Phil Savage knows better than to count the eggs in the Reese's Senior Bowl basket prematurely, because rosters for the annual all-star game remain at least slightly in flux right up until the week of the game. But if the first 25 players to accept invitations are a fair snapshot of the 110 who will eventually fill out the rosters for the weeklong event in Mobile, Ala., the 2015 game should wield more star power than it has attracted in some time.
Already among those to accept invitations are Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu and Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Throw in Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, Utah pass rusher Nate Orchard, and Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, and you have a core group of talent that already -- with 85 invitations still to be filled -- rivals what the Senior Bowl had on its top shelf last year.
"I was very concerned going into the fall about the quality of players we would be able to get this year," said Savage, the game's executive director. "But I think if we get the acceptances in terms of the invites we sent out, and they are able to stay healthy the rest of the year, it will be a very, very good group from A to Z."
While the fish in the boat look strong, however, it's the size of the fish still in the sea for Savage that could result in a massive haul at the unloading dock. Since the 2013 game, fourth-year juniors who will graduate in December are eligible for the game as well. As such, two star quarterbacks -- Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota of Oregon and UCLA's Brett Hundley -- have received invitations as well.
"It could be very big for us as an all-star game if Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley decide to come down here. I'm very hopeful they will," Savage said. "I think both of them could solidify, in Marcus' case, or upgrade their draft stock, in the case of Brett Hundley, if they accept the invite. As name-brand recognition, they could help us."
While Mariota and Hundley would not only draw heavy scouting attention but help sell tickets to the Jan. 24 game as well, the depth of college football's senior class could carry two impressive rosters on its own.
The list of other top seniors who have been sent invitations, but have yet to accept, reads deep and strong: Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, LSU tackle La'el Collins, Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff are players NFL scouts would want to take a very close look at. The Senior Bowl expects to announce an accepted invitation from at least one of those seniors early next week. Savage said the game rosters are typically stacked on the line of scrimmage, because top linemen tend to stay in college for their senior years more often.
Not so at other positions.
"I always worry about the receivers, but this year I've got 20-plus guys at that spot who are good enough for an invitation," Savage said. "I will be excited to see that group down here."
Among those invites: Louisville's DeVante Parker, who could certainly use a big Senior Bowl week to cap a season that was shortened by injury, and Kansas State's Tyler Lockett.
More than 60 invitations have gone out, with another 20-30 set to be extended by the end of this week. Several factors compel prospects to decline an invitation, from the fear of being injured, to a pre-existing injury, to advice from an agent. Top-shelf prospects who are convinced their draft status can only be hurt by competing at the Senior Bowl are often the ones who pass on the chance.
This year, however, the pool from which the rosters are filled is deep enough to withstand its share of declined invitations and still deliver a star-studded contingent to Mobile.