By Jon Lopuch, Associate Editor
Let's Go Bowling
The fantasy football season never ends. If you've just been eliminated from championship contention, now is the time to get a jump start on next season by looking at the newest crop of NFL talent. Thanks to the glory of cable television, each of the 32 bowl games will be available to a national audience (assuming you have the NFL Netowork). And if you're as big a draft nerd as I am, this is the greatest present Santa could ever deliver. Since I know many of you were too busy spending time with your family or having a life to follow the college game very closely, I've taken a look at a few of the minor bowl games and identified layers who may be flying under the radar of the general public that you should make time to get a look at.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. TCU
That bowl name just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Northern Illinois runner Garrett Wolfe gets all the hype, and much of it is deserved because he is the nation's leading rusher. While he has been fun to watch run on the college gridiron, he doesn't project to be more than a mid-round pick in April's NFL draft. However, his offensive tackle Doug Free is one of the better seniors at his position and could be a first-day selection.
Papajohns.com Bowl: South Florida vs. East Carolina
Aundrae Allison of East Carolina is considered one of the best senior receivers in the country and this will be one of the few times he can shine on a national stage. While he is not a household name now, it is possible his stock will rise during postseason events like the Senior Bowl, much like what happened to Greg Jennings a year ago.
Even though he is only a freshman, South Florida duel-threat quarterback Matt Grothe had a great season with 2,495 passing yards and 607 more on the ground. That rushing number is even more impressive when you consider college football counts sacks against quarterbacks' rushing total. He also finished the season with 23 total touchdowns, including nine on the ground.
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Arizona State
Sun Devils tight end Zach Miller is one of the best in the country and a finalist for the John Mackey Award. He is also the focal point of the Arizona State offense with 49 receptions; no other Sun Devil has more than 15. Junior safety Josh Barrett is also one of the best juniors at his position, and you will see him all over the field against Hawaii.
That's especially true because the Warriors throw more than any other team in the country. Quarterback Colt Brennan, also a junior, has mastered the Hawaii offense and threw for 4,990 yards and 53 touchdowns in the regular season. He should get a good test against the Sun Devils 34th ranked pass defense.
Emerald Bowl: UCLA vs. Florida State
I know people love watching offense, but the real superstar in this game resides in the Seminoles defense. Linebacker Buster Davis is an excellent inside linebacker who will be one of the first from that position to go off the draft board. He won't go nearly as high as former teammate Ernie Sims, but he will hear his name called sometime on draft day.
Emerald Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State
Crimson Tide running back Ken Darby is a second- or third-tier back in this year's class, but the same thing was said about Wali Lundy and Leon Washington last year and they both had a starting job at some point this season. Linebacker Juwan Simpson is another player who will go off the board in the middle rounds, so fans of teams who need linebacker depth should begin to learn his name.
Holiday Bowl: Cal vs. Texas A&M
The California defense was shaky statistically this season, but if you tune into the Holiday Bowl, you'll see a few guys who will play on Sundays. Daymeion Hughes is one of the best cornerbacks in the country and could be picked in the first two rounds. Running back Marshawn Lynch also has a future in the pros, but he is expected to stay for his senior season. That doesn't mean you can't get a sneak peak at him this winter, though.