On this winter holiday for many, I thought I've provide my readers with my own gift, of sorts.
The following are the five individual matchups I'm most looking forward to scouting over the upcoming bowl games.
West Virginia FS Robert Sands vs. NC State QB Russell Wilson: The 6-4, 221 pound Sands is considering leaving WVU after this, his junior season. Sands is allowed to freelance a bit in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense, but is a natural playmaker who can bring the thunder as a hitter. His instincts and coverage skills will be tested against Wilson. A strong game by Sands could push him into the 2011 draft, where he'd rate among the best free safeties in a weak class needing help from the juniors if there are to be many candidates worthy of a top 75 grade. This game is scheduled for 6:30 pm EST on Tuesday, December 28th.
Washington WR Jermaine Kearse vs. Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara: Many will point to Husky quarterback Jake Locker as the player to watch in this contest and for good reason. His 4 of 20 performance in the team's first matchup in October is considered by some to be the game that sent his stock sliding this year. (Loyal readers know that is not necessarily the case.) The reality is, without sudden and massive improvement by Washington's offensive line, Nebraska's defense should again be too much to provide Locker a chance in this game. If the 6-2, 205 pound Kearse, however, is able to shake free early for some big plays against Amukamara, Locker and the Huskies have a chance. Locker relies on the junior as his favorite target. When Kearse has been shut down, so too (generally) has Locker -- making this one on one battle a key in the most anticipated rematch of the bowl season. This game is scheduled for 10 pm EST on Thursday, December 30th.
Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Miami CB Brandon Harris: Both the 6-3, 228 pound Floyd and the 5-11, 195 pound Harris are expected to leave for the NFL following this game. Harris has the agility, speed and physicality to eliminate most receivers, but Floyd's significant size advantage makes this an intriguing test for the Canes' star. Though teams are often hesitant to move around their corners to match up all game long against wide receivers, eliminating the big play Floyd from Notre Dame's arsenal might be the easiest way of crippling Brian Kelly's offense. This game is scheduled for 2 pm EST on Friday, December 31st.
TCU OT Marcus Cannon vs. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Last year it was the one on one matchup between Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan and Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga that in my mind was the elite battle of the bowl season. This year it is Cannon and Watt. Watt is moved all over the Badgers' defensive line and it is this versatility that has been maddening for opponents to protect against and left NFL scouts salivating at his versatility in the pros. Watt, however, will have his hands full when playing against the Horned Frogs' left tackle, a 6-5, 350 pound behemoth with shockingly quick feet. Bulaga shut down Morgan last year, cementing his place in the first round. I have Cannon firmly in the second round, at this point, but if he's able to slow down Watt, arguably the most dominant defensive lineman in the country, he'll skyrocket up draft boards. This game is scheduled for 5 pm EST on Saturday, January 1st.
Auburn QB Cam Newton vs. Oregon ILB Casey Matthews: Opponents have tried to keep a "spy" in to protect against Cam Newton's running all game long. The strategy has largely failed despite the fact that defenses have often resorted to their most athletic linebackers or physical safeties to do the job. Matthews isn't a spectacular athlete or terribly physical, but he might be the most instinctive linebacker in the country and among the surer tacklers. This one on one battle could dictate how well Newton is able to move the Auburn offense with his legs -- which could wind up as the key to the BCS Championship. This game is scheduled for 8:30 pm EST on Monday, January 10th.
On behalf of the entire NFLDraftScout.com crew of analysts Chad Reuter and Chris Steuber, editors Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds, website tech expert Brian Hitterman and publisher Frank Cooney I wish you and your loved ones a very safe, happy and (hopefully football-filled) holiday season.
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