NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl

The 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl has the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers going up against the Georgia State Panthers. Neither program produces a lot of NFL talent, but they do produce some players who are worthy of NFL consideration. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl:

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers:

Mike White, QB

White took over for a legend at quarterback in Brandon Doughty. He has started the last two seasons and has put up a lot of good numbers. In the pass happy offense that the Hilltoppers run, White has been able to show off his skills time and time again. He has over 10,000 career passing yards and a completion percentage the last two seasons that is over 65%.

Not only does White have a lot of good stats, but he also has the build of an NFL quarterback at 6’4″ tall and 225 pounds. He has a strong arm and is able to stretch defenses down the field with it. White may not be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he will likely get selected and have a chance to make an NFL team.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

Chris Johnson, DT

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl

Chris Johnson (Photo by upressonline.com)

In his two seasons at Western Kentucky, Johnson has 85 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His production declined this year, but Johnson will still be considered by NFL executives because of his stellar 2016 season. In that season he had four sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Johnson is 6’1″ 285 pounds and would fill in well on a 4-3 scheme in the NFL. With the production decline, Johnson needs to have a big game in the Cure Bowl.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

Nacarius Fant, WR

Fant has steadily increased his production over his time at WKU. This season he has 634 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Being that this season was his best, he still has a lot to prove to NFL scouts. Doing well in the Cure Bowl would go a long way to help his draft stock.

He is only 5’9″ and 185 pounds so he will have to play in the slot if he wants to make an NFL team. With his quickness, playing the slot shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Projected draft range: undrafted free agent

Georgia State Panthers:

Penny Hart, WR

NFL Draft Prospects in the AutoNation Cure Bowl

Penny Hart (Photo by ajc.com)

Hart is just a junior, but with an increased number of underclassmen coming out, he may just jump to the next level. He is an ultra-talented receiver that missed most of last season with an injury. In the two seasons that he has been healthy, he has accrued over 1,000 yards each year. He has 17 total touchdowns and if he decides to come back for another year, he will surely break a lot of records.

Like Fant, Hart is a smaller receiver that will have to play the slot in the NFL. He is 5’8″ tall and 180 pounds. Hart has a lot of production and experience that will help sell him to NFL scouts. He will get drafted whether he decides to enter his name into the draft this year or next.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

Bryan Williams, S

Williams has two years of solid production at Georgia State. This season was particularly impressive with his 57 tackles, four interceptions and two passes defended.

One thing Williams has going for him is his size. He is 6’3″ and 212 pounds making him in the mold of the bigger safeties in the NFL, like Kam Chancellor. He will need to get a camp tryout and prove what he can do in the NFL.

Projected draft range: undrafted free agent

 

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2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl preview

Two six win teams will meet up in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl. Georgia State and Western Kentucky will square off at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. The winner gets to finish above .500. Here is how the teams stack up:

Western Kentucky HIlltoppers (6-6)

2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl Preview

Mike White (Photo by wkusports.com)

Western Kentucky has been a solid program for years now and have reached their fourth straight bowl game. This team though, isn’t as good as some of the teams in previous years. They have six wins, but failed to beat a team that finished above .500 on the season.

The calling card of this team is the passing game. Mike White has 3,826 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has helped the Hilltoppers rank ninth in the country in passing yards per game, averaging 333.7. White has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career and can air it out with the best of them. They have seven receivers with over 200 yards receiving, but Nacarius Fant leads all receivers with 634 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, they haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground this season. As a team they have fewer than 800 yards on the season. There are players who have almost triple that amount on their own. Part of this is by design, as WKU likes to pass a lot, but the running backs aren’t making the most of their opportunities when they do get carries.

The Hilltoppers have a below average scoring defense that allows 26.8 points per game. While they are an average run defending team, they are actually better at stopping the pass. Joel Iyiegbuniwe will lead the defense from his linebacker position. He helps stop the run and will need to have a big game for Western Kentucky to win.

Georgia State Panthers (6-5)

2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl preview

Penny Hart (Photo by georgiastatesports.com)

Georgia State had a game cancelled against Memphis, but they were still able to get to six wins and bowl eligibility. The Panthers were not able to beat a team that was bowl eligible this season, but will take their chances in the AutoNation Cure Bowl.

Senior Conner Manning has been a two year starter and has raised his level of efficiency at the quarterback position this season. He has 2,870 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Manning is a pocket passer, that does a good job of hitting his favorite target, Penny Hart. Hart is a premier talent that has 1,098 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

The passing offense is good, but the rushing offense is bad, much like Western Kentucky. They rank 117th in the country in rushing yards per game. Glenn Smith is the leading rusher with 522 yards on the ground. The running game won’t be a big factor in this game.

The defense is above average and allows 25.5 points per game. Georgia State is better at defending the run than the pass, which will likely be an issue in this game. Four year starter Chandon Sullivan can have a big impact on the game from his corner position. He is the program’s all time leader in interceptions and if he can get one or two more in this game, the Panthers can win.

Prediction

Mike White and the Hilltopper offense are going to be tough to stop. White will light up the Georgia State defense, while the Western Kentucky defense will do just enough to win the game.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 42 Georgia State 31

 

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Biggest Upsets in the First Round of the Last Five NCAA Tournaments

The first round of the NCAA Tournament is now rightfully restored to the games on Thursday and Friday of the first weekend after a short stint (2011-2015) as being reserved for the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday. In this time, the Thursday and Friday games have produced some great upsets. Here are some of the best upsets in what should have been the first round during this period:

Florida Gulf Coast surprised everyone with their athleticism in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy westwoodonesports.com.

  1.  2013- #15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles beat #2 Georgetown Hoyas

A 15 seed beating a number two seed is really rare, but Florida Gulf Coast pulled of this feat in 2013. The Eagles won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament to become eligible for the NCAA Tournament.  Georgetown had Big East Player of the Year, Otto Porter, who eventually was drafted number three overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Florida Gulf Coast won the game by ten points and gained fame for having the nickname “Dunk City” after throwing down a lot of highlight-reel jams. Point guard Brett Comer had a double double for the Eagles with 12 points and 10 assists, while Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson had over 20 points each. Their offense was fun to watch, but the reason they won the game was that they held Otto Porter to only 13 points. Florida Gulf Coast would go on to be the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 before losing to Florida.

C.J. McCollum helped lead the Mountain Hawks to a huge upset over Duke. Photo courtesy centives.net.

2. 2012- #15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks defeat #2 Duke Blue Devils

Lehigh won the Patriot League tournament to clinch their tournament bid. The Mountain Hawks were led by a future NBA star, C.J. McCollum, but he was playing with a foot injury. Duke sported a team that featured Mason and Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook, who all went on to play professionally. The chances of the Mountain Hawks winning without their star was minimal. McCollum scored 30 points, had six rebounds and six assists. Forward Gabe Knutson added 17 points and shot 100 percent from the floor. Lehigh would lose in the second round to Xavier, but will forever be known for knocking of a National Championship contender.

The Spartans were led by a future NBA player, Kyle O’Quinn. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

3. 2012- #15 Norfolk State Spartan over #2 Missouri Tigers

Missouri had one of the best regular seasons in their history and received a two seed. They were loaded with stars such as Phil and Matt Pressey, Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Michael Dixon. Norfolk State came in to this game with a future NBA player in Kyle O’Quinn, but they did not have a very good bench. O’Quinn scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Spartans to a victory. The most impressive part of this upset is that Norfolk State had no bench points and still managed to get enough scoring to upset the Tigers.

The best thing about Mercer’s upset was the celebration afterwards. Photo courtesy ballislife.com.

4. 2014- #14 Mercer Bears upset #3 Duke Blue Devils

This is Duke’s second time on this list as they had a few rough years in the NCAA tournament between their NCAA Tournament Championships in 2010 and 2015.  Duke was loaded with talent in Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins. Mercer is unique in that they didn’t have a future NBA player on their roster. Jakob Gallon led the Bears with 20 points and Daniel Coursey added 17 to help score the upset. The Bears moved on to the second round where they lost to Tennessee.

5. 2015- #14 Georgia State Panthers beats #3 Baylor Bears

Georgia State won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Ron Hunter had a talented squad that included his son R.J. who was drafted in the 2015 NBA Draft. They were facing off with Baylor who had a balanced roster of good players. The Panthers were without starting point guard Ryan Harrow for this game, who was out with a leg injury. R.J. Hunter stepped up big time with 16 points and even hit the game-winning shot, which caused his father to fall off of his stool in excitement.

With all of the great games lately, the NCAA Tournament is getting better and better. Everybody get your popcorn ready, because this year there will be more upsets.