logoby Greg Doyle

New Year’s Day is here, traditionally the best day to watch college football. And what a great slate of games today. Let’s review some of the players to keep in mind as the NFL draft approaches, now only four months away.

The Outback Bowl – Tennessee (9-4) vs. Wisconsin (9-3) (ESPN 11:00 AM): A good game between the SEC runner-up and a good Big 10 team. Two of the best conferences out there should provide two quality, well-matched opponents. Wisconsin has won two straight bowl games over SEC opponents.

Tennessee QB Erik Ainge (#10): Danny’s nephew had a good season. Nice 29/10 TD/INT ratio. Very tall, but not real strong. Can be sacked. Has a good and accurate arm. Doesn’t throw as well on the run. Should be a good NFL QB and a first day pick.

Wisconsin TE Travis Beckum (#9): A junior, he had a great year catching the ball with 73 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards. Some scouts see him as a first round choice and one of the better tight ends in the draft if, he enters it. I am not so sure. He is clearly a great pass catcher, with amazing hands and good speed. But at 221 lbs., he is a bit small. Will need to bulk up, if that may cost him quickness. I see him more as an h-back, so he’ll have to find the right offense to fit into. The Patriots could use a guy like this, but they don’t utilize that position enough, nor is Beckum good enough, to warrant a first or even a second round selection. If he slid to the third round, that may interest them though I still wonder if he is just not big enough and good enough of a blocker for them. In some ways, just a big, glorified receiver.

The Cotton Bowl – Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4): (FOX 11:30 AM): Two high scoring teams that can run the ball, but who also feature quirky offenses that features in the case of Arkansas running backs playing quarterback and in the case of Missouri wide receivers running the ball fairly regularly. We’ve all talked a lot about Darren McFadden, let’s see who else shows up in this game.

Missouri TE Martin Rucker (#82): Missouri also features an excellent pass-catching tight end in Rucker. Rucker hauled in 81 receptions this year for 815 yards and 8 touchdowns. He checks in a 6’6″ 255 so he certainly has NFL size. Very fast for his size and excellent hands. Does not have the strength he needs for the NFL yet and doesn’t break tackles, more of a finese receiver. But his speed, athletic ability and hands make him perfect for a West Coast offense.

Missouri CB Darnell Terrell (#3): This would be a good guy for the Patriots to look at later in the draft. Has nice NFL size at 6’2″ 200 and was All Big 12 Honorable Mention this year. Chipped in 40 tackles and 10 pass breakups. Did not have any interceptions this year and only three for his career, so needs to work on ball skills. Still, has size and talent and is somewhat of a sleeper, making him a ideal for a 4th or 5th round pick. Has nice straight line speed.

Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison (#55): Had an ACL injury last year, but came back to play in 11 games this year. Checks in at 307 lbs. Had a nice 72 tackle season. Not a pass rusher, but holds his ground nicely. May be more suited outside for the Patriots as he’s not quite as big as needs to be to be a pure nose tackle, nor does he have experience at that position.

The Sugar Bowl – Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2) (FOX 8:00 PM): The undefeated Hawaii squad can make an argument to move way up in the polls and complete their undefeated season if they knock off SEC powerhouse Georgia.

Hawaii QB Colt Brennan (#15): Slightly undersized but highly regarded QB who puts up huge numbers in Hawaii’s run and shoot system. Harder to project to the NFL than other college quarterbacks due to the system, but fits profile better than past Hawaii signal callers. Has nice size and the room to get bigger. Good arm and accurate. Smart guy who is a leader. Completed over 70% of his passes this year. Throws well on the run. Will be a first day draft pick.

Hawaii WR Jason Rivers (#84): A nicely sized WR with 4.45/40 speed and productive. What’s not to like? Plays in strange offense, so will require some learning time. But given his production, good size and speed, would seem to be a nice second day sleeper.

Georgia OLB Marcus Howard (#38): An outside linebacker who could play in a 3-4 for the Patriots. Has bulked up a bit, so now checks in at around 245 lbs. Has good speed and came into his own a bit this year, his first full year as a starter, with 7.5 sacks. Can play in coverage, but needs to improve. Somewhat of a sleeper, but stock is rising. Hadn’t played much until this year, but was a very good player here at the end.

Others to Watch

Tune into the Capital One Bowl at Noon on ABC and check out Michigan RB Mike Hart (#20). Hart is a good runner who had an extremely productive college career. Doesn’t overwhelm you physically. He’s short, not that big and not a speed burner. But he runs hard and puts in maximum effort with his runs. Can move the pile with power. He could be a first day pick or early second day. Michigan will be taking on Florida. Also at Noon on CBS, Texas Tech takes on Virginia in the Gator Bowl. There has been a lot of talk about Virginia defensive end Chris Long (#91). Long is the son of former Oakland Raider and Hall of Famer Howie Long, a native of Charlestown, Massachusetts. His son Chris is a 275 lb. defensive end and playmaker. Racked up an impressive 14 sacks this season. Personally, I feel he may not fit well into the Patriots 3-4 system and they won’t take him in the top 10. On the other hand, he played for Belichick protégé Al Groh so there is carry over. May be able to be a Willie McGinest type for the Patriots and Belichick does always find ways to use talent. I am sure they will examine him closely. The “Granddaddy of them all”…. The Rose Bowl will be on ABC at 4:30 PM. Check out USC Junior LB Rey Maualuga (#58) who kept current Patriots rookie Oscar Lua a backup his senior year. Maualuga is a great inside linebacker with ideal size and athletic ability, as well as strength, smart and tackling ability, to be a perfect fit with the Patriots. If he comes out, they will be interested.