SAN ANTONIO - The 10th annual U.S. Army All American Bowl, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 9, will once again be a glimpse into the future of college football.
The top prospects in the country will compete in a battle of East vs. West. But before practices start on Monday, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst Mike Farrell takes a look at which team has the advantage - at least on paper.
There is no better matchup to start with than the ultra-talented East defensive backs going against a star-studded group of West wide receivers.
How about California five-star receiver Robert Woods running a post route for the West against five-star safeties Matt Elam from Florida and Keenan Allen from North Carolina of the East? How about East five-star cornerback Latwan Anderson from Ohio matched up in single coverage against fellow five-star Dillon Baxter - who hails from California and will play receiver for the West?
Or maybe jumbo wide receivers Ross Apo and Nate Askew from Texas and Marcus Lucas from Missouri from the West going against East cornerbacks like Cullen Christian from Pennsylvania, Christian Bryant from Ohio and Jaylen Watkins from Florida? No matter how you slice it, this could be the key to the game. Receivers usually have the advantage in games like this with limited practice, so the slight edge has to go to the West here.
The other big key could be how the offensive lines handle each team's group of pass-rushing terrors. The East boasts three five-stars along its defensive front with ends J.R. Ferguson from Virginia and Chris Martin from Colorado and tackle Sharrif Floyd from Pennsylvania. But the talent doesn't stop there, especially up the middle. Floyd will work with standout tackles like Garrison Smith and Jeffrey Whitaker from Georgia and Kelcy Quarles and Brandon Willis from South Carolina. The West offensive linemen, led by the nation's No. 1 prospect in Seantrel Henderson from Minnesota, will have their hands full. The push up the middle could limit any West running game - which could lead to a lot of third-and-long situations. Advantage East.
The West's defensive line strength is from the outside, which is more worrisome in an all-star game. Ends Owamagbe Odighizuwa from Oregon, Ronald Powell from California and Jackson Jeffcoat from Texas are all five-stars and an offensive tackle's worst nightmare off the edge. Throw in fellow end Reggie Wilson from Texas and you have a murderer's row of pass rushers. Five-star offensive tackle Robert Crisp from North Carolina and fellow tackles Shon Coleman from Mississippi and Matt James from Ohio will need to be at their best. Handling talented pass rushers is extra difficult for an offensive line that hasn't played together.
Obviously there are also talented running backs in the game, mainly Texas tailback Lache Seastrunk for the West and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Connecticut tailback Silas Redd from the East. But they will likely have to do their best work near the goal line or in the passing game, because it is always tough sledding in these games for backs between the 20s.
At linebacker, the West has plenty of talent including hard-hitter Tony Jefferson and versatile Cecil Whiteside from California and athletic Justin McCay from Kansas. The East has good size with big linebackers like Blake Lueders from Indiana, Jacques Smith from Tennessee and Khairi Fortt from Connecticut. However, all will be at a bit of a disadvantage having to play a base defense with no blitzing. Overall, the running backs against the linebackers on each side is a wash.
The East wide receivers going against the West defensive backs can't be ignored, either. The nation's No. 2 prospect, Kyle Prater from Illinois, is joined on the East by wideouts Markeith Ambles from Georgia and Ivan McCartney from Florida. The West defensive backs are led by safeties Marquis Flowers from Arizona, Ahmad Dixon from Texas and Eric Reid from Louisiana. The East has a huge edge here because the West doesn't have many natural cornerbacks, which means a few safeties are going to have to line up on the outside. However, will the East quarterbacks be able to take advantage? As always, the quarterback matchup is the true key to the game.
The quarterback position is where the West has the biggest edge on paper. Quarterbacks Jake Heaps from Washington, Connor Wood from Texas and Austin Hinder from Colorado are better pure passers than the East duo of Paul Jones from Pennsylvania and Barry Brunetti from Tennessee. The West QBs also have a more dangerous group of receivers to work with when it comes to speed and game-breaking ability. Each West quarterback can move around if needed as well, adding yet another dimension to their game. The East quarterbacks will need to use their athleticism to create plays and get outside the pocket - which could ultimately play into the strengths of the West ends. If the East signal-callers can't do much work in the pocket, they could be in huge trouble.
While the game is a week away and plenty can happen between now and then, the West quarterbacks hooking up with the West wide receivers looks like the key to this game - if the offensive line can keep the West QBs clean. The East has its strengths, but if the offensive line can't give their QBs time against those West ends, it could be a nightmare on offense.