Good morning Giants fans, and Happy New Year!
We’re coming off of an absolutely insane first round of the College Football Playoffs, that saw incredible games played by TCU, Michigan, Ohio State, and Georgia. Hopefully today’s games will live up to the example set for them by the top teams in the country.
(22) Mississippi State at Illinois
ESPN2 - noon
Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon and S Sydney Brown are widely regarded as two of the top defensive backs in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately for us, they opted out of the game to prepare for their 2023 NFL Draft. However, there is still one very good reason to watch this game: Miss. State’s Emmanuel Forbes.
Mississippi State CB Emmanuel Forbes might be the best cornerback (or even defensive player) that nobody is talking about right now. The true junior doesn’t have stand-out size at 6-foot, 180 pounds, but he is versatile, highly competitive, and put out truly remarkable production at Mississippi State.
Over the last three years his 143 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 1.0 sack, and 1 forced fumble are solid numbers — but it’s his 19 passes defensed and 14 interceptions (6 of which he’s returned for touchdowns) that are truly eyebrow-raising. Forbes seems most comfortable in press-man coverage but can also play zone, and does either with evident swag.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
(16) Tulane at (10) USC
ESPN - 1pm
Raise your hand if you predicted Tulane would be the 16th ranked team in the country and playing USC in the Cotton Bowl.
Put your hand down, you liar.
If TCU climbing all the way up to 3rd in the nation and making the National Championship over Michigan was the biggest surprise of the season, Tulane’s 11-2 season can’t be far behind. After all, they were a 2-win team just a year ago.
Senior linebacker Dorian Williams has a chance to shine in this game before heading to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in a few weeks. He’s a bit slight at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, but he’s a true 3-down off-ball linebacker who’s a tackling machine, makes plays behind the line of scrimmage, and is a capable coverage player. This is also a big stage for RB Tyjae Spears, who has yet to announce whether he will enter the draft or return to school. Spears tore his ACL in 2020, but has rebounded very nicely to lead Tulane in rushing in 2021 and 2022. This year he’s averaging just under 6.5 yards per carry (6.49), with 17 total touchdowns on the season (15 rushing, 2 receiving). Spears is a lean scat-back, but his ability as a quick-twitch runner and receiver could make him a dangerous weapon in the right offense.
Of course, the player everyone will be focusing on in this game isn’t even draft eligible.
USC QB Caleb Williams is already being talked about as a future First Overall pick.
The matchup between Williams and Tulane’s stout defense is one that scouts will probably come back to in a year’s time, particularly because WR Jordan Addison has opted out of the game. USC will also be without offensive linemen Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilsen.
USC will have 2022 PAC-12 Defensive Player Of the Year Tuli Tuipulotu. The younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles DL Marlon Tuipulotu is a lean, athletic interior rusher at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds and one of the most disruptive defenders in the country. While USC’s defense has been porous this year, Tuipulotu has been living in opponents’ backfields — to the tune of 44 tackles, 21.0 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defensed.
Tuipulotu is still undecided about his draft intentions (or is decided and hasn’t announced them yet) as of this writing. He’s had two very productive years and should be drafted some time in the first two rounds. However, USC was on the doorstep of the College Football Playoffs before losing to Utah at the end of the season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tuipulotu decide he has unfinished business.
Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
(17) LSU at Purdue
ABC - 1pm
This game has already been subject to plenty of intrigue, and the story is as much “who won’t be playing” as who will be on the field.
LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte first announced his intentions to return to school for his senior season — before reversing course, declaring for the NFL, and opting out of this game. Boutte hasn’t been consistent this year, but is capable of being one of the most dynamic playmakers in the nation.
In fact, most of LSU’s top prospects have opted out of the game in favor of preparing for the Draft Process. In addition to Boutte, LSU will also be without WR Jaray Jenkins, EDGEs B.J. Ojulari and Ali Gaye, DL Jaquelin Roy, and CBs Mekhi Garner and Jay Ward.
Purdue will be without sixth-year senior QB Aidan O’Connell, red-shirt senior tight end (and All-Name Team candidate) Payne Durham, WR Charlie Jones, and cornerback Cory Trice.
All of the opt-outs make this game a frustrating one for those of us who want to get a look at top prospects against top competition. However, they do open the door for the depth players who will be starters next year. This is a chance to get a sneak preview of what these teams will look like in 2023 — or for hidden gems who are buried on the depth chart to shine.
Rose Bowl Game
(11) Penn State vs. (8) Utah
ESPN - 5pm
I think I might be legally obligated to refer to this game as “The Grandaddy of Them All”. But jokes aside, the Rose Bowl Game is one of the most prestigious games in college or professional football.
This is also our last bowl game before Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship between TCU and Georgia.
As with so many of the other games on our schedule, the transfer portal and opt-outs will have an effect for folks looking to do some draft scouting.
The two best players in the game, Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. and Utah CB Clark Phillips III have both opted out of the game, as have PSU WR Parker Washington, Utah TE Dalton Kincaid, and RB Tavion Thomas.
There will, however, be some good prospects on the field.
Utah guard-turned-tackle Braeden Daniels will probably have to transition back to guard at the NFL level, but his athleticism, strength, leverage, and toughness will translate well inside in the pros.
Quarterback Cameron Rising has (as of this writing) not announced his decision regarding the NFL draft. That said, he was reportedly impressive over the summer at the Manning Passing Academy and could have quietly caught the NFL’s eye.
Rising will have to keep his own eye out for Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown. Brown is a compact (5-foot-11, 208 pound) safety with a nose for the ball. He has been a consistent playmaker for Penn State over the last two years, with 139 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 8 passes defensed, 9 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) over that period. Brown might not have the range to be a centerfielding safety, nor line up in man coverage at the NFL level. However, his build, willingness to trigger downhill, versatility, and playmaking instincts could make him a good box defender for a multiple defense.