Happy New Year, all.
Today is when we try to wash ourselves clean from the filthiness that was 2013 for the Atlanta Falcons. What better way to do that than to watch some college football and, more importantly, focus on a few players that could find themselves playing in Atlanta in 2014 and beyond.
Gator Bowl: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Jan. 1 at noon (ESPN2)
Prospects to watch: TE Arthur Lynch (UGA), DL Garrison Smith (UGA), OG Chris Burnette (UGA), OG Spencer Long (NEB)
Oh boy, here's the rematch nobody wanted. I LOL'd when the Gator Bowl CEO tried to play it like this was becoming a rivalry game.
I will of course go in-depth on a couple of these UGA guys later in the offseason since I had the opportunity to meet them this fall, but for now I'll suffice it with this: Smith and Burnette wouldn't make bad seventh-round picks. Nebraska's Long has had injury issues, but he might be worth a late-round flier as well. Lynch is another story. Lots of folks have him slated as a 3rd or 4th-rounder, and truth be told he is a solid tight end; maybe not a game-changer, but a capable blocker with an average set of hands. Smart guy, too, and a team captain.
Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. (ABC)
Prospects to watch: DT Kelcy Quarles (SC), DE Chaz Sutton (SC), OG Ryan Groy (WISC), TE Jacob Pedersen (WISC)
Definitely didn't leave anyone off this list. No sir, everyone's accounted for.
In all seriousness, of course you are watching Jadeveon Clowney, because everybody is at all times. You could argue that both Quarles and Sutton benefited from other teams paying so much attention to Clowney, but that's not to say that neither could excel on their own. Quarles had a particularly productive junior season with 9.5 sacks 13.5 TFLs. Should be a good game, too.
Outback Bowl: LSU vs. Iowa
Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (IA), OLB Christian Kirksey (IA), OT La'el Collins (LSU), DT Ego Ferguson (LSU), DT Anthony Johnson (LSU), LB Lamin Barrow (LSU), FB JC Copeland (LSU), RB Jeremy Hill (LSU)
Plenty of guys to watch here. Like Lynch, Fiedorowicz fits the more traditional tight end mold and could interest the Falcons. Collins, if he declares, would present an excellent option on the offensive line as a guy who has enough strength as a run blocker to play at tackle or guard. Ferguson and Johnson are worth monitoring, as well.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OLB Denicos Allen (MSU), ILB Max Bullough (MSU), DE Trent Murphy (STAN), OG David Yankey (STAN), ILB Shayne Skov (STAN), DE Josh Mauro (STAN), RB Tyler Gaffney (STAN)
Talk about smashmouth football. If you like watching good defense, this game is your fantasy.
For how good the Spartan defense was this season, Allen and Bullough aren't getting as much love from the scouts as one would think, but both are coming off impressive years. On the other side, I'm a big fan of Yankey, who looks real nasty as a run blocker.
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. UCF
Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OG Cyril Richardson (BU), WR Tevin Reese (BU)
Richardson was a big part of Lache Seastrunk's success this season. He's 6-foot-5, 335 pounds and looks to have played well through the meat of Baylor's Big 12 schedule. It will be interesting to see how he handles UCF's 13th-ranked rush defense.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OT Cyrus Kouandjio (AL), FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (AL), OG Anthony Steen (AL), WR Kevin Norwood (AL), C Gabe Ikard (OK)
Get ready for a beat-down.
Anyone who's followed Alabama this season knows the Crimson Tide were their regular, dominant selves outside of a road game in College Station and one fateful night in Auburn. If the Falcons were to move on from Thomas DeCoud, Clinton-Dix would be hands down the best free safety they could land in the draft. On the other end, Ikard might make a decent depth addition at center.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DE Vic Beasley (CLM), OG Brandon Thomas (CLM), OT Jack Mewhort (OU), C Corey Linsley (OU)
Beasley is excellent and should definitely wind up going somewhere in the first round. He should also see his fair share of action against Mewhort, who projects as more of a right tackle in the pros. This should also make for an excellent game: two up-tempo offenses duking it out, with Tajh Boyd on one end and Braxton Miller on the other.
Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. (FOX)
Prospects to watch: DE Kony Ealy (MIZ), DE Michael Sam (MIZ), OT Justin Britt (MIZ), DT Calvin Barnett (OSU)
Two excellent pass rushers here in Ealy and Sam. The crazy thing is that both kind of came out of nowhere this season (someone give that D-line coach a raise, or better yet send him to the Falcons). Of course, both of these guys will have to go against a Cowboys offensive line that only gave up 11 sacks this season. I think Missouri wins, but that matchup on the line will be worth keeping an eye on.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: FS Kenny Ladler (VU), OT Wesley Johnson (VU)
Johnson is a little small but versatile and technically sound, making him a likely late-round pick. The same goes for Ladler, an instinctive safety that finished the year with 87 tackles, 5 INTs and 5 forced fumbles. Watch them while you watch the 'Dores beat up on Houston.
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Ball State
Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: DT Ryan Carrethers (ARK)
I bet you thought I couldn't find you a reason to watch this game. But I did, and his name is Carrethers. Projected as a late-round pick, the guy is listed at 6'2 / 330 but looked downright explosive lining up in a number of different spots for Arkansas State. As a senior, he's recorded 4.0 sacks and 8 TFLs, and has all the makings of a sleeper.
BCS National Championship: Auburn vs. Florida State
Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Prospects to watch: OT Greg Robinson (AU), OLB Dee Ford (AU), FB Jay Prosch (AU), OT Cameron Erving (FSU), DT Timmy Jernigan (FSU), OLB Telvin Smith (FSU), FS Terrence Brooks (FSU), C Bryan Stork (FSU), FB Chad Abram (FSU)
It's only fitting that the biggest game on this list has the most guys of note. The Seminoles have been downright dominant all season and have guys that could interest the Falcons on both sides of the ball. On the other end, those miraculous Auburn Tigers have Ford, an explosive pass rusher who projects as more of a 3-4 edge rusher, and Robinson, whom some mock drafts have the Falcons taking in round one.
There's no doubt that Auburn's offensive line was one of the best units in all of college football, and especially on the ground (since that's all the Tigers do is run under Gus Malzahn). Robinson doesn't pass protect all that often, but when he was called upon to do so he performed against some of the SEC's best, most notably Alabama and Missouri. Whether he can get the best of the top scoring defense in the nation will be the big question.