NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Belk Bowl

The 2017 Belk Bowl has some pretty good players in it between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. While there aren’t a lot of players in this bowl game that can make it to the next level, the ones that can are really good. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Belk Bowl:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Duke Ejiofor, DE

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Belk Bowl

Duke Ejiofor (Photo by twitter.com)

Ejiofor put himself on the map after a great 2016 season. The senior has 41.5 tackles for loss and 24 sacks in his career. Although 2016 was his best season statistically, this year he has been solid with 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

He isn’t the biggest pass rusher at 6’4″ and 275 pounds, but should be big enough for NFL standards. It would be a stretch to see him get drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but getting selected on day two is probable.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Cam Serigne, TE

Serigne was thought of as a better prospect before the season started, but will still likely be drafted. He has 1,963 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches in his career. This season he found the end zone the most out of any of his previous years with eight receiving touchdowns.

Height will be an issue for Serigne, as he is 6’3″ and 240 pounds. He won’t create too many match up problems with that size, but has been successful in college without having a great quarterback.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

Texas A&M Aggies

Christian Kirk, WR

Kirk is a supremely talented wide receiver who is going to be an early pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has seen his production go down every year, but it in large part is due to quarterback play. In his career, the junior has 2,667 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. This season he has 730 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Kirk may only be 5’11” and 200 pounds, but he has shown the ability to play on the outside, much like Odell Beckham Jr. He has added value as a kick returner that will help teams get him on the field often. He won’t be waiting too long in the draft.

Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round

Armani Watts, S

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Belk Bowl

Armani Watts (Photo by expressnews.com)

Watts has been playing for Texas A&M for what seems like forever, which is usually the sign of a good player. He has 324 total tackles, 10 interceptions, 17 passes defended, five fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles in his career. This season, as the undisputed leader of the defense, Watts has 87 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two fumbles recovered and three forced fumbles.

He is 5’11” and 205 pounds, but that is good enough to play free safety in the NFL. Watts covers a lot of the field and is able to make a lot of plays on the ball.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

 

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2017 Belk Bowl preview

Wake Forest and Texas A&M will play each other in the 2017 Belk Bowl. Wake Forest is playing in its second straight bowl game, while the Aggies are making their ninth straight bowl appearance. Here is the 2017 Belk Bowl preview:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-5)

2017 Belk Bowl preview

Duke Ejiofor (Photo by athlonsports.com)

The Demon Deacons beat four bowl eligible teams on their way to seven total wins. Their biggest wins came over N.C. State and Louisville, which shows that they can beat some quality teams.

Offensively, Wake Forest was able to score 33.7 points per game. They were able to lean on the ground game, which ranks 45th in the country in rushing yards per game. Running back Matt Colburn has 745 rushing yards and six touchdowns as the leading rusher. Quarterback John Wolford helps out with 615 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Wolford also leads a pretty good passing attack that averages 266.6 passing yards per game. This season, Wolford has thrown for 2,792 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions on 63.7% completion. He has protected the football well, which has paid off. Several receivers produce for Wolford, but the leading receiver is Greg Dortch. Dortch has 722 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Tight end Cam Serigne produces in the red zone with eight touchdowns catches this season.

The defense allows 26.3 points per game. They rank 92nd against the run and 103rd against the pass. Senior defensive end is the best player on the defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks on the season. He will be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Texas A&M Aggies (7-5)

2017 Belk Bowl preview

Christian Kirk (Photo by gridironnow.com)

Kevin Sumlin is out and Jimbo Fisher is in at Texas A&M. Coaching changes always make a weird impact on bowl games, but Texas A&M should have the talent and matchup to not let it get to them. In their seven wins this season, they were only able to beat one bowl eligible team.

The offense averages 32.8 points per game, but it hasn’t been pretty. Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford provide a decent duo in the backfield. Williams has 733 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, while Ford has 493 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Quarterback Kellen Mond runs when he can and has 340 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Nick Starkel has been the main quarterback when healthy for the Aggies. He has 1,294 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions on 57% completion. The freshman has played well at times and has had a great receiver in Christian Kirk to lean on. Kirk, despite the inconsistencies at quarterback, has 796 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He is also a huge help in the return game for the Aggies.

Their defense isn’t as good as in years past and allow 28.7 points per game. They rank 64th against the run and 66th against the pass. Armani Watts has been a mainstay in the secondary for four years. This season 87 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions and five passes defended.

Prediction

The Texas A&M defense will make plays to stop Wake Forest and then the playmakers on Texas A&M will do their part. Starkel isn’t the greatest quarterback, but he is serviceable. If Kirk touches the ball a lot, the Aggies will be able to win.

Texas A&M Aggies 29 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 23

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Holiday Bowl

The 2017 Holiday Bowl will feature the Michigan State Spartans and the Washington State Cougars. Both coaches have created quality programs that have attracted some good talent. With that, some of these players will be playing in the NFL soon. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Holiday Bowl:

Washington State Cougars

Luke Falk, QB

Falk has cemented himself as one of the best statistical quarterbacks in Pac-12 history. The senior has 14,481 passing yards, 119 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in his career. He also has 68.3% of his passes in his career. This season he has 3,580 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He has been pulled from games for slow starts by Mike Leach, but he is still a good prospect.

He will have to add weight to his 223 pound frame, but is big enough to see over offensive lines at 6’4″ tall. Falk will have to answer questions about why he was pulled from some games and if he can make it in the NFL coming out of Washington State’s system.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Andre Dillard, OT

Dillard is a redshirt junior who may elect to leave school early. He has started the last two seasons at left tackle for the Cougars. While he has a lot of experience pass blocking in Washington State’s system, run blocking is not something he has been given the opportunity to show that he can do on a consistent basis.

At 6’5″ and 295 pounds, Dillard will need to add some strength before getting to the next level. The run blocking and physicality of Dillard will be a concern.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Hercules Mata’afa, DE

Mata’afa has produced since the second he stepped on Washington State’s campus. In his career, t

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Holiday Bowl

Hercules Mata’afa (Photo by cougarcenter.com)

he junior has 44.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks. This season Mata’afa has 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Mata’afa doesn’t have the prototypical size for a defensive end in he NFL at 6’2″ and 252 pounds. He makes up for his lack of size with strength and explosiveness. If he produces, no one will care about his size.

Projected draft range: 4th round-7th round

Cole Madison, OT

Madison plays right tackle for the Cougars. He too has gotten playing time since his freshman season and started since his sophomore year. With the same questions about run blocking as Dillard, Madison will likely be picked even later than Madison.

At 6’5″ and 315 pounds, Madison has decent enough size to play on the offensive line in the NFL. He will likely be a late round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Michigan State Spartans

L.J. Scott, RB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Holiday Bowl

L.J. Scott (Photo by todaysu.com)

Scott is a big, powerful back for the Spartans. The junior has 785 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the season. He has some issues with protecting the football, but has shown an increased role in the passing game this season with 120 receiving yards and a score.

At 6’1″ and 230 pounds, Scott can run with some ferocity, but will need to show he is fast enough to be an NFL running back. If he runs a decent 40 time, he could be selected on day two of the draft.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Brian Allen, OG/C

Allen has four years of production at Michigan State and is now one of the best centers in the country. He hasn’t blocked for an explosive offense, but has plenty of reps for NFL scouts to go over.

His limitation is his size at 6’2″ and 305 pounds. Being a center, that won’t be a huge issue, but it extremely limits the amount of teams that will take a chance on him.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

 

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2017 San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl preview

Two nine win teams will play each other in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. Washington State and Michigan State are two totally different teams, but are both successful teams, which should make for a good matchup. Here is the 2017 San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl preview:

18 Washington State Cougars (9-3)

2017 San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl preview

Luke Falk (Seattletimes.com)

Mike Leach has led Washington State to another successful season. They beat five bowl eligible teams on their way to a nine win season. Their notable wins include: Boise State, USC, Oregon and Stanford.

Offense is the name of the game for the Cougars, but they fell short of their own expectations this year by scoring 31.4 points per game. The running game isn’t the strong point of the offense and ranks 129th in the country. Jamal Morrow and James Williams split carries, but they don’t get many chances. Morrow has 522 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while Williams has 381 rushing yards and one score.

The passing game is what the offense is built around. Luke Falk has had a solid senior season, but has drawn the ire out of Leach at times. He has 3,593 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. The senior has broken many Pac-12 records and although he has struggled, can be trusted. Tavares Martin is the leading receiver with 831 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Defensively, Washington State is playing better than most years, allowing 24.4 points per game. They rank 44th against the run and eighth against the pass. Hercules Mata’afa is a game-changer who has 9.5 total sacks this season.

16 Michigan State Spartans (9-3)

2017 San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl preview

Kenny Willekes (Photo by freep.com)

Mark Dantonio has done a great job of turning around Michigan State in a short period of time. They went from three wins last season to nine wins this year. While they lost to Northwestern, Ohio State and Notre Dame, the Spartans were able to beat Penn State and Michigan.

Offense is tough to come by for Michigan State, as they score just 23.1 points per game. They run the ball better than they pass the ball with 162.9 rushing yards per game. L.J. Scott is the team’s leading rusher with 788 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is second on the team in rushing with 486 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

Lewerke is a good dual-threat and has made the offense better. He has 2,580 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Felton Davis III is the go-to-guy for the Spartans with 658 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White also contribute with over 400 yards receiving.

The defense for Michigan State is what makes the team good. They allow just 20.3 points per game, which is good enough for 23rd in the country. The Spartans are fifth against the run and 31st against the pass. Sophomore defensive lineman Kenny Willekes has seven sacks on the season and will be tasked with getting after Falk.

Prediction

Washington State does have some deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball, but Michigan State won’t be able to take advantage of that. Falk will have a big day to end his career and could even lead Washington State on a game-winning drive.

Washington State Cougars 36 Michigan State 28

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl

Stanford and TCU are set to play in the Valero Alamo Bowl. There are a lot of quality players in the Alamo Bowl every year, with this year having some players to watch out for in the 2018 NFL Draft. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl:

Stanford Cardinal

Bryce Love, RB

Love had some big shoes to fill with the departure of Christian McCaffrey and has not disappointed. He has rushed for 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. While one year of production might alarm some people, Love is a running back, which means he has taken less of a beating until this season.

At 5’10” and 196 pounds, Love is a little slight, but can handle an NFL workload. His main asset is his speed. Love was a track star in high school and when he turns on the burners, not many can catch him. While Love is a star, running backs don’t usually go early in the NFL Draft unless they are an elite level talent.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-3rd round

Harrison Phillips, DT

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl

Harrison Phillips (Photo by twitter.com)

Phillips has answered the call to be the leader of the defense. Now that Solomon Thomas is gone, he faces a lot more double teams and still produces. In his senior campaign he has 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. What is most impressive though is his 89 total tackles, which is an absurd number for a defensive tackle.

He is 6’4″ and 295 pounds, which is good for an NFL defensive tackle. He will likely fit best into a 4-3 defense, but with all of his production, some teams may try to fit him into their schemes.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Dalton Schultz, TE

Schultz hasn’t produced a lot, but Stanford’s offense is built on the run. The quarterbacks also haven’t been great. This season Schultz has 20 receptions for 204 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He does have a lot of experience blocking for both McCaffrey and Love.

As a 6’6″ and 240 pound tight end, Schultz will draw some interest from NFL teams. A lot of film will be watched on the little production he has and will affect where he gets drafted.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

TCU Horned Frogs

Joseph Noteboom, OT

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl

Joseph Noteboom (Photo by twitter.com)

Noteboom has gotten playing time in every game of his career and started every game since his sophomore season. He continually makes Academic-All Big 12 teams. During his time in Fort Worth he has shown that he can run and pass block, but his athleticism will be questioned.

At 6’5″ and 305 pounds, Noteboom is a little short, but acceptable for an offensive tackle in the NFL. If he has good arm length to fend off pass rushers, that won’t be an issue.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

KaVontae Trupin, Wr

Turpin is just a junior and will likely elect to go back to school. He doesn’t touch the football too often, but is a threat every time he does get the ball. This season he has 475 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. He has added value as a returner with one kick return and one punt return for a touchdown this season.

He will likely have to play in the slot or as a third down running back in the NFL because he is 5’9″ and 153 pounds. Teams will give him a chance to succeed because of his ability to return punts and kicks.

Projected draft range: 6th round-undrafted free agent

 

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2017 Valero Alamo Bowl preview

Stanford and TCU are both conference runner ups and will meet in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl. Both teams have good defenses and solid offenses. Here is the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl preview:

13 Stanford Cardinal (9-4)

2017 Valero Alamo Bowl preview

Bryce Love (Photo by mercurynews.com)

The Cardinal had an up and down season, but were still able to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game. They had a tough schedule and had to beat six bowl eligible teams to get their nine wins. Their big wins include Notre Dame, Washington and Utah.

Offensively, Stanford averages 32 points per game, which is above average. They run the ball extremely well with Bryce Love leading the charge. Love has 1,973 rushing yards. and 17 touchdowns this season. The Heisman finalist had a great season, which saw him average 8.3 yards per carry.

While the running game is great, the passing game isn’t always pretty. K.J. Costello is the starter now and has thrown for 1,361 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has protected the football well for Stanford, which is important given they have a workhorse running back. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is the leading receiver on the team with 720 yards and six touchdowns.

The defense is solid as usual, allowing 21.5 points per game. They rank 71st against the run and 70th against the pass. Harrison Phillips is the defense’s best player with 89 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

15 TCU Horned Frogs (10-3)

2017 Valero Alamo Bowl preview

Kenny Hill (Photo by twitter.com)

TCU got to the Big 12 Championship Game, but were not able to beat Oklahoma. The Sooners accounted for two of TCU’s losses, with Iowa State causing the other. They beat six teams who are bowl eligible. Their biggest wins were over Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

The offense scores 33.2 points per game, which is a good mark. They run for 176 yards per game, which ranks 52nd in the country. A lot of players contribute to the running game, with four players having at least 200 yards, but Darius Anderson leads the way with 768 yards and eight touchdowns.

Kenny Hill leads the offense from the quarterback position. He is efficient, completing 67% of his passes. In total, Hill has 2,838 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. Like the running game, a lot of receivers contribute to the success of the passing game. John Diarse is the leading receiver with 543 yards and three touchdowns. Jalen Reagor, Desmon White and KeVontae Turpin all have over 300 receiving yards as well.

The Horned Frogs’ defense jumps out, with only 17.6 points per game. They are fourth against the run and 72nd against the pass. Senior defensive lineman Matt Boesen is one of the best pass rushers in the country with 11.5 sacks on the season.

Prediction

The more balanced team will win the game. TCU has a good offense and defense. They also run and pass the ball decently well. The Horned Frogs will sell out to stop Bryce Love and K.J. Costello will not be able to beat them with his arm.

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Camping World Bowl

The Camping World Bowl has several good NFL Draft prospects and most look like they are suiting up. Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State have several players that will get a chance to play on Sundays. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Camping World Bowl:

Virginia Tech Hokies 

*Wide receiver Cam Phillips will not play in this game.

Tremaine Edmunds, LB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Camping World Bowl

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by twitter.com)

Edmunds is one of several of his family members to play football at Virginia Tech. The junior has been a starter for two seasons in Blacksburg. He has dominated ever since getting his first snap with 206 total tackles, 33 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his career. This season, his level of play has elevated with 101 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

One of the most appealing things about Edmunds is his size. He is 6’5″ and 250 pounds, which is elite-level size for an NFL linebacker. He may elect to go back to Virginia Tech for one more season, but would definitely get drafted if he decides to leave.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Adonis Alexander, CB

Alexander is only a junior, but will get drafted if he chooses to enter his name into the pool of players. He has seven interceptions and 17 passes defended in his career. Alexander has played a variety of positions in the secondary for the past three seasons.

His biggest asset is his frame, which is 6’3″ and 197 pounds. Teams that like to start bigger, physical corners would love to have him. He has only played seven games this season due to a hamstring injury.

Projected draft range: 4th round-6th round

Wyatt Teller, OG

Teller has been a starter for three seasons at Virginia Tech. He was All-ACC as a guard and has helped the interior blocking for Virginia Tech. While the offense isn’t the highest scoring unit in the country, it isn’t due to Teller. Interestingly, he has a lot of experience on special teams for the Hokies, which will appeal to NFL teams.

At 6’5″ and 315 pounds, Teller has really good size for someone who plays on the interior of the offensive line. He will likely be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 4th round-6th round

Brandon Facyson, CB

Facyson is a good prospect from a great college defense. He has been around Virginia Tech since 2013, with a redshirted year in the middle of his tenure. He has gotten playing time ever since he stepped on campus. He has 39 passes defended and five interceptions in his career.

He has great size for an NFL corner at 6’2″ and 197 pounds. His potential was through the roof, but he never quite lived up to it, which will be a concern, but he should be able to make a training camp roster at the very least.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Mason Rudolph, QB

Rudolph’s great career is finally coming to a close. He has 13,267 passing yards, 90 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in his time at Oklahoma State. This season he has taken his game to another level with 4,553 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, Rudolph looks like a NFL quarterback. He has a great deep ball, but some teams will still have reservations about drafting him because of the system he plays in. With so many good quarterbacks in this class, Rudolph could go anywhere in the first couple rounds of the draft.

Projected draft range: 1st round-3rd round

James Washington, WR

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Camping World Bowl

James Washington (Photo by newsok.com)

Washington has been Rudolph’s number one target for the last few seasons. In his four seasons in Stillwater, Washington has 4,346 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns. He currently ranks 10th all time in receiving yards for college football. Rudolph and Washington are such a good pair, with Rudolph being a great deep ball thrower and Washington being a good deep threat.

There are some minor concerns that Washington is only 6’0″ and 200 pounds, but Odell Beckham Jr. is just 5’11”, so he can make it work. Like Rudolph, some NFL teams won’t like the system that he played in and may steer clear.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

 

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2017 Camping World Bowl preview

Two ranked teams will meet for the first time in bowl season in the 2017 Camping World Bowl. Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State both had bigger expectations, but they both had successful, nine win seasons. Here is the 2017 Camping World Bowl preview:

22 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3)

2017 Camping World Bowl preview

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by athlonsports.com)

The Hokies beat four bowl eligible teams en route to a nine win season: Boston College, Duke, West Virginia and Virginia. Two of their losses came to very good teams in Clemson and Miami, while one was to a sub-par team in Georgia Tech. It was still a good step forward for Justin Fuente’s team in his second season.

Offensively, Virginia Tech scores 28.8 points per game. It isn’t the highest number, but they have some good players on that side of the ball. They average 167.2 rushing yards per game. Two running backs, Travon McMillan and Deshawn McClease, do most of the damage and have over 400 rushing yards this season. McClease will have to carry the load, because McMillan has decided to transfer and not play in the bowl game. Quarterback Josh Jackson has pitched in with 274 rushing yards.

Jackson has had a fantastic freshman season for the Hokies. He has 2,743 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 60.3% completion. Cam Phillips was the unquestioned first target for Jackson this season and has 964 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Phillips will be out after having sports hernia surgery, which means Sean Savoy will need to step up. Savoy had 454 receiving yards this season.

The defense is the elite part of this team, allowing 13.5 points per game, which ranks fifth in the country. They rank 15th against the run and 24th against the pass. A lot of players step up for this defense, but Tremaine Edmunds has stood out with his 101 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

19 Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3)

2017 Camping World Bowl preview

Mason Rudolph (Photo by twitter.com)

The Cowboys had college football playoff hopes heading into the season, but ultimately fell short. Oklahoma State was also able to beat four bowl eligible teams. These wins included Texas Tech, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State. Mike Gundy had another good season, but couldn’t quite make it great.

Offense isn’t a problem for Oklahoma State, as they score 46.3 points per game. That ranks third in the country. Their running game is good for 183.3 yards per game and is anchored by Justice Hill. Hill has rushed for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He is a star in the making for the Cowboys.

The strength of the offense is the passing attack, which is the most potent in the country. Mason Rudolph has stats that jump off the page. He has 4,553 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 65% completion. His favorite target and partner in crime is James Washington. Washington leads the team with 1,423 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Marcell Ateman has also produced with 1,049 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Defensively, the Cowboys allow 30.6 points per game, but with their high-powered offense, they don’t need to be great. They rank 26th against the run and 118th versus the pass. Corner A.J. Green has four interceptions this season, which is something they will need in this game.

Prediction

Virginia Tech’s defense is great, but going up against a passing attack like Oklahoma State isn’t easy. With the extra time to prepare for the defense, Rudolph will know where and when to throw the ball. In a battle of good offense versus good defense, the offense will win out this time.

Oklahoma State Cowboys 32 Virginia Tech Hokies 28

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Virginia and Navy will play in the 2017 Military Bowl. These two teams don’t usually produce NFL talent, but this season there are some quality players who are worth looking at. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl:

Virginia Cavaliers

Micah Kiser, LB

Kiser is a senior who has been producing for Virginia for the past three seasons. He has 397 total tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in his illustrious career. This season Kiser has impressed yet again with 132 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He is a big reason Virginia has been able to get to a bowl.

He has good size for the NFL at 6’2″ and 240 pounds. His run stopping and pass rushing is good for an inside linebacker, but he will need to prove he can cover. Kiser is probable to play in this game with a thumb injury.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Kurt Benkert, QB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Kurt Benkert (Photo by zimbio.com)

While Kiser is a great player, Benkert’s great season has put Virginia over the top. Benkert transferred to Virginia after not seeing the field at East Carolina and has made the most of his opportunity. In his two seasons at Virginia, Benkert has thrown for 5,672 yards, 46 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. This season he has 3,062 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Benkert needs to add some weight to prevent injury, but has a good frame to build off of at 6’4″ and 215 pounds. Accuracy will be an issue, as he completes less than 60% of his passes throughout his career. He has seen his stock rise a lot this season and will be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 4th round-6th round

Navy Midshipmen

Micah Thomas, LB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Micah Thomas (Photo by twitter.com)

Thomas has been really good for Navy the past two seasons. He has 263 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his career. This seasons Thomas has 81 total tackles with four tackles for loss. He is the best player on Navy’s defense and if given a shot, could make an NFL team.

He is 6’1″ and 240 pounds and looks the part of NFL linebacker. With players at the service academies it is always tough if they want to take a shot at professional sports because of their prior commitments to serve the country. Being that he is likely not going to get drafted, he may not be able to sign with a team because of this situation.

Projected draft range: undrafted free agent

 

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Marvin Lewis bengals legacy

The complicated legacy of Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati

It has been a week since the first reports that longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would step down at the end of the season became public. While we have not gotten confirmation from the relevant parties involved, we also have not gotten anything that approaches a denial.

With no playoff wins in 15 years and consecutive seasons of at least nine losses, the opinion of most fans on the potential departure of Lewis is either “good riddance” or “it’s about time.”

If the end is near for Lewis in Cincinnati, the sentiment in the above paragraph is not unwarranted, but it is also not entirely fair. Here is a closer look at the legacy Lewis may be leaving behind in the very near future.

What he walked into

Simply put, Lewis took over the worst franchise in professional sports when he was hired after the 2002 season. The team had not posted a winning record since 1990 and all but two seasons since then had featured double-digit losses. Naturally, the fan base simply did not care. The Bengals were irrelevant in their own city and home games were like funerals.

As bad as that sounds, words on a page alone do not do this period in Bengals history justice. Check out the 12 Days of Christmas parody below from John Bunyan on YouTube. It was done by a Cincinnati radio and television station towards the end of a 2-14 season in 2002. Many coaches would not have even considered this job, and who could blame them?

What he did

However, from the second Lewis was hired, Cincinnati was a different franchise. Perhaps his biggest impact was felt in the draft. Owner Mike Brown has long been known for total control of that aspect of the Bengals organization. In 1999, New Orleans offered its entire draft to Cincinnati in an effort to draft Ricky Williams. Williams did eventually wind up with the Saints, but Brown and the Bengals stayed put and took Oregon quarterback Akili Smith. Smith played four seasons in Cincinnati and never had a passer rating higher than 73.4.

Things were very different under Lewis. It was not so much drafting high profile names like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. It was getting guys like Marvin Jones, Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Mohamed Sanu and Domata Peko in the middle rounds. All those players became key contributors on playoff teams for the Bengals. Make no mistake, the owner’s eye for talent did not magically improve. The difference was Lewis.

A.J. Green

Photo from whodeyfans.com

Unfortunately, his 0-7 playoff mark is what Lewis will be remembered for most in Cincinnati. However, this franchise has been in the playoffs seven times with Lewis as its coach. That is the same number of postseason trips made by all other coaches in franchise history combined.

When Lewis was hired in 2003, every Bengals fan on the planet would have signed on the dotted line for seven playoff trips in 15 years. If any fan says different, they are lying. Of course, any fan would have liked to have seen a playoff win or two. Even so, prior to the Lewis era, the playoffs were a figment of Cincinnati’s imagination. Lewis turned them into a realistic expectation.

His time in Cincinnati has probably gone on a few seasons too long, but that is not his fault. If Lewis does indeed leave after this season, the organization will be in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. That should be the ultimate goal of any NFL head coach.

Looking ahead

Should the Bengals job become available this offseason, it will be one of the more attractive openings on the market. Whether it is Dalton or AJ McCarron, whoever takes over will inherit a serviceable NFL quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game, at least one solid running back and a defense with a few playmakers. That is more than 99 percent of head coaches get when taking a new job.

A good portion of that can and should be attributed to Lewis. Whenever his time in Cincinnati ends, Lewis will have done an incredible job.

 

Featured image from upi.com

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