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Published: Dec. 15, 2016 at 10:35 a.m.
Updated: Dec. 15, 2016 at 11:23 a.m.

Top 15 prospects playing in Saturday's bowl games

Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl (Houston vs. San Diego State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) is one of the best opening-day bowl games in recent memory. The Aztecs finished 10-3 and won the Mountain West Conference, while the Cougars beat Oklahoma and Louisville but inexplicably lost to SMU and Memphis, costing themselves a shot at an American Athletic Conference crown.

When evaluating the top prospects for the first day of bowl season, scouts will want to keep an eye on the action in Vegas. Unlike most other bowls held before Christmas, there are at least 12 players on the two squads that have NFL futures. Here's a look at the top 15 prospects who'll be competing in bowls on Saturday. All times listed are Eastern.

15 Photos Total

  • <b>Game:</b> New Orleans Bowl (vs. Southern Miss), 9 p.m., ESPN<br>
When the Rajun Cajuns have the ball, check out the quick and slippery McGuire. Although he's a smaller back, McGuire seems to find creases to move the chains. When those holes expand a bit, he exploits them for big gains. He's also an adept receiver out of the backfield, which helps his own cause running between the tackles to open space. I don't know if scouts will believe he has the power to be a starter at the next level, but someone should give him a shot. 15

    Mark Zerof/USA TODAY

    15. Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette

    Game: New Orleans Bowl (vs. Southern Miss), 9 p.m., ESPN
    When the Rajun Cajuns have the ball, check out the quick and slippery McGuire. Although he's a smaller back, McGuire seems to find creases to move the chains. When those holes expand a bit, he exploits them for big gains. He's also an adept receiver out of the backfield, which helps his own cause running between the tackles to open space. I don't know if scouts will believe he has the power to be a starter at the next level, but someone should give him a shot.

  • <b>Game:</b> New Orleans Bowl (vs. Louisiana-Lafayette), 9 p.m., ESPN<br>
Mullens has been leading the Golden Eagles since his freshman campaign, but he's had no more efficient performance than in the team's win over Louisiana Tech on Thanksgiving weekend (29-for-33 passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). Scouts aren't wowed by his size or arm strength. Coaches, however, will like his toughness, intelligence and ability to place the football in the right spot. 14

    Chuck Cook/USA TODAY

    14. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss

    Game: New Orleans Bowl (vs. Louisiana-Lafayette), 9 p.m., ESPN
    Mullens has been leading the Golden Eagles since his freshman campaign, but he's had no more efficient performance than in the team's win over Louisiana Tech on Thanksgiving weekend (29-for-33 passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). Scouts aren't wowed by his size or arm strength. Coaches, however, will like his toughness, intelligence and ability to place the football in the right spot.

  • <b>Game:</b> Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN<br>
It might come as a surprise that Roberts ranks sixth in the country with 15 receiving touchdowns. Once you see him play, though, it won't take long to see why he's had that success. Scouts have questions about his long speed, but the 6-foot-5, 270-pound pass-catcher does have good agility for his size -- size that allows him to carry defensive backs into the end zone when necessary. 13

    Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY

    13. Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo

    Game: Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
    It might come as a surprise that Roberts ranks sixth in the country with 15 receiving touchdowns. Once you see him play, though, it won't take long to see why he's had that success. Scouts have questions about his long speed, but the 6-foot-5, 270-pound pass-catcher does have good agility for his size -- size that allows him to carry defensive backs into the end zone when necessary.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cure Bowl (vs. Arkansas State), 5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network<br>
The Golden Knights haven't made many headlines this year, but Griffin's play has not been overlooked by NFL teams. He's intercepted four passes and broken up 12 others, giving him six and 25, respectively in his two years as a starter. His 6-1, 200-pound frame gives him flexibility to be a valued reserve at corner or safety in the NFL. His special-teams prowess might earn him a roster spot. 12

    Kim Klement/USA TODAY

    12. Shaquill Griffin, DB, Central Florida

    Game: Cure Bowl (vs. Arkansas State), 5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
    The Golden Knights haven't made many headlines this year, but Griffin's play has not been overlooked by NFL teams. He's intercepted four passes and broken up 12 others, giving him six and 25, respectively in his two years as a starter. His 6-1, 200-pound frame gives him flexibility to be a valued reserve at corner or safety in the NFL. His special-teams prowess might earn him a roster spot.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Aztec coaches often line Barrett up at defensive tackle because even at 6-3, 255 pounds, he gives guards fits with his strength and agility. At the next level, he'll either have to gain weight to play a five-technique or prove that he has the requisite speed to be a regular contributor as a pass rusher. He has a shot to make an NFL roster in either capacity. 11

    Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY

    11. Alex Barrett, DE, San Diego State

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Aztec coaches often line Barrett up at defensive tackle because even at 6-3, 255 pounds, he gives guards fits with his strength and agility. At the next level, he'll either have to gain weight to play a five-technique or prove that he has the requisite speed to be a regular contributor as a pass rusher. He has a shot to make an NFL roster in either capacity.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
This senior from Cedar Hill, Texas, won't fit every NFL scheme as a 6-1, 225-pound inside linebacker. But he's one of the most explosive tacklers and blitzers in the draft class. He consistently attacks gaps in the Cougars' system, and averages one tackle for loss per game for his career (which ranks 15th among all FBS players). 10

    Troy Taormina/USA TODAY

    10. Steven Taylor, LB, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    This senior from Cedar Hill, Texas, won't fit every NFL scheme as a 6-1, 225-pound inside linebacker. But he's one of the most explosive tacklers and blitzers in the draft class. He consistently attacks gaps in the Cougars' system, and averages one tackle for loss per game for his career (which ranks 15th among all FBS players).

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Ward is one of college's football most prolific offensive weapons, ranking fourth in the country in total offense. As an NFL prospect, however, scouts are concerned about his ability to work from a dirty pocket given his size and average accuracy in the intermediate passing game. He'll likely be asked at the next level to play receiver, where he started five games as a sophomore before taking over the offense at quarterback. If he proves to have pro-caliber hands in addition to elusiveness with the ball in his hands, he could have an NFL future. 9

    Troy Taormina/USA TODAY

    9. Greg Ward, Jr., QB, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Ward is one of college's football most prolific offensive weapons, ranking fourth in the country in total offense. As an NFL prospect, however, scouts are concerned about his ability to work from a dirty pocket given his size and average accuracy in the intermediate passing game. He'll likely be asked at the next level to play receiver, where he started five games as a sophomore before taking over the offense at quarterback. If he proves to have pro-caliber hands in addition to elusiveness with the ball in his hands, he could have an NFL future.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Pumphrey is approaching Ron Dayne's record for career rushing yards (though Dayne's bowl statistics weren't counted in his total). At 5-9, 190 pounds, he'll have a tough time convincing NFL teams he possesses the strength to be an every-down ball carrier. He'll need to prove he's a special-teams threat to make an impact in the NFL, and he's perfectly capable of doing so. 8

    Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY

    8. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Pumphrey is approaching Ron Dayne's record for career rushing yards (though Dayne's bowl statistics weren't counted in his total). At 5-9, 190 pounds, he'll have a tough time convincing NFL teams he possesses the strength to be an every-down ball carrier. He'll need to prove he's a special-teams threat to make an impact in the NFL, and he's perfectly capable of doing so.

  • <b>Game:</b> Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN<br>
Just when you think you've got Hunt in your sights, he's past you. Though listed at 6-0, 225, he runs like a 5-9 back because of his excellent lean and balance. With a great stiff-arm and always-churning feet, Hunt is not willing to go down. I expect the senior to be running even harder than usual (if that's possible) in his final game with the Golden Rockets, so be sure to tune in. 7

    Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY

    7. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

    Game: Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
    Just when you think you've got Hunt in your sights, he's past you. Though listed at 6-0, 225, he runs like a 5-9 back because of his excellent lean and balance. With a great stiff-arm and always-churning feet, Hunt is not willing to go down. I expect the senior to be running even harder than usual (if that's possible) in his final game with the Golden Rockets, so be sure to tune in.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Wilson is a senior, and while he doesn't get the hype that former Houston CB William Jackson did last season, he's still a more than capable player with good size and athleticism who could line up at corner or safety in the NFL. 6

    Thomas Shea/USA TODAY

    6. Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Wilson is a senior, and while he doesn't get the hype that former Houston CB William Jackson did last season, he's still a more than capable player with good size and athleticism who could line up at corner or safety in the NFL.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
It took Catalon a couple of years to get on the field after redshirting at Texas and sitting out for the Cougars as a transfer in 2015. He's had issues staying healthy this year. Nonetheless, the 6-0, 210-pound back brings size and speed to the party. He's also an excellent receiver, making him the sort of all-around threat that NFL scouts drool over. 5

    Soobum Im/USA TODAY

    5. Duke Catalon, RB, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    It took Catalon a couple of years to get on the field after redshirting at Texas and sitting out for the Cougars as a transfer in 2015. He's had issues staying healthy this year. Nonetheless, the 6-0, 210-pound back brings size and speed to the party. He's also an excellent receiver, making him the sort of all-around threat that NFL scouts drool over.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Just a sophomore, Wilson's ball skills and physicality are already eye-catching. His five interceptions and nine pass breakups rank among the nation's leaders. The Cougars seem to be regularly producing NFL talent in the secondary, so it's no surprise that they have two CBs on this list. 4

    Thomas Shea/USA TODAY

    4. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Just a sophomore, Wilson's ball skills and physicality are already eye-catching. His five interceptions and nine pass breakups rank among the nation's leaders. The Cougars seem to be regularly producing NFL talent in the secondary, so it's no surprise that they have two CBs on this list.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Scouts view Munson as a top-100 pick because he's an athletic, hard-nosed linebacker who's capable of playing outside or between the tackles. Look for him to surprise as a starter as a rookie, much like Blake Martinez did for the Packers this season. 3

    Jake Roth/USA TODAY

    3. Calvin Munson, LB, San Diego State

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Scouts view Munson as a top-100 pick because he's an athletic, hard-nosed linebacker who's capable of playing outside or between the tackles. Look for him to surprise as a starter as a rookie, much like Blake Martinez did for the Packers this season.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Kazee (5-11, 190, per school measurements) is not the largest corner in the country. Wyoming found out the hard way last weekend, though, that the senior makes you pay if you throw a poor pass in his direction, as he made two picks in the game. He'll be a starter at the next level. 2

    Jake Roth/USA TODAY

    2. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Kazee (5-11, 190, per school measurements) is not the largest corner in the country. Wyoming found out the hard way last weekend, though, that the senior makes you pay if you throw a poor pass in his direction, as he made two picks in the game. He'll be a starter at the next level.

  • <b>Game:</b> Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC<br>
Even though he's only a freshman, Oliver is already one of the top five defenders in the country. Next year, he could prove himself as the consensus No. 1 defensive player in CFB because of his amazing combination of strength, agility, speed and hustle. 1

    Troy Taormina/USA TODAY

    1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

    Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
    Even though he's only a freshman, Oliver is already one of the top five defenders in the country. Next year, he could prove himself as the consensus No. 1 defensive player in CFB because of his amazing combination of strength, agility, speed and hustle.