Army Bowl: 10 things to watch
Who: Top prospects from around the nation
What: U.S. Army All-American Bowl
When: Noon CST, Saturday, Jan. 8
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Why you should care: Four top-ranked players at their positions - defensive tackle Michael Bennett, inside linebacker Curtis Grant, strongside defensive end Stephon Tuitt and athlete James Wilder Jr. - lead the East. The West's offense is especially impressive with running back Malcolm Brown and wide receiver George Farmer, each No. 1 at their position, and a strong offensive line leading the way. This is the premier all-star event in the offseason.
Five things Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell is looking forward to seeing:
1. East linebackers
The linebacker group on the East squad is simply sick. Five-stars Curtis Grant and Brent Calloway are joined by potential five-stars C.J. Johnson and Kris Frost, as well as ballers Lateek Townsend and Anthony Sarao.
Imagine if five-star Tony Steward hadn't injured his knee and lined up with this group? James Wilder Jr. could play linebacker or running back (or even both) but the hope is that Florida State fans, as well as the rest of the nation, will see him on the defensive side of things. Either way, the final linebacker rankings will certainly be impacted by the way these guys play this week and how they do in the game. This appears to be, at least on paper, the strength of the East squad.
2. Demetrius Hart
If there's one player I'm looking forward to seeing in the game and talking to during the week, it's Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips scat-back Demetrius Hart. Not only could Hart be a home-run hitter in the game itself as a runner or receiver, but the intrigue surrounding his recruiting situation makes him of even greater interest. Will he stick with Michigan? Will he bolt for Florida or possibly head to Alabama? Are he and his five-star teammate, Hasean Clinton-Dix, a package deal? What happens if Rich Rodriguez is fired during the week or given a vote of confidence? There are so many questions and so much interest in the nation's top all-purpose back.
3. Quarterback play
Last year the quarterback play was less-than-stellar save for a guy named Cole Marcoux, who came out of nowhere and had a great game. This year there are six quarterbacks with tremendous upside but, like last year, no five-stars in the group.
West quarterback Cody Kessler and East dual-threat Jacoby Brissett both had insane senior seasons so it will be fun to see how much they've improved since last year at the same time. West quarterback Bubba Starling is one of the best pure athletes in the nation and could cause a lot of problems for the East squad, even with its group of linebackers.
Teddy Bridgewater has been a legend in Florida for a long time so it will be great to finally see him in action against the best in the country. East quarterback Phillip Ely and West signal-caller J.W. Walsh come in with less gaudy stats or hype than the others so can they raise their game? One thing is for sure, this group likely won't be shown up by The Ride quarterback like last year - or will they?
4. West running backs
As deep as the East is at linebacker, the West is equally loaded at running back and this could be a great matchup. The nation's No. 1 back, Malcolm Brown, leads a strong group that includes fellow Texans Herschel Sims and Aaron Green as well as Louisiana stud Kenny Hilliard. And let's not forget the nation's No. 1 athlete, De'Anthony Thomas, who could line up at running back, receiver or even at cornerback.
5. The declarations
As usual, there will be plenty of commitments announced at the game on NBC. There are currently 13 players interested in making their decision on national television led by Frost, Ishaq Williams, Damian Swann, Wayne Lyons and Todd Peat Jr., all of whom could pull a surprise hat off the table.
Gerod Holliman, Lateek Townsend, Odell Beckham Jr., Harvey Langi, Stefan McClure, James Sample, Viliami Moala and Donovan Smith are also on the list to announce at the game, although it will fluctuate throughout the week as always.
6. Superior athletes
There are a few freak athletes out there I'm looking forward to seeing for the first time in pads and in a game setting. Colt Lyerla, Sammy Watkins, Nickalos Brassell, Williams, Thomas, Starling, Christian French, Wilder and George Atkinson III will be exciting to track throughout the week and in the game.
Each could play numerous positions in college if they wanted to but likely will be in uniform at the position they prefer at the next level. There will be six of the Top 10 Most Versatile Prospects from our list in October on hand.
7. Big Men Battle
The battle in the trenches is always of interest in any all-star game and both sides have a solid collection of offensive and defensive linemen. On the West side, I'm interested in seeing how Gregory Robinson, Sedrick Flowers and Matthew Hegarty fare in practice against the talented defensive linemen on their team, led by Moala, Peat and Jermauria Rasco.
On the East side, offensive linemen Brandon Shell, Antonio Richardson and Tyler Moore will have their hands full in practice with defensive linemen Ray Drew, Williams, Michael Bennett and Timmy Jernigan. And when West goes against East in the game, watch out.
8. Talented tight ends
The nation's top two tight ends, Nick O'Leary and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, are representing the East and West, respectively, in this game and the hope is that each is factored into the gameplan. O'Leary has the ability to make big plays in traffic and will be a red zone threat if utilized properly. Seferian-Jenkins is as big as many offensive tackles and is very difficult to guard when he finds a soft spot in the zone and presents a big target. The tight ends don't usually make big plays in the U.S. Army All American Bowl but maybe last year's touchdown catch by C.J. Fiedorowicz is a sign of things to come.
9. Receiver battle
The East squad has some dynamic receivers with downfield speed in Watkins, Brassell and Miles Shuler, as well as a few tall, rangy receivers in Tobias Singleton, Charone Peake and Danny Woodson.
But the West squad has what appears to be a stronger group. Farmer and Trey Metoyer are both five-stars. There is a good mix between speedy route-runners DeAnthony Arnett, Jaxon Shipley and Victor Blackwell with bigger guys like Farmer, Metoyer and Kasen Williams. The West clearly has the edge, but will the East's receivers have the better week and game?
10. Ball hawks
Covering those receivers will be some pretty talented ball hawks on the defensive side. East defensive back Holliman is prolific when it comes to interceptions. Swann, Corey Moore and Avery Walls all have very good ball skills. On the West side, Tevin Mitchel, Beckham, Sample and others can make plays on the ball. There will certainly be at least a couple of interceptions in the game with quarterbacks and receivers trying to get their timing down, the question is - who will make these big plays for each team?