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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Each bowl game’s most important player

Baker Mayfield

Late December and early January are heaven for college football fans. We’re set to watch 38 bowl games, plus the College Football Playoff, all in the span of three weeks. Many of these games are exciting matchups between quality teams, and one key player could make the difference in all of them.

Here’s a look at the most important player to watch in each of this season’s slate of bowl games.

Celebration Bowl — Lamar Raynard, QB, North Carolina A&T

Raynard is without a doubt one of the best players in the country you’ve probably never heard of. The junior quarterback led the Aggies to an undefeated season that they’ll be looking to cap off with a win over Grambling State. Raynard is the catalyst, having thrown for 2,707 yards and 26 touchdowns in 11 games thus far this season. NC A&T just produced a dynamic NFL player in Tarik Cohen. Perhaps Raynard could follow in his footsteps.

New Orleans Bowl — Brandon Silvers, QB, Troy

A four-year starter at quarterback, Silvers will be playing the final game of his career at the Superdome. He’s statistically one of the nation’s most accomplished quarterbacks, having thrown for 67 touchdowns and over 10,000 yards in his career. He’ll surpass 3,000 yards passing in this game for the second consecutive season, and he’ll want his sendoff to be a fitting one as he closes out his career.

Cure Bowl — Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky

White probably hopes he can wiggle his way into a late-round draft position, or at least find a spot on a practice squad somewhere. The senior quarterback, who transferred to the Hilltoppers from South Florida two seasons ago, will get to close out his college career in his home state of Florida. He’s thrown 61 touchdowns over the past two seasons, including 24 in 2017. He’s 174 yards away from a second consecutive 4,000-yard campaign.

Las Vegas Bowl — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

All apologies to Royce Freeman, whose status for the game was in question as of mid-week, it’s Justin Herbert who’s most important to Oregon’s offense. The Ducks are 6-1 with Herbert playing, compared to 1-4 when he was injured and missed games. The sophomore is a dual-threat QB who’s rushed for five scores and passed for 13 this season. The Ducks are simply a much different team with him in the lineup. He’ll be playing, which is unfortunate news for Boise State.

New Mexico Bowl — Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

Gallup flies under the radar in some circles due to his team’s stature, but he got his share of national recognition — he’s an All-American and a Biletnikoff finalist. The accolades are deserved. The senior receiver had 94 catches for 1,345 yards, following up a 2016 season in which he caught 14 touchdowns. This is his last game for Colorado State, but scouts are taking notice, and Gallup has an NFL future ahead of him.

Camellia Bowl — Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders went 6-6, but when Stockstill was healthy, they were 4-2, showing the big difference he makes when he’s on the field. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, a shoulder injury cost him a good portion of the season, but he’ll be ready for this game. He only played in six contests, but still threw for 14 touchdowns and 1,440 yards. His presence will give the Blue Raiders a good chance of winning this one.

Boca Raton Bowl — Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic’s first ever All-American, Singletary has been at the heart of Lane Kiffin’s offense. His 30 total touchdowns — 29 of them rushing — are the nation’s best. He has a pair of 200-yard games on his resume this year, and with 1,794 rushing yards total, another one could easily push him over the 2,000 yard threshold. The scariest part for Conference USA foes is probably the fact that he’s putting up these gaudy numbers despite only being a sophomore.

Frisco Bowl — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Sutton has a legitimate chance to be the first receiver off the board in next April’s NFL Draft, and his size and skill have led to Julio Jones comparisons. The junior has big play ability, having caught 12 touchdowns in another thousand-yard receiving season. A likely first-round draft pick, this is probably the end of his SMU career. He’ll be worth watching as the key cog in one of the country’s more exciting offenses.

Gasparilla Bowl — Frank Nutile, QB, Temple

Nutile didn’t even take over the quarterback job until October, but he’s been great ever since he did. Though his 3-2 record as a starter is modest, the two losses came to good teams in Army and UCF, and only the latter game was a bad one. He threw for 1,346 yards and 11 touchdowns. His seven interceptions were underwhelming, but four of them came against an unbeaten UCF team. He makes Temple’s offense go, and has for weeks now.

Bahamas Bowl — Spencer Brown, RB, UAB

One of the nation’s standout freshmen, Brown has rushed for 1,292 yards and ten touchdowns for UAB this season. That earned him Conference Freshman of the Year honors. While he definitely had issues — Florida, for instance, locked him down — he owned the rest of the conference. His standout performance was a 209-yard performance against Southern Mississippi, and he added a three-touchdown game against Rice a week later.

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