The final Falcons game of the season, and the last one for eight long months, will conclude on Sunday. But Atlanta has been out of contention for several weeks now, putting the offseason and May's NFL Draft at the forefront of discussion.
We also happen to be in the midst of the final stretch of college football for, well, a long time if we're not counting the spring games. So I thought I'd throw together a little primer on the bowl games that have yet to take place.
But there have been like eight bowl games already you surely prepare to type. I know. But see, I've been languishing in the frozen tundra known as Ohio for almost a week now with limited resources at my disposal, so you'll have to forgive the lateness. I know you were dying for a breakdown of the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
Anyways, on to the matchups:
Texas Bowl: Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Dec. 27 at 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DT RaShede Hageman (MIN), DT Jay Bromley (SYR)
It's an otherwise unappealing bowl matchup highlighted by two talented defensive tackles that could interest the Falcons. You've probably heard Hageman's name by now. If you haven't, you should check him out: he's a potential late-first / early-second round pick, an extraordinary athlete that's just a little rough around the edges. Bromley is much more under the radar, less explosive but with the same type of skill set as Hageman. He could wind up being a late-round sleeper.
This game is not for the faint of heart, especially if you like pretty football or you're not enamored by quality defensive line play. But Hageman and Bromley are worth watching.
Fight Hunger Bowl: Washington vs. BYU
Dec. 27 at 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (WAS), RB Bishop Sankey (WAS), WR Kasen Williams (WAS), OLB Kyle Van Noy (BYU), DT Eathyn Manumaleuna (BYU)
Hey, another tight end that used to play basketball! It's true that Seferian-Jenkins was suspended for a DUI arrest last spring. But he also won this year's Mackey Award for best tight end, hauling in 33 catches for 413 yards with his 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame, and projects as an early 2nd-round pick.
On the other side, BYU's imposing defense has a pair of talents on its front seven in Van Noy and Manumaleuna. They're both 3-4 players but could certainly transition to a 4-3 in the NFL. At the very least, watching the Washington offense and BYU's defense go head-to-head should be fun.
Pinstripe Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
Dec. 28 at noon (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DE Stephon Tuitt, OG Zack Martin, OLB Prince Shembo, OG Chris Watt
I'm not going to recommend watching this game unless you are A) a die-hard Notre Dame fan, or B) like watching Rutgers lose. But the Fighting Irish have a pair of guards that could interest Atlanta and, of course, Tuitt and Shembo. Notre Dame has run its fair share of four-man fronts on defense this season, meaning both of those pass-rushers have the sort of versatility that Mike Smith covets.
Belk Bowl: UNC vs. Cincinnati
Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: TE Eric Ebron (UNC), OT James Hurst (UNC), DE Kareem Martin (UNC), FS Tre Boston (UNC)
BELK BOWL, BABY. Ebron is essentially the consensus best tight end in the class. He's more of the traditional mold, but that didn't keep him from catching 55 passes for for 895 yards. Hurst, a four-year starter at left tackle, mostly held his own against Jadeveon Clowney in the season opener and had arguably his best season as a senior. He's built a lot like fellow Tarheel product Garrett Reynolds, but we would hope he's better than that.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan vs. Kansas State
Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OT Taylor Lewan (MICH), WR Jeremy Gallon (MICH), OT Michael Schofield (MICH), FS Ty Zimmerman (KST), OT Cornelius Lucas (KST)
I've watched a little bit of Michigan this season and it's no secret that its offensive line has been, er, pretty bad. Or at least inconsistent. Truth be told, I'm not a fan of Lewan or Schofield much at all.
Quite honestly, the guy I'll be trying to watch the most in this game is Zimmerman, considering Atlanta's potential needs at safety. He's not super-impressive, more of a mid-round type guy that excels against the run and has some issues in space, but he's a smart, instinctive player and I'd definitely like to see how he handles some of Michigan's receivers in coverage.
Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Dec. 30 at 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DE Jeremiah Attaochu (GT), WR Donte Moncrief (MISS)
I saw Attaochu play in person against Georgia and was thoroughly impressed. The rest of his tape is just as eye-opening, as is his production: 40 tackles, 15.5 TFLs and 12.0 sacks as a senior. I've seen him projected as a mid-round pick, but I find it hard to believe he won't go higher than that. He has a lot of potential for growth as a pass-rusher and he was also part of one of the better run-stopping units in college football.
As for Moncrief, I'd doubt the Falcons are looking that closely, but ooh look, shiny wide receiver GOTTA DRAFT HIM.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas
Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DE Jackson Jeffcoat (TEX), WR Josh Huff (ORE), FS Avery Patterson (ORE), TE Colt Lyerla (ORE), DE Taylor Hart (ORE), OLB Boseko Lokombo (ORE), RB De'Anthony Thomas (ORE)
Lots of guys to keep an eye on as far as the Ducks are concerned, but I'm also quite interested in Jeffcoat. He wound up with 12.0 sacks and 18 TFLs and could be a decent bargain pass-rusher if the Falcons wanted to add one on day two of the Draft. The game itself should also be a good one.
Holiday Bowl: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Dec. 30 at 10:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: TE Jace Amaro (TTU), DT Will Sutton (AST), OLB Carl Bradford (AST)
Here's one of those hybrid tight ends that always excite us but the Falcons never draft. Amaro's production this season was absolutely ridiculous (98 catches for 1,240 yards), but a lot of that came lined up as a slot receiver in the Kliff Kingsbury Air Raid offense. Dimitroff and Smitty, for better or worse, like the old-school guys that block (Levine Toilolo being a perfect example).
On the other end, you have a versatile linebacker in Bradford and another D-tackle with potential as a pass-rusher in Sutton. All these promising defensive tackles are a good thing for the Falcons, who have just about no depth at the position with three impending free agents and Corey Peters' recent Achilles injury.
Sun Bowl: UCLA vs. Virginia Tech
Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. (CBS)
Prospects to watch: OLB Anthony Barr (UCLA), OG Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA)
Here's the one you'll definitely want to check out. Barr has 10 sacks on the year plus 20 TFLs, and he's going against a Hokies offensive line that has allowed 30 sacks. Obviously, his potential as a pass-rusher is enormous, but you do wonder about his rawness as a player and his ability to stop the run. On top of that, he seems more of a natural 3-4 fit than anything else. In any case, he's worth watching.
Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Rice
Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OG Gabe Jackson (MISS), FS Nickoe Whitley (MISS)
I like Jackson. He's a rugged, athletic guard that's been battle-tested by the SEC for four years. The concern is whether he's mean enough to hold his own in the ground game, which is exactly what the Falcons struggled with this season. And I doubt his performance against C-USA champion Rice will give us any definite answers.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke vs. Texas A&M
Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch:
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, OT Jake Matthews (TAMU), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (TAMU)
The game's being played in the Georgia Dome, so that has to count for something. If Sam Baker wasn't under contract for all eternity, I'd be excited about potentially landing Matthews in this draft. Ogbuehi, the right tackle, is less universally known but could also wind up a first-round pick.
At first glance, this game might appear to be the Aggies beating up on Duke. But the Blue Devil offense under Cutcliffe has been pretty impressive, while Texas A&M's defense has been quite the opposite. So it's a possible shootout in the Dome with a right tackle to keep an eye on.
What say you all? Anyone I've overlooked? Who will y'all watch?