The Watch List: 2019 C-USA Season Preview

Updated: July 3rd 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Mason Fine, QB, North Texas.  Fine is the C-USA quarterback most likely to put up Heisman-worthy numbers in 2019.  He also has notable, but winnable, non-conference games against Cal and Houston.  If the Mean Green end their opening slog 5-0, Fine may get some national publicity.  More on him below…

Underclassman to Watch: Brendan Knox, RB, Marshall.  Knox is a compact but powerful redshirt sophomore who took over as the starter last November.  In his five starts, he topped 100 yards in three.  The marquee game was a 27-204-2 explosion against Virginia Tech.  I found two highlight packages online and was surprised by how nimble he looked because he’s listed at 6000/223.  He’s definitely smaller than that listed size but he appeared to have a good combination of power and elusiveness.  I’ll flag Knox’s name for 2021 and check back in on him next offseason. (By the way, that late season makeup against Virginia Tech was such a fascinating situation for sports administration nerds like myself.  Va Tech needed the makeup because they cancelled a game in September due to a hurricane and wouldn’t have been bowl eligible with a 6-5 record.  Luckily for them, nearby Marshall also cancelled a game that same weekend.  So the teams devised a contingency plan that would schedule a game on December 1st if the Hokies were one win away from eligibility.  Marshall got a cool $300,000 and a future home-and-home series out of the deal.  If the game wasn’t needed, Marshall still would have pocketed $100,000.  Love it.)

Newcomer of the Year: BJ Emmons, RB, Florida Atlantic.  Emmons will see the field for the first time as an Owl in 2019 — he signed last year but sat out the season.  He’s reunited with Lane Kiffin who was his OC at Alabama in 2016.  Due to an injury and a backfield logjam, Emmons played in just seven games as a true freshman for the Tide that season, earning 35 carries.  He transferred down to Hutchinson Community College, where he rushed for 694-10 on 150 carries in 2017.  Emmons was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school and was the top running back per Rivals and ESPN, so he has a pedigree and some underlying talent.  He remains an unknown but he looks to have some power and some pop on his JUCO highlights.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can take over for Devin Singletary and show that he was worthy of his younger plaudits.

Coaching Carousel: The top C-USA teams all managed to hold onto their head coaches.  The only changes come at Western Kentucky (Tyson Helton) and Charlotte (Will Healy).  I won’t pretend to have had a feel for him before doing some research, but I’m interested to see how Helton does in his first year as a head coach (at any level).  He’s the younger brother of USC’s Clay Helton.  Helton the younger bounced around smaller schools for years — his first coordinator job was here at Western Kentucky — before landing on his brother’s staff at USC as the quarterbacks coach.  Last year he moved on to be the OC at Tennessee.  Helton’s resume may not yet inspire confidence, but his roster may.  The Hilltoppers return sixteen starters, ten on the offense; per Phil Steele’s experience chart, they return nearly 80% of their offensive yards from last season.  That will help the offensive-minded Helton find some success in his rookie season.  Non-conference games against Louisville and Arkansas offer the possibility of a season-making upset.  (Here’s a scheduling oddity that struck me: Western Kentucky and Louisville will be playing their neutral site game in Tennessee.)

Players to Watch

Mason Fine, QB, North Texas

Over the last two seasons, Mason Fine has put up an impressive 7,845 passing yards and 58 TDs. That yardage total leads the FBS over that span. You may have recently heard of some of the guys just behind him on that list: Drew Lock, Ryan Finley and Will Grier. I don’t think Fine will be a Top 100 prospect like that trio but I don’t think we should ignore him just because he’s undersized (5110/185).

When I watched Fine’s film from Liberty 2018, it was clear that his size did impact his game, however he is often able to overcome.  I noted a few times when he needed to improvise and either had to jump-throw or modify his arm slot to try and complete a pass.  His feet can be inconsistent, especially when on the move because he doesn’t always try to set himself, instead relying on his arm strength.  It may be a strike against him for his pro evaluation, but Fine’s improvisation can be successful and makes him fun to watch.  This play is a simple illustration of Fine needing to jump in order to complete a throw.

Fine’s greatest trait may be his awareness and how that translates to an ability to read the rush, the field and the situation.  When he scrambles he keeps his eyes downfield; if there’s nobody open, he decides when it’s best to throw it away or try to gain a few yards on the ground.  He doesn’t force the ball into his first read and instead checks it down underneath (I wish I saw him go to a second downfield read but I didn’t see that in my study).  Fine often deploys a pump fake to try and manipulate defenders — a skill that only the top prospects usually display.

Fine has a strong arm which is capable of 50 yard scrambling deep balls as well as deep outs to the opposite hash.  If he improves his mechanics he could have a great arm.  This play from one of Fine’s highlight reels shows a combination of some of the notes I shared above: pocket awareness, scrambling with an eye downfield, a strong arm and an unconventional delivery that ultimately ends positively.

Whether or not we value undersized quarterback prospects like Fine or Houston’s D’Eriq King for 2020 is going to weigh heavily on Kyler Murray’s rookie season. Admittedly, Fine is far from the athlete that Murray is, but he’s going to finish as one of the most productive passers of the decade and should get a shot to prove himself in an NFL camp.

Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic

Before we get into Harrison Bryant’s stats and film, I have a confession to make. I consistently confuse the names of Harrison Bryant (TE, Florida Atlantic) and Hunter Bryant (TE, Washington) when I’m writing. I really don’t think it’s fair to have two H. Bryant tight end prospects in the same class. I’d like to submit that one of the two go by their middle name going forward.

Harrison Bryant improved on an encouraging sophomore season with an even better junior outing. All told over the two seasons, Bryant has 77 receptions for 1,070 yards and 9 TDs. Bryant’s size (6050/240) and production mirror the new trend of “move tight ends” who are basically big slot receivers. When I first flipped on his film, I was surprised at how much he really did look like a receiver out there — he’ll need to bulk up a bit prior to that combine weigh-in.

My first impression was that Bryant was going to be a liability as a blocker but that wasn’t the case.  He spends about half his time lined up in the slot with the rest in an h-back role (I only noted a handful of in-line alignments).  His best blocking attempts come from that h-back spot, either leading the running back through the hole or sealing off the edge.  This play might have been Bryant’s best blocking effort of the day.  He initially chips the end before getting to the linebacker in the second level.  He turns the defender to keep him out of the play and as the play develops he stays with the block.  He and the linebacker end up in the middle of the action so Bryant finishes the block by taking his man to the ground.  If he can consistently complete that play he’ll earn a lot of snaps in the NFL.

His soft hands and speed are especially valuable when he’s a believable blocker.  There was one sequence of plays against North Texas that perfectly encapsulate Bryant’s potential.  The first two plays have Bryant blocking up the gut for the back.  Once the defense was expecting run on 3rd and 1, Lane Kiffin calls for play action.  Bryant splits the defenders who are reading run and streaks up the seam for an easy touchdown catch.  It was a wonderful showcase for a player like Bryant.

Bryant is listed as the tenth best draft eligible tight end by DraftScout.com in Phil Steele’s season preview magazine.  I haven’t studied many tight ends yet this offseason but I think it’ll be hard not to put him higher.

Honorable Mentions

Spencer Brown, RB, UAB: UAB reinstated their football program in 2017 and true freshman Spencer Brown was a huge factor in their surprising 8-5 season. He amassed 1,329 rushing yards and scored 10 TDs. He followed that up with another great season in 2018: 1,227 and 16. His touches went up and his yardage went down which is a slight concern but he’s a high volume guy who hasn’t yet missed a game. The knock against his production would be that he has just twelve career receptions. Listed at 6000/220, Brown is built and runs with power. He lacks game-breaking speed but he’ll find a role in the NFL as an early down runner.

Rico Bussey, WR, North Texas: Bussey, a senior, enjoyed his most successful season in 2018. He totaled 68 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 TDs, the biggest beneficiary of Mason Fine’s prolific arm. I was happy to see that Bussey was listed at 6020 because so many productive mid-major receivers are undersized slot guys. He’s a little light, especially in his lower body, but he appears to have enough speed and strength to win as an outside receiver in C-USA play. Whether he can do that against tougher competition will be key. The Mean Green have the aforementioned matchups against Cal and Houston which will give Bussey two tests this season against tougher non-conference competition. In his two career games against the Power 5, versus Iowa and Arkansas, Bussey has just 6-34-1. His highlights included a number of acrobatic contested catches so I’m excited to see more.

Ty Lee, WR, Middle Tennessee State: Speaking of undersized slot guys, Ty Lee is a name to know. Lee measures just 5090/178 but he’s a dynamo. He’s been a steady presence in the Blue Raiders offense for three years even though he has never eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season. His average receiving line is a solid 71-845-7. If he continues the trend he’ll have one of the most consistent resumes of all FBS receivers. Lee is also featured as a runner with 234 career yards and 2 scores on 49 attempts. Surprisingly he’s rarely been used as a kick or punt returner which would be the natural assumption for a player of his profile. With the ball in his hands, Lee is nearly unstoppable. His change of direction is silky smooth and he strategically deploys a wicked spin move. Players like Tarik Cohen have shown that there is a role in the NFL for Ty Lee and I expect him to get a shot. He may not be worth drafting in your rookie draft but I’d bet there’s a week or two in 2020 where he’s fantasy relevant.

 

Notes: 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 studying a player I rely on game film “cuts” which are most frequently found on Youtube. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels.  Keep in mind these highlight reels are the best plays of that player. When I have the option, I will choose to watch a game versus the better defense. 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 my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2020 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.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 certified park and 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: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part I

Updated: December 9th 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. 

Celebration Bowl, North Carolina A&T (9-2) vs Alcorn State (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 12:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Lamar Raynard, QB, North Carolina A&T
    • I recalled watching Raynard last year in the Celebration Bowl and wanted to learn some more so I watched his 2018 film against Jacksonville State.  I came away more encouraged than I expected.  He has a good arm that allows him to chuck an effortless looking deep ball, however, his accuracy appears below average.  His footwork in the pocket is crisp.  I think he may be a little eager to leave the pocket but he has enough speed to pick up extra yardage.  Raynard had a great 2017 season (2,932-27-7) but regressed a bit in 2018 (1,630-18-5).  His career completion percentage is a shade under 60% which backs up my accuracy concerns.  Raynard is lanky at 6040/195 so a few extra pounds would do him well.  A&T primarily plays a zone-read offense but I did see him take some snaps from under center which is a bonus.  Given his height and arm strength I think somebody will give Raynard a shot, probably as a priority UDFA, to back up their running QB.
  • My Pick:  North Carolina A&T, -7.5
    • I won’t pretend to have a feel for this game because I don’t.  Chances are, your book won’t list this game anyway (I had to find a line on a European site) but if you do decide to play it, go for the Aggies.  A&T beat FBS team East Carolina earlier, has a recognizable name at quarterback and is on a four game winning streak.

Cure Bowl, Louisiana Lafayette (7-6) vs Tulane (6-6), Sat 12/15 at 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft (In)Eligible Player to Watch: Trey Ragas, RB, Lousiana Lafayette
    • I struggled with selecting a worthy draft eligible player for this game.  I cheated and selected sophomore back Trey Ragas instead.  I figured it would make more sense to watch film of somebody who might actually factor into the game than somebody we’ll never hear from again.  I watched an extended highlight package of the Cajuns blowout loss to Alabama so I could glimpse Ragas against a top foe.  Ragas is a stout back at 5110/227 and as such prefers running straight ahead between the tackles.  He doesn’t stray from contact and in fact shows good contact balance and an ability to keep his feet moving leading to long runs.  I also thought he looked to be an eager, albeit over matched, blocker against an elite rush.  He didn’t record any receptions in the Alabama game but he does have 22 receptions and 188 receiving yards on the year.  That pairs with his 1,040 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs to make for a great season.  Ragas won’t factor into the 2019 draft class but we could be talking about him again a year from now.
  • My Pick: Louisiana Lafayette, +3.5
    • This one is a toss-up between mediocre teams so I’ll take the points.  Louisiana-Lafayette is 9-4 ATS this season whereas Tulane is 5-7, which is just confirmation of the way I was leaning anyway.  The Cajuns have a strong rushing offense (fellow sophomore Elijah Mitchell added 866-12) and Tulane’s rush defense allowed 153.9 yards per game during the regular season.

New Mexico Bowl, Utah State (10-2) vs North Texas (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 2:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: EJ Ejiya, LB, North Texas
    • While I was looking through statistics for these two teams, Ejiya stood out to me because he had both a high number of tackles (113) and a high number of sacks (9); he also had a conference-leading 23.5 tackles for loss.  It’s uncommon for somebody to have tallies that high in all three categories, especially for an inside linebacker.  I figured, “surely this guy must be a one year wonder.”  But he had an almost as impressive 108-12.0-7.0 line in 2017 as a junior.  I sampled Ejiya’s tape against Florida Atlantic and Rice from 2018.  What I saw tempered my expectations.  Ejiya looks small on the field (listed at 6030/230 which is a bit light anyway) and was often caught in the trash in the middle of the play.  I rarely saw him make quick, instinctual reads of the play.  Despite whatever he may lack, Ejiya does keep coming and is determined to make the play.  I saw him ultimately make the tackle on numerous snaps where it looked like he was going to be blocked or out of the play.  Ejiya has the capability to take over a game (four games with 11+ tackles, four games with 3.0+ tackles for loss, three games with 2.0 sacks) so it’ll be interesting to see him lined up across from Utah State’s standout sophomore QB Jordan Love (3,193-28-4, plus 60-6 rushing).
  • My Pick: Utah State, -10
    • Utah State has lost against the spread in their last two contests but prior to that they were 9-1 on the season.  Their offense ranks 3rd overall in the FBS in points scored (47.2) while North Texas averages 36.4.  Both teams feature strong quarterback play (Mason Fine, who helms the Mean Green, is efficient and prolific but too small for NFL consideration I believe) so I expect this one to be full of offense and Utah State’s is better.

Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona State (7-5) vs Fresno State (11-2), Sat 12/15 at 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
    • The Las Vegas Bowl is becoming known as the “One of These Teams has a Premier Prospect but Who Knows if They’ll Play Bowl.” Last year it was Oregon RB Royce Freeman (who ultimately declined to play). This year it could be N’Keal Harry. Harry has publicly said he didn’t yet make a decision about playing. If he does play, you’ll get a glimpse of the possible WR1 in the 2019 class. Harry has 6040 height but the speed and RAC ability of smaller receivers. He succeeds in contested situations because of his strength and vertical. If he plays, his 2018 stat line of 73-1,088-9 will improve and be right on par with his production from 2017 (82-1,142-8). If Harry does not play, keep an eye on Fresno WR KeeSean Johnson (no relation to Keyshawn). Johnson has improved year over year and looks like a mid-rounder for 2019.
  • My Pick: Fresno State, -3.  
    • I took Fresno and the points against Boise and they ended up winning straight up (really wish I took that moneyline!). They will easily handle Arizona State, especially if the Sun Devils are missing Harry. As I mentioned last week, seven of Fresno State’s last eight have gone under.

Camellia Bowl, Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs Georgia Southern (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 5:30pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyler Wiegers, QB, Eastern Michigan
    • This one is a bit of a stretch but there aren’t too many draft prospects in this game. I briefly considered Southern RB Wesley Fields (959-9) and Eastern’s edge rusher Maxx Crosby (62-7.5) but settled on Wiegers. Whenever you’re looking for a draft prospect, you can do worse than a 6040/227 quarterback. Wiegers started his career in Iowa but grad transferred to Ypsilanti for the 2018 season. He has a small sample size, just 270 career attempts, but as I’ll say dozens of times this offseason, it’s a weak quarterback class. Admittedly, I haven’t watched Wiegers tape, save for a few minutes of live game time here and there. His stat logs show an efficient, yet unexciting passer: 64.8% completion percentage, 7.1 yards per attempt, 11 TDs and just 3 INTs. In EMU’s last three wins, Wiegers has thrown for just 418-1-2 so let’s not get too excited.
  • My Pick: Georgia Southern, +3.5
    • Georgia Southern runs a triple option offense so I’ll give them the nod for novelty. The narrative will be that Eastern Michigan has time to prepare but by virtue of playing on the first day of bowl games, it’s not that much longer than usual. Southern has five guys with 300+ yards and as a team average 261.5 rushing yards per game (9th best in the FBS). Despite having such a robust rushing attack, they somehow manage to place dead last in the FBS in offensive plays per game – that was very surprising. They’ll roll against the Eagles’ 93rd ranked rushing defense and win this one straight up to hit double digit wins for the first time in program history.

New Orleans Bowl, Middle Tennessee (8-5) vs Appalachian State (10-2), Sat 12/15 at 9:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Ty Lee, WR, Middle Tennessee
    • I profiled Blue Raider QB Brent Stockstill last week so I figured this week I should focus on one of his targets. Lee is diminutive at 5090/178, but unlike his quarterback he’s been able to stay healthy throughout his career. Lee’s three seasons have been pretty similar and average out to a 69-820-7 line. In 2017 he also had 39 “rushing attempts” for 109-1 (presumably, most of these were screens that went backwards, save for some wildcat snaps). I watched segments of Lee’s 2017 Florida Atlantic tape and loved how varied his usage was. I saw him line up in the slot on both sides, flanking the quarterback and in the wildcat. I didn’t see too much speed so I checked for an estimate on DraftScout.com and they have him in the 4.49 range – hopefully he tests a bit quicker than that. He’s primarily a screen and swing receiver but his versatility could earn him a limited role at the next level.
  • My Pick: Middle Tennessee, +7
    • I’m going with an intangible, emotional argument on this one. MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill will be playing in his last game for the school and for his dad, Rick who is the head coach. Stockstill has spent six years with the program after gray-shirting in 2013. As I mentioned last week, he’s an old and oft-injured prospect but he’s got a good story. There’s nothing to back this up but I think his teammates will play for him and get the W. (Plus, App State is 0-1-2 in their last three contests ATS).

Boca Raton Bowl, Northern Illinois (8-5) vs UAB (10-3), Tue 12/18 at 7:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Sutton Smith, LB, Northern Illinois
    • I skipped over Sutton Smith last week to feature Buffalo WR Anthony Johnson. I think Mr. Smith took that to heart because he came out with a dominating 10 tackle and 2.0 sack performance in the MAC Championship Game. I was only half watching the game but it felt like I heard his name called on nearly every play. Smith’s stats are outstanding and he’s been rewarded for them (2017 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, 2017 Consensus All-American). Over the last two seasons, he’s combined for: 109 tackles, 51.0 tackles for loss and 27 sacks. If he were bigger, we’d be talking about him as a potential first rounder. He’s listed at 6010/237 and that feels favorable. Smith will be drafted and be given a chance as a situational pass rusher but I think he’ll be one of those college stars that doesn’t translate in the pros.
  • My Pick: UAB, -1.5
    • I figured that UAB RB Spencer Brown would be the key to the C-USA Championship Game, if he played, and he was. Brown returned with a vengeance, racking up 31 carries for 156 yards and a score. He was, no doubt, the key to the rematch against Middle Tennessee. Northern Illinois has the nation’s 14th best rush defense so it’ll be a good strength vs strength battle. I’m looking forward to studying Brown for the 2020 draft so I’ll pick with my heart and lean Blazers.

Frisco Bowl, San Diego State (7-5) vs Ohio (8-4), Wed 12/19 at 8:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio
    • Oullette is your basic vanilla mid-major runner. That sounds like an insult but I promise it isn’t. He has back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and catches just enough passes to be relevant (19 receptions in 2018). From my limited exposure over the years, I don’t think he does anything particularly great but he’s good enough all-around. He’s a straight-ahead runner without much long speed. He does have enough wiggle to make a cut through a hole or make a defender miss and is a fall-forward kind of runner. As I write this, UDFA Gus Edwards is having a moment for the Ravens, and I feel like that’s the type of career Ouellette can have in the NFL. He’ll be a late rounder or a priority free agent and just about everybody will forget about him until he makes an unexpected impact. It probably won’t matter for fantasy purposes but as an actual fan of his NFL team you’ll be glad you had him.
  • My Pick: Ohio, -3
    • In addition to Ouellette, the Bobcats feature dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke. Rourke finished the season with a four score rushing performance against Akron (he ended with 816 rushing yards and 13 TDs). He’s also an efficient passer when called upon. The Aztecs have been a mess for bettors this year (3-9 ATS) and RB Juwan Washington doesn’t seem to be fully recovered from his midseason injury so I wouldn’t think twice about giving the points here.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/2.

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 C-USA Preview

Updated: June 6th 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: Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic.  We’ll cover Singletary more below but let’s just say that anybody with 2,000 yard and 30 TD potential has a shot at getting votes for the Heisman.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee State.  Stockstill put up big numbers in 2015 and 2016 and a return to that 4,000 yard form could put him on the radar for more casual fans.  Stockstill will have three marquee games to showcase his ability, and maybe pull out an upset, when the Blue Raiders visit Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Mason Fine, QB, North Texas.  It would be easy to pick Singletary here but Fine likely means more to his team than Singletary does.  Fine is undersized (5110/180) but is a high volume passer.  He finished second in the conference in most passing categories in 2017 and should find himself atop the leaderboards in 2018 with Mike White, Jason Driskel and Chase Litton gone.  In 2017 he finished with 4,052 yards, 31 TDs and 15 INTs.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Jalen Young, S, Florida Atlantic.  Young is currently rated as DraftScout.com’s sixth best safety in the 2019 class.  He is a three year starter heading into his senior season.  He’s averaged 81 tackles and 4 INTs over those campaigns.  I watched a package of his high school highlights since more recent ones were tough to find and I noted that he had a good combination of ball hawking skill and a desire to get involved in run support.  He could be a sneaky NFL Draft prospect if he continues to improve in 2018 because teams will value his versatility.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Maureese Wren, WR, Louisiana Tech.  Per ESPN’s scouting service, Wren is the highest rated incoming transfer to the C-USA.  Wren is listed at 6030 and 216lbs which is a big enough frame to factor in right away.  According to 247Sports.com, Wren received offers from 24 FBS schools including some blue bloods like Texas, Oregon, Washington, Nebraska and Arkansas.  Wren could help jump start the Bulldogs after a disappointing 2017 season.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Spencer Brown, RB, UAB.  Brown was a big part of UAB’s unexpected success in 2017.  As a true freshman he put up 1,329 yards and 10 TDs.  He has tremendous size at 6000/235.  As you’d guess, he is thick and can easily power through contact.  I’d like to see an increase in receiving production this season.  We have some time yet to see if he was a one year wonder or a star in the making.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Mason Fine and Jalen Guyton, North Texas.  I mentioned Fine above and since he’s one of the few returning quarterbacks in the conference he basically guarantees North Texas this spot.  I expect Fine’s top target this season to be former Notre Dame transfer Jalen Guyton.  Guyton has good size at 6010/194 and produced well in his first season at Marshall (49-775-9).  If Guyton doesn’t step up, Fine will look to juniors Michael Lawerence or Rico Bussey who were also Top 10 in receiving yards in C-USA last year.
  • Best RB Corps:  Marshall.  Sure, the Owls have the best back in the conference but the Thundering Herd return two 800+ yard rushers from last season.  Tyler King gained 820 yards and 7 TDs last season as a freshman; Keion Davis totaled 812 yards and 6 scores.  Both were involved in the passing game too, combining for 31 receptions and 231 yards.  New grad transfer QB Alex Thomson can also contribute on the ground: he had 402 rushing yards and 5 TDs in his career at Wagner.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State.  I stumbled on a great site when doing my “hot seat” research: CoachingTreeHotSeat.com.  The site tracks coaching bios, hirings and firings from year to year and grades coaches against their team’s expected win totals.  The site rated the Blue Raiders season a C in 2017, B- in 2016 and C+ in 2015.  If the last name sounds familiar it’s because Rick’s son Brent is the starting quarterback.  If MTSU falters at all this season, I’ll bet the administration sees it as an opportunity to move on from the father as the son is graduating.

Teams to Watch

Florida Atlantic (11-3 in 2017)

FAU has the best shot, in my opinion, of earning a New Year’s Six bowl among the Group of 5 teams.  They have a Power 5 coach in Lane Kiffin, a Heisman hopeful in RB Devin Singletary and the conference’s best defense.  What they don’t have is a quarterback.  Last year’s signal caller, Jason Driskel, retired from football.  Kiffin has two potential starters to choose from, both of whom originally enrolled at Power 5 schools: De’Andre Johnson (Florida State) and Chris Robison (Oklahoma).  Whether or not the Owls are contending for the Boca Raton Bowl or the Peach Bowl will rely heavily on what Kiffin can mold those two into.

Florida International (8-5 in 2017)

Per 247Sports, FIU signed the best recruiting class of C-USA.  They were able to secure the conference’s only two 4-star recruits, both of whom are defensive tackle JUCO transfers.  Tayland Humphrey is listed at 6050/350 and will clog the middle.  He had offers from an awesome list of schools and ultimately took visits with Kansas and Oklahoma State before choosing Florida International.  Teair Tart-Spencer meanwhile is a bit lighter at 6040/295 but his Hudl highlights will strike fear into opposing offenses.  Tart-Spencer was predicted to go to Alabama by 247Sports but ultimately signed with the Golden Panthers.  Tart-Spencer was dismissed from his JUCO team so it appears that some teams got cold feet and backed out of the running.  Butch Davis, like Kiffin, may be taking a chance on talent over character but it’s worth the gamble.  Look for FIU to compete with FAU for the division crown with it all coming down to their November 3rd matchup.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • AJ Erdely, QB, UAB:  Erdely is possibly the oldest player I’ll cover this offseason (24 when the season begins) and he has a sweet mustache to prove it. Erdely started as a true freshman at Middle Tennessee State in 2013, played sparingly in 2014, went JUCO in 2015 and sat out 2016 all before leading the 2017 reincarnation of the Blazers to a 8-5 finish. He is a dual threat who passed for 16 TDs and added 13 on the ground. I don’t think Erdely gets NFL Draft looks but he has an interesting personal journey and plays on a team that surprised us all last season so keep an eye on him.
  • Aaron Cephus, WR, Rice:  Cephus caught my eye because he had the best yards per catch average in the conference at 24.9.  Usually when you see such a huge average it’s somebody who caught six balls and one of them was a fluke hail mary.  Not for Cephus who had 25 grabs on route to that huge average.  In fact, Cephus lead the NCAA in yards per catch average.  Plus he was a (redshirt) freshman playing on a horrible Rice team.  The cherry on top is that he comes in at 6040/200.  Cephus will technically be NFL Draft eligible after this season as a redshirt sophomore but I imagine it would take a record-breaking season for him to come out.  Still though, he’s on my watch list.
  • Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Lousiana Tech:  Ferguson has accumulated some impressive stats over his three year career.  He has 122 total tackles, 41.5 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks.  He’s listed at 6050/269 and DraftScout.com has him projected at 4.84 speed.  He’ll need to show scouts he’s faster than that in order to get true buzz.  If he does trend closer to 4.70 speed we’re looking at somebody with physical comps to Myles Garrett and Bradley Chubb.
  • Azeez Al-Shaair, LB, Florida Atlantic:  Al-Shaair has started since he was a freshman and has a chance to hit 500 career tackles in 2018.  Last season was his best yet with 146 total tackles.  Unsurprisingly, that was good for best in the conference; it was also good enough for third in the FBS.  Al-Shaair decided to stay in school after his standout junior season and put off a potential payday that could have helped him care for two of his younger siblings who live with him.  After my limited research he seems like a good leader and an overall good dude that we can all root for even if he doesn’t have a huge draft stock.

Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

As I have alluded to in multiple places in this preview, Devin Singletary is the conference’s best.  He put up incredible stats in 2017: 301 carries, 1,918 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 32 rushing TDs, 19 receptions, 198 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD.  He led the FBS in carries and rushing touchdowns and led the conference in just about every other stat.  What surprised me the most when I looked back at his stats this offseason were the number of carries.  Backs who are listed at 5090 don’t typically hold up over a 300 carry season but Singletary did.  Singletary is stout enough, he weighs in at 200lb, that he’s able to hold up better than thinner backs but he needs to add a few more pounds for the NFL.

When I watched Singletary, I repeatedly noted two things: his cutting ability and his pass protection.  Singletary’s ability to change direction without losing much speed is an elite trait.  He shows a variety of cuts, including a jump cut and a back cut that is particularly useful for getting him out of trouble.  He has good speed, in the 4.50 range, but is not elite in that department.  He’s plenty fast for the position but he’s not a track star type back.  He lacks the strength to move the pile at the line of scrimmage but in one-on-one situations he has enough strength to break tackles.  In pass protection, I see an ability to identify his assignment and get there on time to protect his quarterback.  On one specific play he slide along the line, keeping his shoulders parallel and had good hand placement when contacting the defender.  On a number of other plays he successfully chipped or cut blocked the defender.  I didn’t see much of him in terms of his pass catching ability, he caught a number of relatively easy screens, but I would say that it’s average at worst.  He did show me nuance as a route runner though which is encouraging.  I also noted that he has enough awareness to carry out fakes on play action passes and zone read fakes.  Singletary does not give up on the play and rarely goes out of bounds by choice.

I was very encouraged by my film study of Singletary and I’m eager to see how he does in 2018.  I would not at all be surprised to see him rise up our fantasy draft boards and command a late first round pick this time next year.  (Film watched: Western Kentucky 2017, Middle Tennessee State 2017)

Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

Tyre Brady was the first wide receiver I deeply studied this offseason and that might have been a problem because I am smitten.  I was honestly quite impressed with the two games of film I watched.  Brady looks like he has the potential to be a starting X receiver in the NFL.  He has good size at 6030/208 and showcases an ability to make acrobatic catches near the sideline with his strong hands and toe-tapping body control.  I was encouraged by his release which was usually positive, although I would like to see him get more physical when coming out of his breaks.  He can be physical at the top of his route stem so I know he can do it.  Brady has good to elite speed, I’m thinking in the 4.40 range.  He pairs that speed with the skill to stop on a dime and fluidly change direction.  His run after catch prowess relies mostly on his breakaway speed but he can spin out of tackles to pick up extra yardage.  The only negative I noted for Brady was his blocking but that’s not surprising for his position.  There is one possible off-field negative that I hope is behind Brady: he was suspended multiple times at Miami for undisclosed reasons before transferring.  Hopefully whatever that was is in his past and he can finish out a successful career at Marshall.  I’ll need to return to Brady after I study some more WRs to make sure it’s not a primacy bias but right now I’m thinking that Brady has Day Two NFL Draft potential and could end up on 2019 fantasy draft boards.  (Film watched: Colorado State 2017, NC State 2017)

Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee State

Brent and Rick Stockstill combine to make an interesting story line at MTSU.  The father-son duo has brought as many or more wins to the Blue Raiders over the last three years as any other three year stretch in the program’s FBS history.  The only caveat to that is that son Brent has missed a number of games in that stretch due to injuries.  I watched Stockstill’s game against Arkansas State in the Camellia Bowl and was not impressed.  Statistically, it was one of the worst games of his career but I think it was worth watching because it came in a bowl game and against a mediocre defense.  Stockstill’s accuracy was inconsistent; he often missed throws high and wide, two of which turned into INTs.  He loves to throw the back shoulder and also shows good touch over the middle.  In addition to having a long injury history, Stockstill is also an old prospect (he was in the 2013 recruiting class) which means he’s unlikely to factor into NFL Draft conversations even though he has 4,000 yard potential.  (Film watched: Arkansas State 2017)

 


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: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.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
  • 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: NFLDraftScout.com 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 Sports-Reference.com 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.  NFLDraftScout.com 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). WalterFootball.com 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, WalterFootball.com 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: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.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
  • 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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