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Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: The most underrated players you need to watch in bowl season

Northwestern's Venric Mark is looking to break the school's all-purpose record. (US Presswire)

Since we know there's only a few more weeks of college football left, the view from here is there is no such thing as a "bad" bowl game. One of the big reasons for that is these smaller bowl games often offer a final chance to put the spotlight on some very gifted players. This week's Top 10: the most underrated stars you need to watch in the bowls. (One caveat: determining who merits being called "underrated" and who doesn't gets a little dicey. I immediately threw out guys who play for glamour programs. I also left off players who have gotten a lot of publicity in recent weeks on the awards circuit. So no Jordan Lynch, Terrance Williams or ASU DT Will Sutton, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.)

1. Dri Archer, Kent State, RB/KR: The Golden Flashes are in their first bowl game in 40 years, and the electrifying 5-8, 175-pound blazer is a big reason why. Archer is the only player in the country to amass 1,300 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He's also averaging over nine yards per carry. The next-best among the nation's 100 top rushers is Baylor's Lache Seastrunk at 7.6. Good luck, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves opened the season against Oregon, the fastest team in the country, in a game that probably still gives ASU DC John Thompson nightmares. Thompson and Company will now end the 2012 season against a guy who looks like he would fit right in with those Ducks.

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2. Kyle Van Noy, BYU, LB: Between Ziggy Ansah and Van Noy, the Cougars have more than their share of big-play defenders. The 6-3, 235-pound Van Noy notched 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles for the Cougars, and he should have plenty of chance to add to those stats since he's facing a San Diego State team in the Poinsettia Bowl that is No. 98 in the nation in sacks allowed.

3. Venric Mark, Northwestern, RB/KR: Another smaller dynamo, Mark is the Texas-bred version of Archer. Mark is averaging more than 20 yards per punt return in 2012. No other punt returner is within four yards of that, as Teddy Greenstein notes. Mark also has run for over 1,300 yards in the Big Ten. He can break NU's single-season record for all-purpose yards if he piles up 148 more yards against Mississippi State on New Year's Day in the Taxslayer.com Bowl.

4. Robbie Rouse, Fresno State, RB: The Bulldogs have had some terrific backs over the years, but Rouse is their all-time leading rusher, with over 4,600 yards. The rugged 5-7, 190-pounder has gone over 100 yards nine times this fall. He's also a great receiver out of the backfield, with 58 receptions this season.

5. David Fales, San Jose State, QB: Colin Kaepernick's one-time back-up at Nevada has found a home at SJSU. The 6-3, 220-pound JC transfer had a stellar debut season for the Spartans, ranking No. 3 in the nation in passing efficiency by completing 72 percent of his passes to go with a 31-9 TD-INT ratio. Fales will have a stiff test in the Military Bowl from a Bowling Green D that is No. 7 in the nation in total defense.

6. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt, RB: The SEC is overstuffed with terrific running backs, but Stacy, a back who has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, is probably the most unheralded of all of them. Also, don't sleep on him as a receiver: Stacy is averaging over 21 yards a catch on nine receptions this season. His next opponent is an NC State team ranked No. 59 in rushing defense.

7. Quincy McDuffie, UCF, WR/KR: One of the fastest men in college football, McDuffie has run six kickoffs back for TDs. Actually, he ran a seventh back on the opening play in UCF's bowl game against Georgia two years ago. A UCF flag brought it back, but coaches say seeing McDuffie race past the Dawgs proved quite a catalyst for the Knights, who went on to knock off the big boys from the SEC. This season McDuffie is averaging more than 34 yards per kick return and has taken three of the 17 kickoffs he's fielded back for touchdowns.

8. Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, LB: The lesser-known older brother of the nation's top recruit, the smaller Nkemdiche had a fantastic redshirt freshman season for the surprising Rebels, leading the team with 78 tackles, 12 for losses, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. The 5-10, 205-pounder -- deemed "a fireball of energy" in his Ole Miss bio -- will be a handful for Pitt in the BBVA Bowl.

9. Kolton Browning, Louisiana-Monroe, QB: One of the stars of the first month of the season, Browning is a guy you shouldn't forget this winter. ULM, which knocked off Arkansas to open the season (and almost beat Auburn and Baylor in the next two weeks), faces Ohio in the Independence Bowl. Browning completing 65 percent of his passes to go with 27 TDs and seven INTs. He was also the team's leading rusher with 441 yards and seven more TDs.

10. Justin Hardy, ECU, WR: A former standout high school QB, Hardy has put up impressive numbers in his two seasons catching passes for the Pirates. This fall, he's made 83 receptions for 1,046 yards and 10 TDs and is coming off a 16-catch, 171-yard performance in the regular-season-finale win over Marshall.

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