The Watch List: 2018 MAC Preview

Updated: June 2nd 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:  Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo.  It takes a dominant season for a Group of 5 player to end up on the Heisman ballot (see: Rashaad Penny finishing fifth after a 2,248 rushing yard season with 28 total TDs).  If anybody in the MAC has the potential to dominate enough to get noticed by voters, it’s Johnson who went 76-1,356-14 last year.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  Rourke was a force in 2017 but he’ll likely be discounted by Heisman voters in 2018.  He accounted for 39 total touchdowns (17 passing, 21 rushing, 1 receiving).  He’s the conference’s leading returner in terms of passing yards and fourth in rushing yards.  Four of his five starting linemen are back so I would expect Rourke to have continued success in 2018.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  Do I need to say more?
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo.  Hodge’s 153 tackles were second best in the FBS last year.  He had 13 more tackles than the second best tackler in the MAC.  His sacks and forced turnovers are just gravy.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Tyler Wiegers, QB, Eastern Michigan.  Wiegers is a graduate transfer from Iowa where he made five appearances and threw just six passes.  Wiegers will compete with redshirt sophomore Isaac Stiebeling for the starting role.  If coach Chris Creighton was confident in what he had seen of Stiebeling the last two years he probably would not have brought in Wiegers so I assume it’s his job to lose.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Shakif Seymour, RB, Toledo.  As a true freshman, Seymour played second fiddle to starter Terry Swanson who is now gone.  Seymour has great size for a back at 5110/218.  He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and showed that he can factor in as a pass catcher too.  Now that he’ll get the lion’s share of the touches, I expect his stats to double in 2018.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson, Buffalo.  Both Jackson and Johnson are on my 2019 NFL Draft watch list so it makes sense that they would be my conference leading tandem.  Johnson totaled 47 receptions, 898 yards and 11 TDs in his eight games with Jackson at the helm.  That’s a great season for most players, let alone an eight game subset; in fact, those yardage and touchdown totals would have been good enough for 3rd in the conference for the full year.
  • Best RB Corps:  Ball State.  Junior RB James Gilbert started 2017 well with 207 yards and 3 TDs before a season ending thumb injury in the third game.  True freshman Caleb Huntley filled in admirably, finishing with 1,0003 yards on 210 carries.  In those first three games they played together, Huntley had 182 yards to Gilbert’s 207 which makes for a nice one-two punch.  Huntley has the frame to handle the every down work (5110/225), and three more years of eligibility, so I expect him to emerge as the lead ball carrier by the end of the year.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Chuck Martin, Miami Ohio.  According to, Martin has outperformed his team’s projected wins three of the last four seasons.  That sounds encouraging until you realize the record over that span is just 16-33, that’s just how bad the team was projected to be.  Martin has eleven returning senior starters per Athlon Sports so there’s no excuse for the Redhawks to miss a bowl game again in 2018.  Miami Ohio has had a rough decade and though little of that is Martin’s fault fans must be restless.

Teams to Watch

  Eastern Michigan (5-7 in 2017)

Eastern Michigan started and ended the season quite well.  The issue was the six game losing streak in between.  During that stretch the Eagles lost all six games by seven points or less, with the average loss being less than four points.  One bounce of the ball can turn the tide in games that close and to lose six of them in a row is extremely unlucky.  EMU had the second best defense in the conference in terms of points allowed, passing yards allowed and total yards allowed.  A strong defense, two returning running backs (Ian Eriksen and Shaq Vann) and better luck, should help them get past the growing pains of breaking in a new quarterback.  Head coach Chris Creighton got Eastern to its first bowl game in 2016 since the 1980s and I expect him to repeat that success in 2018.

 Buffalo (6-6 in 2017)

The Bulls improved to 6-6 last year, after a tough 2-10 campaign in 2016, but it could have been better.  Like Eastern Michigan, Buffalo was the victim of a number of close losses: all six were ten points or less, including two by just a single point.  The 2017 Bulls suffered through some quarterback injuries (three different players started a game).  The starter for 2018 will be Tyree Jackson who played in five of the team’s wins last season.  Between Jackson, WR Anthony Johnson and LB Khalil Hodge, Buffalo has a nucleus of NFL Draft hopefuls that few teams in the Group of 5 can match.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Riley Neal, QB, Ball State:  Neal is an interesting name to file away.  He currently has little buzz but that should change come September after Ball State visits Notre Dame and Indiana.  Those two games will give Neal a national spotlight.  Should he play well, draftniks will start talking him up.  Neal has elite size at 6060/225 and his rate stats have progressed nicely over his first three seasons.  Unfortunately, his 2017 season was cut short due to a leg injury.  In the three games he did play in, Neal was completing 67.7% of his passes and threw for 659 yards.
  • Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio:  Rourke is a college fantasy football player’s dream.  As I mentioned above, he’s the conference’s leading returning passer (2,203 yards)  He also has the fourth most rushing yards of any returner (907).  He even caught three passes in 2017 for 36 yards and a score.  Rourke managed to play in all 13 games last season but underwent surgery this offseason so that will be something to monitor.  His size (6020/210) and number of carries (137) combine to worry me that it’s a matter of time before he sustains a serious injury.  At this time Rourke is more of a fun college player to watch than an NFL Draft prospect.
  • Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan:  Ward’s stats stood out to me not because of anything he did as a runner but instead what he did as a receiver.  As a sophomore in 2017, Ward totaled 48 receptions, 470 yards and 3 TDs.  His 48 receptions were sixth best in the FBS among running backs.  He did well on the ground too, adding 1,024 yards rushing and 10 scores.  Ward has good height at 6000 but needs to add a few pounds (estimates range between 185-195lbs).  If he repeats his 2017 production this season he might come out and take his chances as a late round flyer.
  • AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio:  Ouelette is not a flashy prospect but he strikes me as the type of steady player who can latch onto the bottom of an NFL roster as a priority UDFA.  He missed all but three plays of 2016 with an injured foot but rebounded in 2017 with 1,006 yards and 7 TDs.  As a freshman in 2014, Ouellette featured prominently as a receiver with 21 grabs and 3 receiving TDs.  His receiving production fell off a bit since then but it’s good to see that he has that in his game.
  • James Gardner, WR, Miami Ohio:  Gardner has elite size at 6040/216 so that alone puts him on my radar.  He has back-to-back seasons of decent production, although I want to see more in 2018.  Between 2016 and 2017, Gardner averaged 46 receptions, 837 yards and 8 TDs.  His 19.7 yards per catch average in 2017 ranked 15th in the FBS.  Gardner is one of the few receiver prospects in the conference who has a returning senior quarterback throwing to him so that should help keep his production improve further.
  • Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo:  I was torn on which Toledo WR I should more deeply study, either Diontae Johnson or Cody Thompson.  I decided on Thompson because he has better size but that doesn’t mean Johnson is a slouch. Johnson excelled in 2017 in Thompson’s absence with four of his biggest games coming after Thompson’s injury.  Johnson’s season totals were: 74 receptions, 1,278 yards and 13 TDs.  He’s an electric playmaker who is fantastic with the ball in his hands either after the catch or when returning kicks.  I watched two 2017 highlight reels and despite his 5110/181 size, he often lines up outside.  In those highlights he showed an ability to make contested catches.  After a quick study, it appears he has the tools to be a solid slot receiver in the NFL.
  • Max Scharping, OT, Northern Illinois:  Scharping is listed at 6060/320 and is a two-time All-MAC selection. currently has him listed as the 7th ranked OT in the 2019 senior class.  If he can prove that he is a worthy tackle, rather than having to move inside at the next level, he’ll gradually move up draft boards.
  • Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois:  Smith burst onto the scene in 2017 with a FBS-leading 14 sack season (plus 30 tackles for loss).  Smith is a former high school running back who measures in at just 6000/220.  Those measurements would have made him the shortest and lightest DE/OLB prospect in the 2018 class.  He’s likely too small to get draft consideration but if he repeats his 2017 production he’ll have us talking about him nonetheless.
  • Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo:  Rising senior linebacker Khalil Hodge is a name to keep in mind for IDP players.  Hodge is a tackling machine with 276 tackles over the last two seasons.  His 153 in 2017 was second most in the FBS.  In 2017 he also improved his stat line by adding 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INTs.  He’s a completely different player but sharing a name and alma mater with NFL standout Khalil Mack could help Hodge get even more attention.

Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Anthony Johnson is a former JUCO transfer who showed up in a big way for the Bulls in 2019.  His line was an impressive: 76-1,356-14.  Many of those touchdowns were of the spectacular variety: one-handed, over-the-shoulder, toe-tapping, etc.  When you watch Johnson, he appears to play bigger than his 6020 height suggests so I expect him to test well at the NFL Combine.  He uses his length and jumping ability to high point the ball and snag contested throws.  I particularly like to see him go over and through defenders when he’s coming back for the ball, dominating them with his size and strength.  Johnson does lack elite speed which hurts him when releasing off the line and when running after the catch.  He does however appear to use his hands well when fighting off a press corner which helped him get enough separation on a number of plays.  He also uses leverage well, especially on some of the over-the-shoulder touchdown grabs, gaining just an extra inch of space.  Johnson is utilized in a variety of ways and frequently comes in motion (maybe to aid in his release and getting up to speed).  He is featured on trick plays and screens in addition to his regular route tree.  I did note a few plays where his breaks looked slow rather than quick and crisp.  Johnson’s ability to consistently win at the catch point and to dominate smaller defenders will help him rise up draft boards this fall.  Right now I’m thinking that he will be fantasy relevant for 2019.  (Film watched: Western Michigan 2017, Minnesota 2017, Highlights 2017)

Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo

I usually use “elite” to describe the top end of a specific trait; standardized adjectives make it easy for readers to compare and contrast as they read through my content.  I don’t have a superlative for Jackson’s size though because it’s even better than elite.  Let’s go with A++++.  Jackson measures in at 6070/245.  He pairs that size with deceiving speed and rushing ability, which is rare for a passer of his height.  As a thrower, Jackson has a monster arm.  Compared to all of the other FCS and Group of 5 quarterbacks I’ve studied so far, his arm is the strongest without a doubt.  There are multiple plays in my notes where the ball flew 50+ yards in the air.  Unfortunately, Jackson sacrifices accuracy with that strength.  He often misses behind his receivers and lacks anticipation.  I do not often see him reading the field and going through progressions so that’s something else I will need to see him showcase in 2018.  Like most quarterbacks in his range, pressure can really rattle him and force ill advised throws.  Wherever you think Jackson will go in the NFL Draft in 2019 (I’m betting he comes out), I guarantee that he will go higher.  There are very few prospects that have his measureables and NFL coaches will feel that they can fix the issues in his game.  I will not be surprised if we’re talking a Pat Mahomes like rise for Jackson come March 2019.  (Film watched: Minnesota 2017)

Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo

Thompson stood out to me during my preliminary MAC research because of his 20.0 yards per catch average over his career.  Thompson led the MAC in that stat in both 2015 and 2016 and was Top 10 in the FBS both years too.  His 2017 season was cut short due to injury, but his average through those first five games was impressive again: 19.2.  I watched two of Thompson’s games from 2016 to get a feel for his game pre-injury.  He is not the quickest, I’m thinking he has 4.60 speed.  He does well when he has the ball in his hands, utilizing good balance and a killer spin move to fight through defenders.  Speaking of his hands, Thompson too often body-catches the ball rather than using his hands.  His hand placement may also need work.  Against BYU he had a big 78 yard touchdown reception but on the highlight you can see his hands are very wide and the ball nearly goes through his hands before he grasps the back half of it.  Thompson was utilized all over the field, including from the slot and in motion.  One of the biggest reasons he was deployed that way was to take advantage of his blocking ability which is above average to good for the position.  He shows a willingness to engage with the defender and has good technique but he does lack the strength to hold the block for long.  Thompson lacks a high ceiling but will latch onto the bottom of an NFL roster and should contribute situationally and on special teams.  (Film watched: BYU 2016, Fresno State 2016)

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.  Then 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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