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Monday, June 25, 2018

15 players to watch during bowl season

Brandon Peters

The entire slate of bowl games has been unveiled, and it includes a lot of interesting matchups. Even beyond the College Football Playoff, there are a lot of elite players across the board. Some of them will be playing their final games at their school, while others will hope a strong performance could lay the groundwork for a big 2018 season.

Here are 15 players to watch across the college football bowl game slate in 2017-2018.

Brandon Peters, QB, Michigan

It’s easy to forget just how mediocre Michigan was before Jim Harbaugh took over. He’s made the program nationally relevant again, but some of the fans remain restless as the team has yet to break through and reach the Big Ten Championship during his tenure. That has largely been because Harbaugh has never quite found his program-leading quarterback. Could it be Peters? An injury kept him out of the Ohio State game, but he should be healthy in time to take on South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. A strong performance from the sophomore could set the stage for a breakthrough in 2018.

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Will Darnold go pro? That’s a big question. Some reports have said he may return to school, but with his draft stock high, he could decide to leave. We don’t know, but everything he does affects his draft stock. If he chooses to go pro, he’ll want to go out with a signature win. If he can put up big numbers against an Ohio State team that just barely got shut out of the playoff, it would look great for NFL scouts. That alone should make the Cotton Bowl one to watch.

Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s running game sagged along with the team’s fortunes late in the season. Adams, the team’s junior running back, was rolling along nicely until Miami stopped him in his tracks with 40 yards on 16 carries in a loss. Things were no better against Stanford, when he was held to 49 yards on 20 carries. Adams eclipsed the hundred yard mark seven times this season, but only once in the final four weeks of the season. Adams will want to turn that around and finish the season on a high note in the Citrus Bowl against LSU.

Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

One of the nation’s leading pass-rushers, Chubb is probably NFL-bound after the Sun Bowl against Arizona State. If he does go, he may well wind up being a top-ten selection in the draft. Chubb had ten sacks for the second consecutive season to go with a remarkable 23 tackles for loss. If this is the end of his NC State career, he’ll want to make a statement in the bowl game. He’s one of the most dominant defensive players in college football.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick has a real chance to make a big impact in the College Football playoff — both in terms of his draft stock and helping his Crimson Tide win another championship. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has not always been a sure thing as a downfield thrower, and Fitzpatrick will be ready and lurking to try to take advantage of any mistakes. With the possibility of a Baker Mayfield matchup looming in a potential championship game, Fitzpatrick could wind up being Oklahoma’s most important player.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Jackson is headed back to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but Baker Mayfield is a heavy favorite. Jackson’s Louisville team was also much less impressive this season, thanks in large part to a sub-par defense. He’s probably headed to the NFL Draft, and his prospects are murky; some people still believe he’s a top-15 pick, while others aren’t even convinced he’ll go in the first round. He faces Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and unlike some of his contemporaries, he still has questions to answer.

Arden Key, DE, LSU

Nobody doubts Key’s talent. The LSU edge rusher can be a game-changer and has the talent to be a top pick in the NFL Draft. His 2017 season was impacted by injury, though. He recently had finger surgery, but he’s likely to play in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame. That should give him one last chance to put on a show after a disappointing season — his 11 sacks in 2016 fell to just four in 2017. A big game against the Fighting Irish could ease the fears of some NFL scouts.

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