Happy New Year everyone! In Part Two of the New Years Six, we'll be looking at the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, and the AllState Sugar Bowl, along with an extra preview of the two other bowl games being played, the Outback Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Without further ado, let's get started.
BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl: #8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Out of all the bowl games on New Years Day, this might be the one featuring the most players who will suit up on Sundays later in 2016. The premier battle to watch will be the consensus top prospect in the nation, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, go up against Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley, a highly touted prospect at his position. Bosa, a big-time athlete that's exceptionally strong and technically sound, has drawn comparisons to Pro Bowl players J.J. Watt and Jared Allen. Stanley, meanwhile, has the size, strength and toughness to become an elite blocker in the NFL. Like Giants rookie Ereck Flowers, he has tons of potential, but needs to refine the technical aspects of his game.
Many NFL scouts and more specifically, the Beezer Brigade, will have their eyes on Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in this game. Smith, who Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly called the best player he's ever coached, is extremely explosive and excellent in both tackling and coverage. He's versatile enough to fit in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, and might be the most pro-ready prospect in the Draft. Two other Notre Dame prospects who are projected to be available on Day 2 are defensive tackle Sheldon Day and cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Day, who weighs just 285 pounds, is a 3-technique pass-rushing defensive tackle who plays with incredible motor, but is injury prone.
On the other side, Ohio State has several players on both sides of the ball with the potential to get drafted in the early and middle rounds. On offense, offensive tackle Taylor Decker, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Michael Thomas all have first round potential. On defense, other than Bosa, linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry will garner a lot of interest early in the draft. Perry, at 6'4" and 254 pounds, plays with a nonstop motor and is highly regarded as a leader in the locker room.
The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: #6 Stanford vs. #5 Iowa (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Stanford's most exciting prospect, all-purpose star Christian Mccaffrey, is just a sophomore and ineligible for the draft this year. However, the Cardinal have two outstanding senior offensive line prospects in tackle Kyle Murphy and guard Joshua Garnett. Murphy has the prototypical tackle size and is fundamentally sound in almost every aspect of the game, but does struggle when changing directions in run blocking. As for Garnett, he's a mammoth of a man and would seem like a stout run blocker, but his average quickness impedes him from getting to the second level too often. However, he is an ascending prospect and has lots of tools to work with.
As for Iowa, their top prospect to watch is junior cornerback Desmond King, who will likely be selected in the first or second round. King stands at 5'11" and 200 pounds, but is an elite athlete. He's picked off eight passes this season and is a tackling machine, making five or more tackles in nine games this season. His ability to shut down his side of the field has drawn comparisons to Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
AllState Sugar Bowl: #16 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Mississippi (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Oklahoma State has one true NFL prospect this year, but he's a very good one at that. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who has been mocked to the Giants in the first round and covered before, will be the one to watch when the Cowboys defense takes the field. Ogbah dominated rushing the passer this season, using his 6'3", 275-pound frame to bull rush and rip past offensive linemen to sack the quarterback 13 times, leading the Big 12 and ranking fourth nationally in that category. A two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and USA Today All-American, Ogbah has all the accolades and is about as ready as any college prospect to make the jump to the NFL. He'll have a great test today against Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who has garnered high consideration to be the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft.
As for Ole Miss, Tunsil is their top prospect, but they have two other outstanding NFL prospects. The first is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is regarded as the best at his position in this year's Draft. The junior has a 6'2" frame and an athletic body that allows him to reach the ball at its high point and come down with tough catches, similar to how a basketball player rebounds a ball. His incredible size and athleticism have drawn comparisons to Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant. Second is defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who will not be playing in this game due to a suspension for marijuana possession. He avoided serious injury after falling off the fourth floor of a hotel. Nkemdiche, who was rated the top prospect in his class coming out of high school, has all the talent, but lacks consistency and awareness, both on and off the field, the latter concerning scouts the most. He isn't a great pass rusher, bringing down the quarterback just seven times during his three years at Ole Miss, but he does have incredible athleticism and burst. At the point of attack, he's arguably the best prospect in this Draft, but he doesn't finish plays as often as he should. The NFL Scouting Combine will be crucial for him, not only in testing on the field, but interviews off it as well.
Outback Bowl: #13 Northwestern vs. #23 Tennessee (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
A lot of this game will focus on the running backs, Northwestern's Justin Jackson and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd. Each accounted for more than 1,100 rushing yards this season and are two of the most dynamic running backs in their respective conferences. However, both are sophomores, making them ineligible for this year's NFL Draft. While Northwestern is a very good college team, they don't have many true NFL prospects, except for "Superback" Dan Vitale. Northwestern's "Superback" position is a sort of fullback, tight end and H-Back hybrid, but Vitale's future in the NFL is likely as a playmaking fullback, similar to Baltimore Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Vitale, the top-rated fullback prospect, leads Northwestern in receptions, touchdowns and receiving yards this year. Both he and Jackson earned second team All-Big Ten honors for Northwestern. Vitale is not of the typical fullback breed that is dying in today's pass-happy NFL, so his skill set should certainly help him get drafted somewhere in the later rounds.
On Tennessee's side, the player to watch will be junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. In the Volunteers defense, he plays on the weak side, where he's become a tackling machine and a disruptor in the backfield. In the last two seasons combined, he has 200 tackles, and this year, he leads Tennessee with 13.0 tackles for loss. He is also second on the team with five sacks. He was involved in an incident last May in which he was shot in the arm, but he has also drawn rave reviews as a leader in the locker room. On the field, his athleticism stands out, but he tends to be too aggressive in the backfield and over-pursue his targets. His NFL future is likely as an edge rusher given his ability to get into the backfield so well.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: #14 Michigan vs. #19 Florida (1 p.m. ET, ABC)
While Jim Harbaugh and Michigan have a very solid team, none of their players stand out as NFL prospects this year. Their tight end, Jake Butt, decided to return for his senior season and will not enter the NFL Draft early. He is one of the top tight ends in college football. Wolverines sophomore safety Jabrill Peppers, a stud on both sides of the ball, will be eligible to enter the Draft next year, and his multidimensional talents have drawn comparisons to a former Michigan standout, Charles Woodson. Butt and Peppers will certainly draw the eyes of scouts throughout 2016.
On Florida's side, the top player to watch will be cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. He stands at just 5'11" and 190 pounds, but Hargreaves has incredible leaping ability, breaks up plays often and can press at the line of scrimmage. He's arguably the top cornerback in this year's NFL Draft class, should he apply for early entry. He doesn't compare in the same way to cornerbacks such as Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman. Instead, he likes to model his game after Brent Grimes.
Two other players to watch on Florida's defense include defensive end Jonathan Bullard and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison. Bullard is a 6'3", 283-pound two-gap run-stuffer. He has an impressive first step and great strength, often bull-rushing his opposition and stopping the run very well. He has a lot of versatility, with the ability to play in both 3-4 or 4-3 as a 3-technique or 5-technique due to his "tweener" size. He seems to be a little big to be strictly a defensive end, but too small to be a defensive tackle. Whatever the case may be, Bullard is a dominant run defender in this draft class. As for Morrison, he was voted on to the 2015 All-SEC Second Team, leading Florida with 56 unassisted tackles. He is a leader and tone-setter for Florida's vaunted defense, often finishing plays in the open field. He did suffer a gruesome knee injury in 2014, but came back on the field and was extremely effective just six months afterward. Injuries are always a concern, but if Morrison can prove that he is healthy at the NFL Scouting Combine, his stock should continue to rise.