Part of any bowl guide has to give you a number of players you won’t regret focusing on, even at the expense of other players; other bowls (when there’s overlap between games); or most of all, other social engagements during the holiday season.
Here’s one top-10 list from TSS editors Bart Doan and Matt Zemek, plus staff contributor Ryan Palencer. We’ll start with Bart, move on to Matt, and roll on over to Ryan for the big finish.
Selections by TSS associate editor Bart Doan
Follow the author on Twitter @TheCoachBart
Bowl games are like the U.S. Presidency. They get a lot of credit for things that in reality, they have little to do with. They also get a lot of blame for things they have little to do with. Bowl games aren’t the purported “even playing field battle to show conference supremacy” as they’re often tabbed, nor are they indicative of how a team’s season is. Losing handsomely in a bowl game doesn’t eliminate the fact that you won nine games. Winning doesn’t erase that you won only seven.
What they can be are springboards to the next season, because you always like leaving a restaurant with a good taste in your mouth. There’s a reason they give you those little Andes Mints after meals. Everyone likes Andes Mints. With that in mind, here are a few players of my choosing that are worth watching, because they’ll be part of the picture next year. A bowl win could be a big springboard to a confident offseason and a breakout 2015:
1) Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Anu was one of the more under-exposed stories of the college football season, because a freshman quarterback leading a team to a top 10 ranking — and the playoff picture on the final weekend of the season — would be a much more massive deal at a school with more media coverage than Arizona. Solomon was undressed — as was all of Arizona — by Oregon, but he’s coming back, and Rich Rodriguez finally has a quarterback that he can mold for four years with experience as a freshman. Hope springs Anu in Tuscon. That was terrible. Sorry.
2) Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan: The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is admittedly the Indie Rock genre for college football fans. Those who claim to have taste are convinced it’s cannot-miss stuff, but they would still oddly prefer it be reserved still only for the diehards who “have always been diehards.” There are a host of bowls like this, but Franklin is worth the watch because he was a catalyst for probably the most remarkable turnaround in college football this year. (The other one is on the other side of the field: Air Force.)
Franklin finished 10th in the nation in rushing yards and tied for third with 24 rushing touchdowns for a Broncos outfit that won eight games and earned a bowl bid one year after going 1-11, with only an overtime win over UMass standing in the way of a winless 2013 campaign. Franklin’s going to end up as one of the next big time running backs few people hear about in college football, so hey, maybe you can watch and tell your friends about him so that will change.
Selections by TSS editor Matt Zemek
Follow us on Twitter at @TheStudentSect
3) Jake Fisher of Oregon could be the most important lineman in the Rose Bowl. Fisher was injured in Oregon’s sole loss of the regular season against Arizona. When he returned to the lineup, the Ducks’ worries subsided. Marcus Mariota carried the Ducks in September when his offensive line was banged up. A survival act at Washington State represented one of the foremost examples in 2014 of one player lifting his team to victory. For the long haul, though, Mariota needed his best blocker in front of him, and Fisher healed just in time to be there for his quarterback and his team. Fisher and his teammates against a nasty — and much more healthy — Florida State defensive line will quite possibly be the central matchup of the Granddaddy, which doubles as a playoff semifinal this season.
4) Tyler Lockett of Kansas State (shown flying in the above photo) is an electrifying wide receiver and kick returner. You probably know this, of course. The main reason to spotlight him as a featured bowl player is that you can’t forget about the Alamo Bowl on Friday, Jan. 2, once the playoff semifinals are done. Kansas State-UCLA is a top-15 matchup, easily the best bowl outside the New Year’s Six rotation that will unfold on two days: Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. If you’re not tuning in to see Lockett go up against Brett Hundley and the Bruins, you’re missing out… so don’t miss out. This has been an emergency message from the “great but underappreciated bowl alert broadcasting system.”
Selections by TSS contributor @RyanPalencer:
5) Connor Cook of Michigan State could make quite a national impression with a strong performance against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. A dazzling display in the Dallas Cowboys’ home stadium will also increase the junior’s possible draft stock (just in case he has a change of heart, mind you…) in a game that will have all eyes on it.
Cook has thrown 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions in each of the past two seasons. That’s right — this is not an aggregate total. He really does have a 22-6 TD-INT split in both 2013 and 2014. (Naturally, it will be hard for those numbers to not budge against Baylor. If Cook is still sitting on 22 touchdown passes after 60 minutes, chances are Baylor will have won comfortably.)
6) Turnover-prone Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has given away a possession 21 times. The Rebels’ Peach Bowl foe, TCU, has forced 18 turnovers, which is good for second in the country.
7) Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State gears up for Washington in the Cactus Bowl in just his third collegiate start after an exciting win in Bedlam. A strong performance will get the hype machine going for Rudolph next season. In his first two starts, against ranked opponents Baylor and Oklahoma, Rudolph has thrown for 554 yards and four touchdowns.
8) Speaking of players in their first few starts, there is Cardale Jones, who gets thrown straight to the wolves… or at least Alabama. While Jones has only one start under his belt, he threw for 257 yards and had only five incompletions against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. This success, mixed with Alabama’s recent pass defense struggles, makes Jones an interesting matchup.
9) Melvin Gordon is coming off what is easily his toughest outing of the season against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, the Outback Bowl provides a slightly easier matchup as Auburn ranks 48th nationally in stopping the run, 13 spots behind Ohio State. Outside of the Buckeyes, Western Illinois is the only other team to hold Gordon under 120 yards in a game this season.
10) After eight straight strong performances, Brandon Allen of Arkansas hit the wall in his last game against Missouri. A rebound in the Texas Bowl may not be an easy task for Allen either, as Texas is 12th in the nation, allowing just 186.3 passing yards per game. While Arkansas struggled to get wins in the SEC West most of the season, the Hogs were strong down the stretch. A bowl win would certainly continue the program’s momentum heading into the offseason.