposite of the stability that Duke enjoys.  Like the Houston Cougars, the Huskies are on their third starting quarterback this year, moving on from the first two due to injury and ineffectiveness.  They are currently starting dual threat freshman Marcus Childers.  Childers took over in October and has been productive: 20 combined passing and rushing TDs.  Protecting the blindside of Childers is a mountain of a man named Max Scharping.  Scharping, a junior, is 6’6″ and 312lbs.  Per Pro Football Focus he is third in the nation in pass blocking efficiency by offensive tackles.  According to their stat guide, Scharping has only allowed one hit and just four hurries.  If Scharping comes out, I’ll bet he’s a Day Two prospect.  Neither team really won my heart here but I’ll go with NIU and their stronger scoring offense.  Prediction: Northern Illinois

Cactus Bowl, Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Kansas State: 37th scoring offense, 99th passing offense, 42nd rushing offense; 58th scoring defense, 129th passing defense, 18th rushing defense
  • UCLA: 30th scoring offense, 5th passing offense, 114th rushing offense; 118th scoring defense, 39th passing defense, 129th rushing defense

Apologies to Kansas State and legendary head coach Bill Snyder but this preview is all about UCLA’s Josh Rosen because he will be the biggest topic of conversation in this one.  The Rosen discussion, is dominated by one thought: will Rosen even play?  One of the oft-mentioned negatives of Rosen is that he might lack the passion for the game that some players exude.  I’ve heard some pundits say something to the effect of Josh not “needing” the game.  I obviously don’t know Rosen personally and haven’t studied him enough to have my own opinion but it does worry me that if that is true maybe he won’t bother suiting up for this meaningless game.  We saw a number of top prospects take that approach last year (Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery) and can you really blame them?  The first overall pick and millions of dollars are on the line for Rosen.  I would not at all be surprised to read reports of Rosen’s shoulder injury “lingering” long enough to keep him out of the Cactus Bowl.  Regardless of whether he plays or how well he plays, Rosen is my pick for the first  pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.  I have gone deep on Rosen earlier in the season so I won’t rehash everything here but long story short is that he is the most pro-ready quarterback in the class.  He plays in a pro-style offense, has good size and arm strength and has been very productive in college.  He’s not without his negatives (i.e. the aforementioned mentality questions, low completion percentage, some poor decisions) but he has a high floor.  His ceiling may not be as high as somebody like Sam Darnold, who is younger but needs more seasoning for the NFL level, but Rosen is worthy enough of the top pick and can start from Day One.  I lied about ignoring Kansas State because there are three things I want to touch on.  First, starting QB Jesse Ertz is out and has been replaced by freshman Skylar Thompson, a QB with the same size and skill set as Ertz.  Second, Junior CB D.J. Reed is a difference maker on defense (43 tackles, 4 INTs, 9 passes defended) and on special teams (2 TDs, led Big 12 in punt and kickoff yards per return) when he is healthy.  Unfortunately, Reed is hurt and it’s unsure if he’ll be able to play.  If he does, I’ll be interested to see him vs Rosen.  Third, Kansas State has an interesting OL prospect in junior Dalton Risner.  Risner was the team’s starting C as a redshirt freshman and has since switched over to RT.  He is ranked second in the pass block efficiency stat by PFF at the tackle position.  If Risner enters the NFL Draft as a C prospect he could be a Day Two pick due to his versatility.  It’s hard to throw out praise for a team’s starting quarterback like I did and then pick against them but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  If Rosen can’t or won’t go, they could have to go to third stringer Matt Lynch because backup Devon Modster is questionable with his own injury.  No thanks, let’s go Wildcats.   Prediction: Kansas State

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season 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.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats:,,,,,
  • Film:, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  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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