Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, SMU vs. Fresno State, 8:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl may seem like a mundane contest for many college football fans. But for fans of the NFL Draft, it features a few solid pro prospects.
When Fresno State has the ball:
There was plenty of buzz surrounding SMU defensive end Margus Hunt entering the season. In May, Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports dubbed him the freakiest athlete in college football, leading to an avalanche of draftniks erroneously singing Hunt's praises. The athletic 6-foot-8 Hunt quickly reached mythical status, with some even saying he'd be a top 10 pick. Unfortunately, all that was in June, or some other month in which there is no football being played.
On the field, Hunt began the season slowly with tepid showings against Baylor and Texas A&M. His play picked up some in the middle of the season, namely a two-sack game against Houston, but Hunt is still more touted for his special teams play. The nation's all-time leader in blocked field goals, Hunt parlayed his potential into a Senior Bowl invitation. Maybe some NFL team sees a skinnier version of Red Bryant in Hunt. Watch for the buzz about Hunt take off during the shorts and T-shirt portion of the draft season.
For as much meaningless buzz as there's been for Hunt, there's been none for Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse. An undersized 5-foot-7, Rouse more than 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns rushing for his career. He's developed as a pass catcher as well, hauling 58 passes this season. Rouse has an invitation to the NFLPA game, but he could get some looks for the Shrine Game if he does well in the Hawaii Bowl and another player has to drop out.
It should be noted that Fresno State has a draftable quarterback in Derek Carr – a signal caller who is solid across the board. But he's already said that he'll be back for his senior season.
When SMU has the ball:
SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is closing the season on a solid run, not throwing an interception in the team's last five games. Gilbert, a Texas transfer, hasn't had the college career many expected. But he still has size at 6-foot-4 and some developmental upside. (Note: Initially I initially wrote about Gilbert thinking this was his senior season. He redshirted in 2011 and is only a junior. Thanks to Our Daily Bears for pointing it out on Twitter.)
Because Gilbert's play has been erratic, SMU wide receiver Darius Johnson hasn't been able to shine. When Johnson gets a chance to make plays, he looks a lot like Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He doesn't have great size, but he can get open underneath and has good quickness.
SMU's other offensive player with a chance of being drafted is running back Zach Line. Based on his size, 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Line often gets lazily placed in fullback rankings. Line offers a little more playmaking ability and if we want to continue the comparison talk, he's a bit like Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. (Remember, comparisons are purely best case scenario optimism) Line comes into the game with 1,207 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns
Fresno State's defense features senior safety Phillip Thomas, the nation's leader in interceptions. Thomas, who has eight picks, is a do it all safety who has earned a Senior Bowl invitation. Against players like Johnson and Line, Thomas can show off his versatility. Do it well and perform as expected in Mobile and Thomas could be a fringe first rounder.
Matchup of the game: Phillip Thomas vs. Darius Johnson
Johnson gets a lot of his work done from the slot, and Thomas may be asked to work on him in man situations at times. Thomas could really help his draft stock if he can keep up with Johnson and not get beaten off the line of scrimmage. Thomas could also be asked to shadow Johnson in some zone looks. Both have a big opportunity in this game.
If you read through all that, take the extra 49 seconds and watch trash being thrown at grown men who kind of talk about this game: