Three-Point Stance: All-Bowl Defense, five-star matchups, portal idea
Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with an odd take on the transfer portal, his first-team all-bowl game defense and some interesting matchups in the national title game.
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1. All-Bowl Defense
Let’s follow up my All-Bowl Offense from Tuesday with the defensive players.
DT Jacob Slade, Michigan State: Slade anchored the Spartans' defense that was disruptive all day against Pitt in their 31-21 victory in the Peach Bowl. He finished with two sacks and clogged run lanes all day.
DT Siaki Ika, Baylor: Ika had a huge game for the Bears, abusing Ole Miss' offensive line all day and receiving one of PFF's highest grades for the bowl season. He had seven QB hurries, a sack and made life a living hell for the Rebels all day.
DE Nick Herbig, Wisconsin: The sophomore from Hawaii has been disruptive all year, but he went off in the Las Vegas Bowl for the Badgers against Arizona State. He finished with seven tackles, two sacks, four pressures, and 2.5 TFL's.
DE Nick Heninger, Utah State: Henringer finished with three sacks in the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl, capping off a phenomenal first season for Blake Anderson. His seven pressures were among the tops in the country during bowl week.
LB Nakobe Dean, UGA: The Butkus Award winner played another phenomenal game for the Dawgs in the dominant victory over Michigan. While his stats may not jump off the page (five tackles, one sack, five pressures), anyone who watched the game knows that he was a wrecking ball from start to finish.
LB Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State: Rodriguez capped off a fantastic season with an absolutely stellar performance in Oklahoma State's Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame. He finished with eight tackles, four QB hurries and a key interception late in the fourth quarter as the Irish were driving deep in Cowboys' territory.
CB Greg Brooks Jr., Arkansas: The Razorbacks held Sean Clifford in check all day, as he connected on less than half of his passes and threw two picks. One of those was to Brooks, who added four tackles, two pressures and a PBU in Arkansas' victory in the Outback Bowl.
CB Mario Goodrich, Clemson: Goodrich led a defensive backfield that held Iowa State to 13 points in the Cheez-It Bowl, locking down star receiver Xavier Hutchinson. He held the All-Big 12 receiver to one reception and added a big interception.
S JT Woods, Baylor: The entire Baylor secondary was great against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, but Woods was a cut above the rest. He finished with two interceptions, seven tackles and a pass breakup in the Bears' 21-7 victory over the Rebs.
S Eric Monroe, Texas Tech: Monroe earned PFF's second-highest grade among all safeties during bowl week behind Woods, and for good reason. He was one of the biggest reasons that the Red Raiders were able to shut down Mississippi State's high-powered offense, patrolling center field and keeping everything in front of him while adding a pick on the way.
Flex CJ Avery, Louisville: Avery was one of the few bright spots for the Cardinals in their loss to Air Force and he needs to be highlighted for his effort. He led Louisville in tackles with nine, had a sack, three QB hits, four hurries and earned PFF's top run defense grade for all players against the run in bowl week.
2. Should Bryce Young enter the portal?
The national title game should be fun and we will either see another banner hoisted in Tuscaloosa or the 1980 chant used against Georgia fade away. And the day after the game young stars Bryce Young for Alabama and Brock Bowers for Georgia should celebrate an amazing season — and jump into the transfer portal. Yep, you heard me. ‘Bama and UGA fans are of course cursing my name right about now, but give me a reason they shouldn’t?
Loyalty? What’s that these days?
NCAA restrictions? There aren’t any.
Fear they will lose their scholarship? Don’t make me laugh.
Fallen NFL Draft stock? Look at how many transfers end up in round one these days.
And we all know Alabama and Georgia would beg to have each back. So why not? Caleb Williams' decision to enter the transfer portal after a great freshman season at Oklahoma got me to thinking. What’s the downside? Williams did lose his head coach and offensive mentor in Lincoln Riley while it’s clear Nick Saban or Kirby Smart aren’t likely leaving, but what can it hurt when it comes to these two elite young talents?
Young and Bowers can see what the market bears when it comes to Name, Image and Likeness and maybe the two California natives will be able to secure even better deals in their new homes or find riches back in the Golden State.
Let me make something clear — I don’t want any of this to happen. But market value and free agency is here in college football and there are no restrictions for players like Young and Bowers to test the market nor should there be. Very soon, perhaps even now, we are going to look back on college football players asking for permission to play the sport they love at a different school as simply ridiculous. It should have been this way a long time ago and it’s going to take some adjustment.
As an old school guy it pains me a bit to see things change and to see players move from school to school so easily, but it’s honestly the right thing for the players. As everyone points out, if coaches can leave at will the players should be free to do the same. So of course I’m being facetious when I say Young and Bowers should enter the portal. But again, give me good reasons they wouldn’t?
3. Five-star vs. five-star
And finally, in some cases it’s five-star on five-star for the national title, in others it’s five-star vs. two-star and we even see transfer vs. transfer. Here are the most interesting matchups to me:
OT Evan Neal vs. EDGE Nolan Smith
Both of these teams have plenty of five-star talents on their rosters, but the biggest matchup between them could come in the battle between Alabama's Neal and UGA's Smith.
Neal was the top offensive tackle in the country in the 2019 class coming out of IMG Academy due to his massive frame and light feet. And he's going up against his prep teammate Smith who was the No. 2 recruit in the country, and top OLB in the same class.
These two have plenty of history and will know each others ins and outs, which should lead to one of the best battles in the National Championship Game.
WR Jameson Williams vs. CB Derion Kendrick
Two of the top transfers in the country from last season will face off on the outside, and it's going to be a battle for the ages. Williams came over from Ohio State and put up massive numbers for the Tide both as a receiver and returner after being a four-star recruit out of St. Louis and ranking as the No. 12 receiver in the 2019 class.
Kendrick was actually classified as a wide receiver as well – the 2018 five-star was ranked 30th nationally and the No. 6 receiver, but flipped to the defensive side of the ball while at Clemson. The Rock Hill, SC native transferred to Georgia for this season and has integrated himself seamlessly on the nation's top defense.
TE Brock Bowers vs. LB Christian Harris
Harris will be tasked with covering Bowers, who was one of the top true freshmen at any position this year. Alabama plucked the Baton Rouge native out from under LSU's nose. He was originally committed to Texas A&M before the Rivals250 OLB flipped to the Tide just before the Early Signing Period for the 2019 class.
Bowers forged an unusual path to Georgia out of Napa, Calif., and a place much better known for its pinot noir than its pass catchers. We always knew he had the physical tools, but no one could have expected the nation's No. 8 tight end from this past year's class to break out like he did, vaulting over much more hyped tight ends on the Bulldogs' depth chart so early in his career.
LB Nakobe Dean vs. RB Brian Robinson Jr.
Robinson went off in the Cotton Bowl, pulling out one of the best performances of his career against Cincinnati. He didn't have to go far from home for college, as he went to high school just down the street from Alabama. But the Rivals100 member and No. 7 back in the country for the 2017 class has patiently waited his turn after playing behind Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris.
It will be Dean's responsibility to shut him down in the title game, but if there's anyone who can do it, it's the Butkus Award winner and former high four-star out of Horn Lake, MS. The No. 1 inside linebacker and 31st-ranked overall player in the 2019 class, Dean just missed out on a five-star ranking but has proven that he's one of the best linebackers we've ever seen at a school that's had some pretty amazing guys at that position over the years.
QB Bryce Young vs. QB Stetson Bennett IV
While they won't be on the field at the same time, any game of this magnitude is going to come down to quarterback play and for that reason we've got to talk about the two signal-callers who have taken drastically different paths to arrive in the title game.
Young was the best quarterback to ever sign with Alabama in the Rivals.com era, finishing his prep career as the top QB of the 2020 class and the No. 2 overall recruit. Bennett on the other hand was a relatively unknown two-star from Pierce County HS in Blackshear, Ga., who walked on as part of the 2017 class, left for JUCO and came back. He has worked his way to becoming the starter, proving to be a reliable decision-maker who can make things happen with his legs.