Bowl games provide scouts with one final opportunity to gauge prospects before the "draft season" goes into effect. Though talent evaluators are mindful of the fact that these bowl games are just one game over the course of dozens for most prospects, the lay-off for players between the regular season and the bowl game can indicate which players are dedicated to their conditioning and earning their collegiate team one more win and those who have lost focus and are already looking ahead to the NFL.
There may not be a senior in the country with more riding on his bowl game performance than Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, who takes on the Southern Cal Trojans in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Dane Brugler and I each currently project Carr as a top eight pick in the draft. He certainly has the production (4,866 yards and a 48-7 TD to INT ratio in 2013) to warrant this lofty position and possesses as strong and accurate of an arm as any quarterback in the country. His Bulldogs haven't faced a defensive line as gifted as USC's, however, so it will be interesting to see how Carr responds should he get battered and bruised a bit as the Trojans own the line of scrimmage. A strong performance in Vegas could spark a steady rise up draft boards in Mobile, Alabama where I watched his older brother, David, emerge as the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.
Given the questions about each of the underclassmen at the quarterback position, it isn't difficult to imagine a scenario in which Carr emerges as the No. 1 quarterback for some teams if he is successful against the Trojans and at the Senior Bowl.
While Carr is certainly the headliner of the group, four other highly regarded prospects to keep an eye on in the early slate of bowl games include hard-hitting safety Deone Bucannon and the Washington State Cougars facing off against Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday. The Rams feature an underrated prospect of their own in center Weston Richburg, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 prospect at the position.
Two of the most exciting prospects in the country headline other early bowls. Buffalo's outstanding outside linebacker Khalil Mack will have plenty of opportunities to add his 75 career tackles for loss against a talented San Diego State offense in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday night. Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, the reigning Biletnikof Award winner as the nation's top wide receiver, could be playing in his final game for the Beavers when they face Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.