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Top 5 future NFL stars to watch in Dec. 20-24 bowl games

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This week's bowl games will showcase some future NFL stars, including one of the nation's most talented QBs, and provide a platform for a slew of lesser-known players to prove their value to NFL scouts looking for value picks.

Here are my top five players to watch leading up to Christmas Day.

College Football 24/7 Hot Topics:

1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Game: Hawaii Bowl vs. Fresno State, Dec. 24
Oliver might fly a little under the radar since he plays outside the Power Five conferences, but he'll have the stage to himself on Sunday night -- it's the only bowl game of the day. He will be playing to a national audience, including Heisman voters looking for some candidates for next year. Yes, Oliver is that good, and he's only a sophomore.

Fresno State's offensive line has a tough ask trying to move him in the run game, and he's too quick to reach-block, so I suspect he'll be in the backfield regularly. Scouts will be checking out his supreme blend of power, athleticism, and hustle -- they can't wait for him to be available in the 2019 or 2020 drafts.

2. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Game: Potato Bowl vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 22
Wyoming announced on Wednesday that Allen (injured throwing shoulder) will start against Central Michigan in the Potato Bowl. He missed the final two games of the regular season with the injury. However, even when he was healthy earlier in the season, Allen struggled to produce (56.2 completion percentage, 1,658 yards, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions). Scouts love his prototypical size and arm strength. His throws to the sideline are as strong and accurate as any quarterback's in the country.

Allen, a redshirt junior, has yet to announce his intentions for 2018, although Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl expects Allen to declare for the draft. It would ease the fears of any prospective employers if he performs well on a larger stage, especially since his efforts against Iowa and Oregon in September did not go well (266 total passing yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions in those two games).

3. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Game: Frisco Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 20
Oklahoma State's James Washington won the Biletnikoff Award, and Alabama's Calvin Ridley might be the top talent at the position, but some NFL evaluators will tell you that Sutton is the best receiver in the country. His size, long strides and strong hands make him a downfield threat as well as a problem for small defenders in the red zone. Louisiana Tech would be wise to make sure he's bracketed as often as possible on Wednesday night in the Frisco Bowl.

4. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Game: Armed Forces Bowl vs. Army, Dec. 23
Penny is still looking for respect despite leading the nation with 2,027 rushing yards. The Aztecs have had a rusher exceed 2,000 yards in two consecutive seasons, but it seems Penny's game will translate to the NFL better than that of his predecessor, Donnel Pumphrey, a fourth-round pick in 2017 who set the NCAA record for career rushing yards after covering 2,133 yards on the ground last year. Penny is willing to press the hole as quickly as any back in the country, which means he's at full speed when a lane appears. While he's not elite in terms of power, Penny does churn through contact and usually falls forward for the extra yard. We'll see if Army is able to stack the box during the Armed Forces Bowl to stop Penny before he gets started.

5. Carl Granderson, DE, Wyoming

Game: Potato Bowl vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 22
Granderson isn't well-known outside of Mountain West Country, but he's shown potential as a pass rusher since his freshman year. Coming off an injury-shortened 2016 season, he exploded onto the scene just as he does off the edge when chasing a quarterback. The first-team all-conference pick had 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. If scouts went to a Cowboys game to see Allen play, there's no doubt they noticed Granderson when the defense stepped onto the field. A big game against Central Michigan might make him a household name in the scouting world.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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