College football bowl season kicked off Friday, Dec. 17 and carries through early January with the College Football Playoffs. Several players will opt out of respective bowl opportunities, but many more will close out their collegiate careers before jettisoning to the NFL. CBSSports.com is tracking all of the prospects to watch throughout bowl season:
Wednesday, Dec. 29
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Maryland vs. Virginia Tech (2:15 p.m. ET on ESPN)
The Terrapins should have one of the best receiver rooms in the country next season with Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett returning, plus the addition of Florida transfer Jacob Copeland. Led by Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland could have a formidable offense next season. Offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan was a highly regarded recruit with immense athletic upside. Coming into the year, he had some oversetting issues to correct. Safety Nick Cross has stuffed the stat sheet over the course of his career. He has accumulated six interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Virginia Tech’s Amare Barno is a long pass rusher with limited production. Scouts have been intrigued with his capabilities, and he has the opportunity to showcase them in Mobile in January. Interior offensive lineman Lecitus Smith and wide receiver Tre Turner are also headed to the Senior Bowl. Turner is a slender-framed wide receiver. Virginia Tech’s pass catchers did a really good job of committing as blockers. The Hokies lost wide receiver Tayvion Robinson in the transfer portal. He is a competitive prospect who attacks the ball in the air. Robinson could really break out at Kentucky in a similar role that Wan’Dale Robinson thrived in this season.
Clemson vs. Iowa State (5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN)
The Clemson cornerback tandem of Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth Jr. made life difficult for opposing offenses. Booth is regarded as one of the best at his position, while Goodrich has accepted an invitation to compete at the Senior Bowl.
Wide receivers Ajou Ajou and Frank Ladson have entered the transfer portal since the regular season concluded. Justyn Ross has made the announcement that he is off to the NFL after two seasons hampered by injury. Joe Ngata should be the team’s leading receiver next season assuming he returns. Ngata is only scratching the surface of what he could become.
Iowa State running back Breece Hall is regarded as one of the best at his position, though he’ll miss this game after declaring for the NFL draft. The tight end class lacks a bonafide first-round option, but it is a really deep group that features Charlie Kolar of the Cyclones. He finished this season with 58 receptions for 723 yards and five touchdowns. Kicker Andrew Mevis and linebacker Mike Rose are headed to the Senior Bowl.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Oregon vs. Oklahoma (9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Oregon will be without wide receiver Devon Williams, edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and cornerback Mykael Wright – all of whom have opted out of the game and declared for the NFL Draft. Running back CJ Verdell and wide receivers Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd are out due to injury. Wide receiver Mycah Pittman and cornerback DJ James are among those to transfer since Mario Cristobal departed for Coral Gables. The roster is a shell of itself. Safety Verone McKinley III is the best prospect playing for the Ducks. He has shown a lot of versatility in coverage and making plays downhill.
The Sooners will be well-represented in Mobile with defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey, fullback Jeremiah Hall, linebacker Brian Asamoah II and interior offensive lineman Marquis Hayes. Asamoah is a fluid athlete that gets up to speed quickly. Defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas has shown the versatility to play on the edge or kick inside depending upon the situation. He is a heavy-handed prospect that is able to get off blocks. Quarterback Spencer Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner have declared they are transferring to South Carolina.
Thursday, Dec. 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
North Carolina vs. South Carolina (11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN)
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell shows strong leadership skills. He is a gritty passer with average mobility. Howell’s accuracy was very spotty this season and many are wondering if he needs a strong supporting cast to be successful.
Linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. His teammate and Vikings third-round pick Chazz Surratt received all of the notoriety last season but Gemmel has good eyes. His communication skills have been tested and approved.
South Carolina boats edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare, who is also headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Enagbare is a name that often gets tossed around in first round conversation as one of the top pass rushers. Defensive tackle Zacch Pickens and edge rusher Jordan Strachan entered the campaign with significant fanfare but that did not play out as anticipated. Running back ZaQuandre White has already declared for the draft while his running mate, Kevin Harris, also has an NFL future.
TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Tennessee vs. Purdue (3 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is returning for another season to build upon an already stable foundation in Knoxville. Hooker gave that offense a boost upon entering the starting lineup. Wide receiver Cedrick Tillman is returning as well, while Velus Jones Jr. is onto professional pursuits. Jones, a USC transfer, delivered some big plays for the Volunteers, in addition to return capabilities. The league showed a desire for quicker wide receivers that can create yards after the catch in 2021 and Jones fits the criteria. Cornerback Alontae Taylor and offensive guard Cade Mays are potential top 100 picks. Mays is still waffling on his decision. Taylor has already committed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Purdue’s George Karlaftis is a heavy-handed pass rusher that fights through chips and double teams. He fights through blocks to create pressure at an impressive rate. Karlaftis deserves to be mentioned in the same stratosphere as Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. Wide receiver David Bell has great size. He has good body control and shows great range to make catches outside of his frame.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Michigan State had a storybook season in Mel Tucker’s second season. Running back Kenneth Walker III put together a Heisman-worthy season and has forcefully entered his name into the discussion for first running back off the board. Walker showed a lot more agility post-Wake Forest. Fullback Connor Heyward has worn many hats for the Spartans over the years. The younger brother of Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed compiled 84 receptions for 1,533 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk is a smart player that knows how to exploit the opponent. He is not quick twitch but shows a variety of moves to apply pressure.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has done as much as anyone to improve his stock from last year to this season. He will likely not get a first-round grade from me but he will almost certainly be one of the first quarterbacks selected in April. Offensive lineman Carter Warren is returning to the Steel City so that leaves cornerback Damarri Mathis as the program’s top prospect outside of Pickett. Long snapper Cal Adomitis and Mathis are headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Arizona State (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Ferguson has soft hands and blocks with good leverage. Logan Bruss projects an interior player despite playing right tackle this season. Bruss has disciplined eyes and does a good job of flashing hands at varying rates.
Defensive tackle Keeanu Benton is one of the top prospects at Camp Randall but he has elected to return for another season. Linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal are a physical pair that have spots in the NFL.
The left side of Arizona State’s offensive line has been underappreciated this season Offensive tackle Kellen Diesch and offensive guard Dohnovan West pave the way for big play running back Rachaad White. Herm Edwards’ defense is loaded with NFL prospects. The secondary features safety Evan Fields and cornerbacks Jack Jones, Chase Lucas. Jones began his career at USC and is now finishing up his sixth season of college football.
Tuesday, Dec. 28
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl
Houston 17, Auburn 13 (Recap)
Houston defensive lineman Logan Hall is long, similar to his former teammate, Payton Turner, who was taken in the first round. Hall is further along in his development than Turner at the same stage. While watching Hall, edge rusher David Anenih kept flashing. Anenih is not the prototypical edge rusher but his production led to an invitation to the Shrine Bowl. Do-it-all cornerback Marcus Jones has announced that he is sitting this one out. He has extensive experience on special teams and plays bigger than his size.
Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary is an incredibly competitive cornerback. He has versatility playing in zone and man coverage. His athletic traits may not match up with some of the other top prospects in the class but teams know what they are buying and McCreary has the goods to be successful. Defensive lineman Colby Wooden is traditionally a bit of a tweener but he has a three-down role in the modern NFL. Linebacker Zakoby McClain and safety Smoke Monday are a few other Tiger prospects of note.
SERVPro First Responder Bowl
Air Force 31, Louisville 28 (Recap)
Air Force defensive tackle Jordan Jackson has great size as an interior rusher. He managed seven sacks this season. Military obligations often make for tricky professional projections, however.
Coming into the year, Louisville linebacker Monty Montgomery and cornerback Kei’Trel Clark were both on my radar but the season ended prematurely for each of them due to knee injuries. The Cardinals largely imported their secondary with Clark (a Liberty transfer), Georgia State safety transfer Kenderick Duncan and Alcorn State safety Qwynterrio Cole. Duncan and Cole are physical enforcers across the middle with great size.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
UCLA vs. NC State (Cancelled)
UCLA’s offense is loaded with offensive ability. It begins with dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Running back Zach Charbonnet — a Michigan transfer — is patient and displays great balance. Tight end Greg Dulcich can become more physical through his routes but does a nice job of attacking zones. Offensive tackle Sean Rhyan is a controlled blocker that finishes with vigor. He shows great strength and average athletic competency.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bruins have defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia and linebacker Mitchell Agude.
N.C. State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu is a monster in the ground game that has shown steady improvement in pass protection. Although his highest potential would be reached by sliding inside, Ekwonu has the capability of playing on the edge. With a shortage of quality offensive tackles league-wide, teams can ill afford to move quality options elsewhere. Running back Zonovan Knight is a natural runner that fights through contact. He is perfectly competent as a pass catcher.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Mississippi State 7, Texas Tech 34 (Recap)
Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross struggled with his balance last season as he lunged outside of his frame. The sophomore still has some issues with oversetting but shows speed to succeed on the edge and does a good job of adjusting his hands once engaged. Cross has elevated himself into the conversation as one of the first offensive tackles off the board. Cornerback Martin Emerson is a long player but ball production is a concern. He has not recorded an interception since 2019.
Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma piqued my interest pre-season. He has great size and an ability to pick up speed effortlessly. His breaks and route-running can improve but the natural athletic gifts are there. Texas wide receiver transfer Joshua Moore recently announced that he would continue his playing career at Texas Tech so that will be a fun duo to watch next year.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl
West Virginia 6, Minnesota 18 (Recap)
West Virginia defensive lineman Dante Stills returned to Morgantown after a relatively disappointing 2020 campaign. He is neither a defensive end nor defensive tackle traditionally speaking, but teams might find him of interest as they search for interior pass rush help. Running back Leddie Brown has been incredibly productive. Brown looks comfortable catching passes and has a natural gate.
Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz elected to return to school after an impressive season. Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele and edge rushers Boye Mafe, Esezi Otomewo have made the decision to move on to other pursuits. All three are slated to take part in the Senior Bowl. Faalele is a massive human being from Australia. He has been pegged as a Day 2 pick dating back to last season. Mafe has some juice around the corner.
Monday, Dec. 27
Quick Lane Bowl
Western Michigan 52, Nevada 24 (Recap)
Western Michigan quarterback Kaleb Eleby is an inconsistent passer with good mobility. He is able to drive the ball to all levels of the field. Edge rusher Ali Fayad does not have the length that NFL teams covet at the position but he was one of the most productive defenders in college football this season. He registered 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Nevada is loaded on offense and the names have been bandied about since the summer. Quarterback Carson Strong is large in stature but lacks mobility. He will have to be an excellent passer to overcome those limitations. He announced that he will skip the bowl game. Tight end Cole Turner is a former wide receiver that plays outside of his frame and attacks the football. He has a claim as one of the best tight ends in this draft class. Wide receiver Romeo Doubs is a good short to intermediate route-runner with an ability to create after the catch. The Wolfpack have a quality pair of offensive linemen in offensive tackle Aaron Frost and center Tyler Orsini.
Military Bowl presented by Peraton
Boston College vs. East Carolina (Cancelled)
Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers has already announced that he is returning for another season. He had a down campaign after asserting himself as one of the most dynamic skill players after the catch in 2020. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec has also announced that he is returning. The Eagles have leaned on its offensive line over the past few years. Offensive guard Zion Johnson has established himself as one of the best interior prospects in this class. He can do a better job of sinking his hips and absorbing contact.
East Carolina cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian is just a sophomore but he was second among all FBS players with five interceptions. He had seven interceptions over the prior two seasons. Left tackle Justin Chase was in his second season since transferring from N.C. State. He played in the absence of D’Ante Smith, who was drafted in the fourth-round by the Bengals, last season before taking on the role of full-time starter this year.
Saturday, Dec. 25
TaxAct Camellia Bowl
Georgia State 51, Ball State 20 (Recap)
Georgia State sophomore safety Antavious Lane has made big plays for the Panthers this season. He has recorded four interceptions and one forced fumble. All-conference offensive guard Shamarious Gilmore is one of the most experienced prospects in college football.
Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt has good size but average mobility. The Ohio native has been a a three-year plus starter and shows touch in the short to intermediate. Senior wide receivers Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler have been highly productive players in that Ball State offense. Hall has compiled 318 receptions, 3,385 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns in five seasons. In addition, he has presented his versatility through exposure to the run and return games.
Friday, Dec. 24
EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl
Memphis vs. Hawaii (Cancelled)
Wide receiver Calvin Austin III and offensive guard Dylan Parham will represent Memphis at the Senior Bowl. Austin is an undersized but explosive wide receiver who has topped 1,000 receiving yards each of the past two seasons. Over the course of his career at Memphis, he has averaged 16.3 yards per reception. Parham has disciplined eyes trained to stop loopers and jumpers.
Hawaii running back Calvin Turner Jr. began his collegiate career as a triple-option quarterback at Jacksonville before transferring. Last year, Memphis had a running back by the name of Kenny Gainwell who also spent a lot of time at wide receiver. Turner is a little taller but has similar versatility. Turner had the same number of carries as he did receptions (73). He accumulated roughly 1,200 all-purpose yards.
Thursday, Dec. 23
Frisco Football Classic
North Texas 14, Miami (Ohio) 27 (Recap)
North Texas’ Dion Novil is a big interior defender with respectable pass rush production this season. Wide receiver Jyaire Shorter has battled injuries over the past few seasons but is certainly one to watch in the future.
Miami (Ohio) safety Sterling Weatherford and edge rusher Dominique Robinson are headed to the Senior Bowl. Robinson looks light playing as a down edge rusher. He shows good speed and flexibility around the edge but needs to get stronger to hold his own in the run game.
The CBS Sports college football staff offered more analysis from a betting perspective and explained how each team can achieve success.
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
UCF 29, Florida 17 (Recap)
UCF offensive tackle Marcus Tatum is a really athletic lineman with an athletic frame. The Tennessee transfer gets a little off-balance in the run game and can improve marrying his hands and feet. Defensive tackle Kalia Davis shows first-step quickness and a good understanding of leverage.
The Gators made the change from head coach Dan Mullen to Billy Napier after the regular concluded in an effort to salvage their recruiting class. Several players entered the transfer portal, but others will represent Florida in the draft process. Defensive lineman Zachary Carter, edge rusher Jeremiah Moon and running back Dameon Pierce are headed to the Senior Bowl. Pierce was a highly productive player this season. Carter is a bit of a tweener traditionally, but that is a coveted role in the league today. Cornerback Kaiir Elam is often mentioned among the best at his position.
Wednesday, Dec. 22
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Army 24, Missouri 22 (Recap)
Tulsa cornerback transfers Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV made a big impact for Missouri this season. Evans is a physical player and quarterbacks proceeded at their own risk when making throws to the field. He is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl despite limited ball production. Defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside had 7.5 sacks in 2019 but has just three in his four other combined seasons. He has to do a better job of holding his gaps because that would seem to be his bread and butter on the next level. Running back Tyler Badie is undersized but otherwise checks all of the boxes. The Tennessee native is a good receiver and fights through contact.
Army linebacker Andre Carter II is a tall drink of water. At 6-foot-7, the Texas native is second among FBS programs in sacks (14.5) and tied for eighth in forced fumbles (4).
Tuesday, Dec. 21
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl
San Diego State 38, UTSA 24 (Recap)
Two Roadrunners are headed to Mobile, Alabama, next month for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Offensive tackle Spencer Burford and cornerback Tariq Woolen will participate in college football’s premier professional showcase. Woolen is a lengthy cornerback with limited ball production. He can do a better job of getting his eyes back to the quarterback but his long speed allows him to mirror receivers and recover rather quickly. Safety Rashad Wisdom is undersized but does not play like it. He is a physical player with great range.
San Diego State defensive lineman Cam Thomas has great size and strength. Over the past year, he has improved to the point where some consider him a potential Day 2 draft choice. He registered 10.5 sacks this season. Tight end Daniel Bellinger is also headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Bellinger can get stronger but he shows an ability to make catches outside of his frame. Running back Greg Bell has good burst and fights through contact. He can improve in pass protection.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Wyoming 52, Kent State 38 (Recap)
Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum is a three-year starter for the Golden Flashes. The dual-threat senior from Grafton, Ohio, accounted for 27 total touchdowns this season relative to six interceptions. He is one to watch on Day 3. Wyoming produced linebacker Logan Wilson a few years ago and the Cowboys are back with a key front seven contributor. Linebacker Chad Muma is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Muma has natural movement skills and is able to change directions with ease. He has the traits necessary to be a starter in the NFL.
Monday, Dec. 20
Myrtle Beach Bowl presented by TaxAct
Tulsa 30, Old Dominion 17 (Recap)
Tulsa has a few prospects of note, particularly along the offensive line. Sophomore left tackle Tyler Smith was the recipient of a lot of praise in the preseason, but it was his teammate, right tackle Chris Paul, who recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl. Paul, like Louisiana’s Robert Hunt a few years ago, plays on the edge but is projected to move inside. Speed gives him a lot of problems around the corner, but he has good strength to counter bull rushes. Moving inside should correct some of the oversetting issues he has encountered. A Day 2 selection is within range.
Saturday, Dec. 18
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
No. 23 Louisiana 36, Marshall 21 (Recap)
Billy Napier accepted the head coaching position at Florida, but that program will produce a few more pros on his way out the door. Offensive lineman Robert Hunt was taken in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a few more offensive linemen coming down the pike. Offensive tackle Max Mitchell is off to the Senior Bowl. Mitchell is a long lineman with good mobility. His neighbor, offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence, is an NFL caliber player. When the 2020 season began, he was trying to run through defenders rather than engage and marry his feet. As the year progressed, his technique improved. Torrence is a player who looks for work when disengaged and plays to the whistle.
Tayland Humphrey is a big, imposing interior defender. The safety tandem of Percy Butler and Bralen Trahan have made a strong case for draft consideration. Butler has great burst and range but he is inconsistent as a tackler in space.
Marshall has a name familiar to NFL fans. Safety Steven Gilmore is the younger brother of Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Tall and thin, Steven has registered six interceptions over the past three seasons.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel
Utah State 24, Oregon State 13 (Recap)
Utah State produced first-round quarterback Jordan Love a few years ago, but few have popped onto the radar in 2021. Linebacker AJ Vongphachanh has looked really good in coverage but struggles to get off blocks and has little pass rush production. Oregon State center Nathan Eldridge has accumulated a tremendous amount of experience in his career.
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl
UAB 31, BYU 28 (Recap)
UAB edge rusher Alex Wright is a long, but filled out prospect. He is quick and able to turn speed into power. His pass rush production does not match the talent, but NFL teams will salivate over his traits.
BYU has a strong offensive line led by left tackle Blake Freeland and center James Empey. Freeland flipped from the right side last year. He is a very athletic player, but he struggles with leverage because of his height. Empey, on the other hand, plays with great leverage. He will lean on opponents in the run game. Tight end Isaac Rex and running back Tyler Allgeier both show traits that suggest they could one day develop into NFL starters.
PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl
Fresno State 31, UTEP 24 (Recap)
There is a talent discrepancy in this matchup, as Fresno State brings a lot more to the table this year. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener has fought through injuries to deliver his team a few big wins this season. The Washington transfer is a bit undersized but displays great accuracy and leadership.
Running back Ronnie Rivers has taken down nearly every record that the program had entering the season. Rivers has flexible ankles to create opportunities in open space. Wide receiver Jalen Cropper is the team’s top draft prospect with Haener returning to school next season. Cropper has a large catch radius and shows great body control allowing him to attack the ball in the air. The California native has footwork at the stem to create leverage.
Cricket Celebration Bowl
South Carolina State 31, Jackson State 10 (Recap)
South Carolina State cornerback Decobie Durant is a long, lean prospect with great ball skills. Over the past four seasons, he has managed to snare 12 interceptions, including three this season. Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders loaded up on transfers in his first season with the program. One of those transfers was senior linebacker James Houston, who has registered 14.5 sacks since coming over from Florida. Even more impressive, Houston has converted seven pass rush opportunities into forced fumbles. He was coached by Patrick Surtain in high school.
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl
Western Kentucky 59, App State 38 (Recap)
Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe has been rising in the draft community. The Houston Baptist transfer is calm in the pocket. He shows great accuracy and an understanding of how to lead his receivers. Zappe is headed to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in an effort to boost his stock even more. Edge rusher DeAngelo Malone is slender but shows great acceleration and range. In the past, he has struggled to get off blocks and can improve in defending the run.
Appalachian State linebacker D’Marco Jackson shows strong leadership skills and has disciplined eyes. His game is more reactive than proactive, but he should find a role on special teams in the NFL. Jackson has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl. Defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor and cornerback Shaun Jolly are a few other talented defenders on the roster.