The lead-up to the College Football Playoff semifinals continues Thursday with a trio of games on ESPN.
Today we have the Birmingham Bowl between South Carolina and South Florida, the Belk Bowl between Arkansas and Virginia Tech, and the Valero Alamo Bowl between Oklahoma State and Colorado.
Birmingham Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Unfortunately, by far the greatest prospect on either of these two teams won’t be playing. South Carolina’s Skai Moore was set to benefit more than anyone from the arrival of Will Muschamp as the Gamecocks’ new head coach. The LB/S hybrid had been South Carolina’s leading tackler in each of the last three seasons, and could have had a great year in Muschamp’s aggressive and fluid defensive scheme.
However, a neck injury suffered last spring ended his 2016 season long before it ever started.
This could still be a game to watch — you never know when players will leap off the screen and make a name for themselves. But without Moore, it really lacks headline talent.
Belk Bowl (5:30 p.m., ESPN)
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE) - Sprinkle is probably Arkansas’ best prospect. Taking over after Hunter Henry left for the NFL, Sprinkle became an under-the-radar TE to watch. He is built to be a traditional “All Round” tight end at 6-5, 260 pounds. Unlike many tight ends coming out, Sprinkle not only has experience blocking in-line, but does it well, using his size and power at the point of attack. As a receiver he has deceptive down-field speed, but doesn’t have the initial quickness that has come to typify the modern tight end. All in all he is a well-rounded, if somewhat boring, tight end.
Dan Skipper (OT) - A massive, mauling offensive tackle, Dan Skipper will turn a lot of heads come the scouting combine. Listed at 6-foot-10, 322 pounds, it would be hard for him to go unnoticed. The big tackle is well suited for Arkansas’ run-first attack, blowing open holes at the line of scrimmage, but his size and somewhat lumbering athleticism work against him in pass protection.
Bucky Hodges (TE) - Where Sprinkle is a dependable throwback TE, Hodges would fit right in with the new nightmare mismatches in the NFL. At 6-7, 250, Hodges looks much more like a giant-sized wide receiver than a light offensive tackle, and his game reflects it. While he can line up in-line and block, VT uses him all over the offensive formation, including at wide receiver — where he makes corners lining up across from him look like Pee-Wee players. Regarded as an athletic freak, Hodges has the ability to stretch a defense and rack up yards after the catch. He shows willingness to use his large frame as a blocker, but his technique could stand improvement.
Isiah Ford (WR) - Ford isn’t the kind of receiver to get scouts drooling. He doesn’t have great size (6-1, 190 pounds), or blazing speed. What he does have, is terrific body control, good route running, above-average agility, good awareness, a knack for tacking the deep ball, and impressive production. Those traits could attract the Giants attention, so he’s a receiver to watch.
Brandon Facyson (CB) - Facyson came on to the scene at Virginia Tech with a splash, being regarded as one of the most talented DB’s in the nation almost immediately. However, the long (6-1, 191 pounds) corner has struggled to stay healthy, dealing with leg injuries, including two broken bones.
Jerod Evans (QB) - Evans is a raw quarterback prospect, and might be best served by returning to school for his senior season. Should he declare for the draft, however, his physical tools will get him noticed. The 6-4, 240-pound quarterback is an outstanding athlete, able to navigate the pocket or threaten defenses with his legs. He also has a very strong arm, able to push the ball down the field with zip and a tight spiral. He would need a couple years of seasoning to learn how to command a Pro Style offense, but his physical tools are potentially elite.
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m., ESPN)
Vincent Taylor (DT) - The 6-2 red-shirt junior has played every game over the last two years for the Cowboys, a dependable force in the middle of their defense. He had six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2016, as well as a forced fumble and an amazing four blocked kicks. Taylor also has a reputation for being a smart and aware player.
Jordan Sterns (S) - The enforcer for the Oklahoma State defense, Sterns is just four tackles shy of posting three straight seasons with 100 (or more) tackles. The 2017 draft class is deep with talent in the defensive backfield, and Sterns could get lost in the shuffle.
Chidobe Awuzie (CB) - Awuzie is a somewhat under-the-radar prospect, and a late riser this year, but he has been a consistent contributor for Colorado since he has been at the school. He is a four year starter, who even started seven of his twelve freshman games. He is a fluid, smart, and experienced corner who lead his defense in snaps (867) and tackles for a loss (12) while coming in second in total tackles (90), as well as 10 passes defensed on the year.
Tedric Thompson (S) - Another talented prospect who could get lost in a very deep class, Thompson lead the Pac-12 with seven interceptions, and one fantastic game against Utah saw him bat down six passes and pick off two more. He is also a physical run defender with a reputation as a hard hitter. Thompson could be a name to watch going forward.