Scouts will be eyeing OSU’s Joey Bosa as the Buckeyes take on the Fighting Irish. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Through the first 10 days of bowl season, there’s been plenty of action to get people excited. But, it’s clear for many, including the casual football fan, that college bowl season begins and ends with classic New Year’s Day bowl extravaganzas. Historically, the New Year’s Day games feature college football’s biggest names, teams and matchups.

When a sponsor’s name is but a footnote on the bowl game, it’s clear it’s a big one.

But, the College Football Playoff changed things. Well, sort of. The New Year’s Day games still resonate, but New Year’s Eve now has the nation’s attention too. To me, it’s six major bowl games in less than 48 hours with a plethora of next-level prospects to watch. Now, what’s better than that?

As you watch each game, there are players taking the leap to the pros in a few months. Some, including Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, have already signaled their intentions to enter the NFL draft. Which players and key matchups should have your attention over the two day College football bonanza? Here’s your guide.


Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl – Houston v. Florida State


2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

CB William Jackson (6-foot-2, 195 lb., Sr.) – Jackson needs an impressive effort against FSU’s dynamic pass-catchers to push for a top 50 draft slot in May.

WR/Returner Demarcus Ayers (5-11, 190 lb., Jr.) – He’s nothing but e-lec-tric with the ball in his hands.

RB Kenneth Farrow (5-10, 218 lb., Sr.) – His nagging injuries have slowed him this season but won’t keep him from barreling through FSU defenders.

ILB/OLB Elandon Roberts (6-0, 235 lb., Sr.) – Although he started just one year, he racked up 132 tackles in 2015.

S Adrian McDonald (5-11, 205 lb., Sr.) – Even though McDonald doesn’t have a ton of elite trait, this guy is an all-around star and ball magnet.

S Trevon Stewart (5-10, 195 lb., Sr.) – Stewart possesses an explosive package of skills on the field but needs to play more under control and with more consistency


OLB Steven Taylor (6-1, 225 lb., Jr.) – He’s smart, reads plays and schemes extremely well and is quick to the ball. He finished second on his team with 86 tackles.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

ATH Greg Ward Jr. (5-11, 185 lb., Jr.) – Don’t blink or you’ll miss him, perhaps the next true “slash” player in NFL.


Florida State

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

S/CB Jalen Ramsey (6-1, 202 lb., Jr.) – Without question, he’s one of my top three overall players in this draft class.

DE DeMarcus Walker (6-3, 281 lb., Jr.) – Walker has 4-3 LDE written all over him.

DT Nile Lawrence-Stample (6-1, 302 lb., Sr.) – He’s built like a fire hydrant and difficult to move off the spot.

ILB Reggie Northrup (6-1, 231 lb., Sr.) – Although he lacks elite physical traits, Northrup tackles everything that moves, resulting in 87 tackles this season

OLB Terrance Smith (6-4, 230 lb., Sr.) – Overall, he’s a better NFL prospect than Northrup and will find his fit at the next level at 4-3 OLB.

S Lamarcus Brutus (6-0, 207 lb., Sr.) – He started in 2015 for the first time and finished third on the team with 59 tackles.


S Derwin James (6-3, 212 lb., Fr.) – The true freshman is, perhaps. the best young safety in college football.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

RB Dalvin Cook (5-11, 202 lb., Soph.) – Arguably, Cook is the best NFL prospect in this game, and in many others too.


CFA Peach Bowl Matchup to Watch

Houston WR Chance Allen v. Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey – Allen is 215 pounds, wiry but physical, while Ramsey is a former safety with cornerback skills. When these two are matched on one another, it’s two long, explosive athletes fighting for the football. That’ll be fun to watch.

National Playoff Game No. 1 – Orange Bowl – Oklahoma v. Clemson


2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

WR Sterling Shepard (5-10, 193 lb., Sr.) – Although he looks like a slot WR, Shepard has inside/outside WR skills, which will attract attention throughout the league.

OLB Eric Striker (6-0, 222 lb., Sr.) – NFL teams will be perplexed, yet intrigued, as to what he is and what position fits him the best.

DE Charles Tapper (6-2, 282 lb., Sr.) – His scheme versatility, size and speed will have teams looking for him as early as late on Day 2 of the draft.

CB Zack Sanchez (5-11, 179 lb., Jr.) – His lack of bulk will be a turnoff for some teams, but as a nickel CB in coverage, he can find a fit early in his career.

G Nila Kasitati (6-3, 319 lb., Sr.) – The senior is an interior prospect with a ton of starts under his belt.


Sooners’ secondary – This was a surprising asset for OU this season, but facing the Clemson passing game may be the biggest test of the season for this group.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

CB Jordan Thomas (6-0, 191 lb., Soph.) – We could, and should, be talking about him a great deal for the 2017 Draft.



2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

DE Shaq Lawson (6-3, 276 lb., Jr.) – He wins with speed. He wins with power. He’s a true flash edge player for which Oklahoma has no answer.

CB Mackensie Alexander (5-11, 195 lb., RS Soph.) – NFL scouts’ reviews are mixed on him as first-round or top-40 pick but he’s a top notch, high football IQ corner with a nasty streak.

TE Jordan Leggett (6-5, 255 lb., Jr.) – He’s a true sleeper at a position that truly is lacking in the 2016 draft class.

RB Wayne Gallman (6-1, 215 lb., RS Soph.) – His burst and quicks are his best assets, will he stay for his junior year, though?

S Jayron Kearse (6-5, 220 lb., Jr.) – Without question, he’s a size, weight, speed and length prospect but he needs more discipline in his game.

G No. 78 Eric Mac Lain (6-5, 315 lb., Sr.) – He’s a grinder on the interior with an NFL guard’s future.


LT Mitch Hyatt (6-5, 295 lb., Fr.) – The true freshman started every game but he must handle Eric Striker, which is going to be a major issue.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 210 lb., Soph.) – I’d take him No. 1 in 2016 but, as we all know, he can’t declare until 2017.


Orange Bowl Matchup to Watch

Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard v. Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander – these two couldn’t have a more stout NFL test, if you will, than each other in this matchup. Shepard is lightning quick and can stop on a dime and give you change as the old adage goes. Meanwhile, Alexander is physical and strong in press coverage. When matched head-to-head, these two will have a chance to exploit the other’s weakness.

National Playoff Game No. 2 – Cotton Bowl – Michigan State v. Alabama

Michigan State

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

QB Connor Cook (6-4, 220 lb., Sr.) – He has one final shot to cement his legacy at MSU but how will he finish and impress NFL scouts?

DE/OLB Shilique Calhoun (6-5, 250 lb., Sr.) – His strong 2015 season moved him up my board.

LT Jack Conklin (6-6, 325 lb., Jr.) – There’s more to like as I continue to study him, especially because he can play RT and LT.

DE Lawrence Thomas (6-4, 305 lb., Sr.) – Thomas is a versatile interior player that can play DE and DT.

C Jack Allen (6-2, 296 lb., Sr.) – I can see him being a Day 3 gem/NFL starter in the future.

WR Aaron Burbridge (6-1, 208 lb., Sr.) – His all-around game needs polish but he possesses adequate size and speed to play at the next level.

G No. 76 Donavon Clark (6-4, 325 lb., Sr.) – Clark has a nasty streak, but heavy feet hold him back.


S Demetrious Cox (6-1, 200 lb., Jr.) – Injuries have nearly decimated MSU at safety, but Cox has played well in R.J. Williamson’s stead.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

RB L.J. Scott (6-0, 233 lb., Fr.) – I love watching this guy, a hammer who can tote the mail 25 times each week at any level.



2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

RB Derrick Henry (6-3, 242 lb., Jr.) – The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner is a workout fiend.

DE A’Shawn Robinson (6-4, 312 lb., Jr.) – When he wants and when he’s cranked up to maximum volume, he can dominate the run.

ILB Reggie Ragland (6-2, 252 lb., Sr.) – The All-American showed during the 2015 season that he can be a three-down ILB at the next level.

DE Jarran Reed (6-4, 313 lb. Sr.) – Blocking Reed is like trying to move a mobile tree stump.

DE/OLB Jonathan Allen (6-3, 283 lb., Jr.) – The junior pass rush star can win inside or outside in any scheme.

TE/H O.J. Howard (6-6, 242 lb., Jr.) – The NFL may be a better fit for his skill-set, given the emphasis teams put on this position at the next level.

S Eddie Jackson (6-0, 194 lb., Jr.) – The move to safety gave Jackson an NFL future, and a good one at that.

CB Cyrus Jones (5-10, 196 lb., Sr.) – He’s competitive in press or off coverage; however, the lack of height could be issue.

OLB Reuben Foster (6-1, 240 lb., Jr.) – Foster’s one heck of an athlete but he’s still learning to play the position at a consistently high level.

QB Jake Coker (6-5, 232 lb., Sr.) – Trust me, he’s going to get drafted earlier than you think.

C Ryan Kelly (6-5, 297 lb., Sr.) – He’s a three-year starter who handles entire OL blocking assignments.

RB No. 17 Kenyan Drake (6-1, 210 lb., Sr.) – When healthy, he’s an NFL player … if he’s healthy.

S/nickel Geno Matias-Smith (6-0, 196 lb., Sr.) – A nickel/ST role suits him well early in his NFL career but he has off-the-field questions that teams will want answered down the road.

T Dominick Jackson (6-6, 315 lb. Sr.) – Jackson isn’t tremendously athletic but his wingspan and length give him a chance to stay at tackle long term.


DL of Robinson-Lake-Reed – Quite frankly, this trio can dominate the game and eliminate MSU’s run game early.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

WR Calvin Ridley (6-1, 188 lb., Fr.) – It’s as simple as this: He’s the next Amari Cooper.


Cotton Bowl Matchup to Watch

Michigan State T Jack Conklin v. Alabama DE/OLB Jonathan Allen – Conklin has seen his share of speed rushers and powerful edge players in the B1G, but rarely in the same package. He’ll need to stay latched to Allen all the way through the whistle as the Crimson Tide star never stops hunting the quarterback.


Fiesta Bowl – Notre Dame v. Ohio State

Notre Dame

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

LT Ronnie Stanley (6-5, 315 lb., Sr.) – He’s a future star at left tackle, a top 15 pick on my board.

C Nick Martin (6-4, 301 lb., Sr.) – If he’s not the best center in this class, he’s one of the top two.

WR Will Fuller (6-0, 184 lb. Jr.) – The All-American had one of the best receiving seasons in ND history and he’s the most dynamic offensive weapon on the field in this game.

DT/DE Sheldon Day (6-2, 285 lb., Sr.) – He possesses scheme versatility and can play on the interior or exterior, which I love in a prospect.

DT Jarron Jones (6-5, 312 lb., Jr.) – It’s a shame he was hurt all year, but rumor has it he may try play in this game

ILB Jaylon Smith (6-2, 240 lb., Jr.) – The Butkus Award winner is a surefire top-15 pick and will be a star immediately at the next level.

RB C.J. Prosise (6-0, 220 lb., Sr.) – His injuries were the only thing to slow him in 2015 but I love him at RB at the next level.

WR Chris Brown (6-1, 195 lb., Sr.) – Often overshadowed by Fuller, Brown could be a late Day 3 treasure for some NFL team.

S Elijah Shumate (6-0, 224 lb., Sr.) – Shumate has size and speed to star, yet he’s only consistent in his inconsistency.

DE/OLB Romeo Okwara (6-4, 270 lb., Sr.) – He’s rarely talked about and a relative unknown, but he’s an intriguing prospect given his size, length and strength.


WR/Nickel CB Torii Hunter Jr. (6-0, 195 lb., Jr.) – ND’s two way player starred over the last half of the year and could play either position going forward.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

RB Josh Adams (6-2, 212 lb., Fr.) – Oh boy, if he’s healthy in three years … look out.


Ohio State

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

DE Joey Bosa (6-6, 275 lb., Jr.) – Power. Bosa’s game is all about that speed to power conversion. It’s downright scary to watch.

RB Ezekiel Elliott (6-0, 225 lb., Jr.) – With little question, he’s the best RB in this year’s 2016 class.

CB Eli Apple (6-1, 200 lb., Jr.) – I could see teams falling in love with his size/speed and overall game.

LT Taylor Decker (6-8, 315 lb., Sr.) – Some scouts/analysts love him. I’ll go so far as to say I’m in “like” with him as he should only play RT in the future.

S Vonn Bell (5-11, 205 lb., Jr.) – Bell is an instinctive, ball magnet that has improved each year.

WR Michael Thomas (6-3, 210 lb., Jr.) – Quite honestly, his best football is ahead of him. I love his route-running and the gluesticks he’s got for hands.

DT Adolphus Washington (6-4 290 lb., Sr.) – More than likely he won’t play (suspended).

WR/RB/ATH Braxton Miller (6-2, 215 lb., Sr.) – Some innovative and intelligent team will draft him and figure it out when he gets there.

G Pat Elflein (6-3, 300 lb., Jr.) – Not sure he’ll officially declare but he might be best G in the draft class.

OLB Darron Lee (6-2. 235 lb., Jr.) – He should stay another year as he must be more consistent in all facets of linebacker play.

QB Cardale Jones (6-5, 250 lb., Jr.) – Well, now that we know he’s going pro, let the debate commence!

TE Nick Vannett (6-6, 260 lb., Sr.) – The Buckeye senior tight end is the closest thing this draft has to a true Y-tight end.


ILB Raekwon McMillan (6-2, 240 lb., Soph.) – I love watching the true sophomore who reminds me of C.J. Mosley of the Ravens.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

QB J.T. Barrett (6-2, 225 lb., Soph.) – I might be alone in this thinking, but I believe he has true NFL passing skills and will flourish when he arrives in the NFL.


Fiesta Bowl Matchup to Watch

Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer v. Ohio State second/third level players – Given Kizer’s dual-threat abilities and strong arm, he’s a difficult matchup for LBs and the secondary. Ohio State has faced its share of dual-threat QBs, but perhaps not one with the cannon and the accuracy of Kizer.

Rose Bowl – Stanford v. Iowa


2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

G Joshua Garnett (6-5, 321 lb., Sr.) – Just watch him pull and power through defenders and you’ll understand why NFL scouts love him at guard.

LT Kyle Murphy (6-7, 301 lb., Sr.) – He has size and length  but it doesn’t translate, or hasn’t translated, to this point.

DE Brennan Scarlett (6-4, 264 lb., Sr.) – After transferring in for one year at Stanford, he flashed a wide array of size/skills.

ILB Blake Martinez (6-2, 245 lb., Sr.) – He’s an intelligent, tough two-down linebacker at the next level with the potential to grow into a three-down role in the future.

OLB Kevin Anderson (6-4, 244 lb., Sr.) – He’s a combination sub-package/special teams candidate.

QB Kevin Hogan (6-4, 218 lb., Sr.) – He’ll stick in the NFL for a decade, never truly star and may never start.

WR Devon Cajuste (6-4, 227 lb., Sr.) – I struggle with how exactly to assess Cajuste as he’s not really a WR nor a true tight end. But, he catches nearly everything thrown his way.

TE Austin Hooper (6-4, 248 lb., Jr.) – He asked NFL advisory board for a grade assessment and, given the TE class, he may get a positive response.


WR Michael Rector (6-1, 189 lb., Sr.) – He’ll threaten down the field against Iowa for certain.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

RB Christian McCaffrey (6-0, 201 lb., Soph.) – His all-around game is perfectly suited for the next level but we’ll all enjoy watching him in college another year at a minimum.



2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

CB Desmond King (5-11, 200 lb., Jr.) – Devin McCourty is all I think about watching King.

WR Tevaun Smith (6-2, 205 lb., Sr.) – Not sure he’ll get a ton of attention but I like his future.

G/C Austin Blythe (6-3, 290 lb., Sr.) – He’s a well-coached technician but his lack of 300+ lb will hurt his stock.

TE Jake Duzey (6-4, 248 lb., Sr.) – He’s injured and expected to not play in the game

TE Henry Krieger Coble (6-4, 250 lb., Sr.) – The H-back/TE hybird is 2nd on team with 32 receptions in 2015.

OLB Cole Fisher (6-2, 236 lb., Sr.) – He finished 2nd on the team in tackles in 2015 with 112 stops.

DE Nate Meier (6-2, 252 lb., Sr.) – At his size, he’s going to be an OLB at next level but he has some pass rushing pop off the edge.


ILB Josey Jewell (6-2, 230 lb., Soph.) – As a second-year player, he led the team with 116 tackles.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

G Sean Welsh (6-3, 288 lb., Soph.) – If he can put weight on, he’s a whale of a young player that can play either guard or tackle at the next level.


Rose Bowl Matchup to Watch

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey v. Iowa linebackers and safeties – It’ll take a black and gold army to keep McCaffrey from piling up 350 yards of total offense. Iowa tackles extremely well in space and it must do the same vs. McCaffrey in Pasadena or 350 yards is a true possibility.

Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma State v. Ole Miss

Oklahoma State

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

DE/OLB Emmanuel Ogbah (6-4, 275 lb., Jr.) – He just may be the best edge rusher in this draft class.

CB Kevin Peterson (5-11, 190 lb., Sr.) – Confidence drives him, but his length and closing speed should get NFL team’s attention.

DE Jimmy Bean (6-4, 250 lb., Sr.) – Bean tore his ACL in early November and won’t play in the bowl.


WR James Washington (6-0. 200 lb., Soph.) – He might have the best ball skills of any receiver in this game, not named Laquon Treadwell.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

S Jordan Sterns (6-1, 205 lb., Jr.) – The junior led the Cowboys with 103 tackles, his second straight 100-plus tackle season.


Ole Miss

2016 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

LT Laremy Tunsil (6-5, 305 lb., Jr.) – The best left tackle in college football is ready for the NFL today.

WR Laquon Treadwell (6-2, 210 lb., Jr.) – He won’t fly past defensive backs, but there are few receivers with a similar catch radius.

TE/H-back Evan Engram (6-3, 227 lb., Jr.) – He can look at Carolina Panther Devin Funchess for how he’ll be used at the next level.

OLB Marquis Haynes (6-3, 220 lb., Soph.) – The redshirt sophomore wins with speed and might be one of the three fastest defenders on this squad.

MLB/OLB C.J. Johnson (6-2, 225 lb., Sr.) – He’s played OLB and ILB throughout his career and concurrently during the 2015 season.

S Trae Elston (5-11, 195 lb., Sr.) – The Rebels leader in the secondary is a fearless hitter and improved tackler in 2015.

DE Channing Ward (6-4, 279 lb., Sr.) – He’ll be a 4-3 RDE but he won’t generate a ton of pass rush from the edge in the future.

S/CB/Nickel Mike Hilton (5-9, 184 lb., Sr.) – Wearing No. 38 at Ole Miss is an honor and Hilton does it justice.


The Ole Miss running backs – None of them are feature backs, but when used in combination, the pieces seem to fit together to provide value from that position.

Young prospect with an NFL Future

QB Chad Kelly (6-2, 215 lb., Jr.) – There are so many questions with Kelly’s past (and some on the field too) that another clean year off the field and another one on the field could win over some NFL scouts in 2017.


Sugar Bowl Matchup to Watch

Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil v. Oklahoma State DE Emmanuel Ogbah – There are no words to accurately depict how delicious this matchup will be on Friday. Bart Scott may have said it best “CAN’T WAIT … CAN’T WAIT!!”

John Harris contributes to the Washington Post’s NFL draft coverage. He is the sideline reporter and football analyst for the Houston Texans and owner of

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