The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is set to kick off on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 5, in San Antonio with the top high school football prospects from the East squad doing battle with the top prospects from the West. Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell breaks down 10 things he's looking at as players get set to arrive on Sunday.
1. The push for No. 1
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While Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson battle it out at the Under Armour All-America Game, quarterback Max Browne appears to have the best chance to push for the top spot in the country from San Antonio. Why Browne and not Jaylon Smith, Su'a Cravens or Kendall Fuller, who are also top-10 players? Because the quarterback position is so important and Browne is the best natural passer vying for the spot since Matt Barkley in 2009. If Browne has a great game under the lights and pressure, could he be the guy?
2. Corners getting tested
When you have Fuller, Eli Apple, Jalen Ramsey and Mackensie Alexander all on one team, the battle for playing time will be extreme and the practice battles between these lockdowns and DeMarcus Robinson, Shelton Gibson, Tyler Boyd, James Quick and others will be fun to watch. When it's game time, how will they match up against the huge wideouts from the West, including Derrick Griffin and Ricky Seals-Jones, and speedsters such as Steven Mitchell and Torii Hunter Jr.?
3. Over-under, picks or touchdown catches
You choose, will there be more touchdown catches or interceptions in the game? With the cornerbacks mentioned above (not to mention Tre'Davious White, Chris Hawkins and others) as well as ball-hawking safeties such as Cravens, Tahaan Goodman and others, when the ball is in the air it could be both sides battling for it more than ever before.
4. Adding a fifth star or losing one
It's happened before. A five-star heads to the Army Bowl and comes home with four stars next to his name following a week in which he's exposed against the best in the country or simply not as special as we thought. But more often players earn that fifth star by playing up to the competition. Leading candidates to earn that fifth star based on rankings include Seals-Jones, Apple, linebacker Mike Mitchell, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, offensive tackle Kent Perkins and White. And Taquan Mizzell, A'Shawn Robinson and Thomas Tyner are near the bottom of the current five stars and will need to impress to hang on.
5. Rodgers and Kublanow vs. everyone
You could argue that the meanest and nastiest players on either roster are two interior linemen on the East squad: Khaliel Rodgers and Brandon Kublanow. In practice, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers has to face teammate and best friend Kenny Bigelow because the two have avoided that at camps. Interior linemen Keith Bryant, Greg Webb and others will have their hands full. In the game, you can bet both will be looking to show Vanderdoes and Robinson what's what.
Every year, the Army selects a few players as "athletes" who can line up at multiple positions on offense. This year, Mizzell and Ezekiel Elliott are the two on the East and West, respectively, but there are numerous players on the overall roster who can fill in other places if injuries occur. East safety Dymonte Thomas has played a linebacker role in high school, and Tray Matthews is big enough to do the same if needed. Fuller can play wide receiver, and his teammate, Dorian O'Daniel could fill in at running back if depth gets thin there. Jonathan Allen could play stand-up linebacker, as he will at Alabama. Al-Quadin Muhammad could do the same, while Boyd can pretty much play every skill position there is. On the West, White is dynamic with the ball in his hands, Torrodney Prevot could play linebacker or end, Myles Jack is a nasty running back as well as a hard-hitting linebacker and Seals-Jones could be a safety or linebacker. Almost all will play their intended positions, but we could see a two-way player here or there like we did with Alex Carter last year.
7. Quarterback play
In addition to Browne, there will be plenty of eyes on quarterbacks who will be adjusting to new offenses. While Jeremy Johnson, Johnathon McCrary and Hayden Rettig will be comfortable in a spread offense as well as Browne (and coaches usually always go spread in the Army Bowl), Ryan Burns will be adjusting from a wing offense and Tyrone Swoopes is obviously more comfortable running than throwing out of the shotgun. Adjusting to new receivers, a new offensive line and a new coaching staff in one week is tough, so those who stand out could be showing that they have that something extra that will allow them to have early success in college.
8. Position confusion
While there are many versatile prospects on the roster, there are also many players who are looking to prove that they can play a certain position, at least prove it to us. On the East, Doug Randolph wants to show he can play stand-up in space, Thomas wants to prove he can cover as a safety, Derrick Henry wants to show us he's a true running back at the next level (a la James Wilder Jr.) and Boyd wants to show off the receiver skills he didn't get to flash often in high school. On the West, Prevot wants to show he can handle pass rushing off the edge despite a lack of size, Seals-Jones and Griffin want to show they are wide receivers at the next level and not tight ends, John Diarse wants to display his receiving skills and Swoopes wants to show everyone he can be an effective passer from the pocket. And maybe, just maybe, we can finally put offensive tackle or defensive end next to Jake Raulerson after this week.
Never have there been fewer uncommitted prospects heading to San Antonio than this year, so the question is out there: Who will declare on television? With only a handful of prospects open and close to committing, we will find out as the week progresses whether Marquez North, Asiantii Woulard, Muhammad, Joe Mathis and others will make their announcements. This is the year of early commitments, more than any other year in history, so double-digit declarations like the last couple of years on NBC are unlikely.
10. Injury alert
This has been an unprecedented year for players selected to the Army Bowl losing their seasons to injury. Stars such as Michael Hill, Jordan Sherit, Woulard, Tyren Jones, Ahmad Fulwood, North and Deoundrei Davis have been hit with serious injuries, and it feels like the kind of year when there could a few more walking wounded who show up and a few roster slots that need to be filled midweek.
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