Oregon and Texas' showdown in the Alamo Bowl is the highlight of Monday's bowl schedule, which also includes the Armed Forces Bowl, the Music City Bowl and the Holiday Bowl. Here's a preview of the four games, including the top pro prospects to watch:
Valero Alamo Bowl
Oregon vs. Texas
Monday, Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
If the Alamo Bowl is looking for a theme song this year, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash would make a lot of sense.
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Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost finally confirmed what had been long known but never officially acknowledged: Mariota suffered a partially torn MCL against UCLA, dramatically hampering his mobility over the second half of the season. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound redshirt sophomore will ditch the bulky knee brace, giving him a chance to add to the 3,412 passing yards, 582 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns he has been responsible for.
That will make life even tougher for Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, one of college football's finest pass-rush tandems. Jeffcoat (6-5, 250) was an absolute terror, leading the team with 80 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, with Reed (6-6, 258), a junior, right behind with 75 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, nine sacks and four forced fumbles. But if they rush too far up the field or lose containment, a healthy Mariota could gash Texas on designed runs, read-option plays and scrambles, which was already an issue against far less dynamic quarterbacks in the regular season.
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The Oregon defense had its own issues stopping the run, which makes junior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all the more vital. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who will retire after the game, can leave Ekpre-Olomu (5-10, 185) on an island against senior wide receiver Mike Davis (6-2, 195) and commit a safety to stopping running back Malcolm Brown. Davis is a dynamic deep threat, with four of his eight touchdown receptions this season covering at least 38 yards, but Ekpre-Olomu has three interceptions and can match any receiver with speed and physicality.
Mariota has his own collection of dynamic skill players in wide receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison and all-purpose threat De'Anthony Thomas. Huff (5-11, 202), effective in the slot and out wide, should be especially fired up returning home to face the flagship program that passed him over.
If Mariota can deliver the ball downfield with accuracy to that group and operate in a muddy pocket, it would represent a significant step forward heading into next season. Mariota has the athleticism to be a game-redefining force at quarterback in the NFL, but his limitations as a passer were exposed when his mobility was taken out of the equation. Head coach Mark Helfrich, Frost and Mariota will all need to work together to refine that part of his game before he goes to the next level.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Navy
Monday, Dec. 30, 11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN
Navy sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds already is being listed as a potential dark-horse Heisman candidate for 2014, and he can give his candidacy a boost with a big performance in Monday's Armed Forces Bowl.
Reynolds and the Midshipmen (8-4) meet Middle Tennessee State (8-4) in Fort Worth, Texas. Kickoff will be at 10:45 a.m. local time in Fort Worth.
Reynolds (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) has rushed for 1,260 yards and 29 touchdowns, an NCAA single-season record for a quarterback. He will be looking to become just the fourth player in NCAA history with 30 rushing TDs in a season. Colorado State junior tailback Kapri Bibbs scored 31 TDs this season to join a select group whose other members are Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders (37 in 1987) and Wisconsin's Montee Ball (33 in 2011).
Reynolds has scored in every game but two this season, and he scored seven times in a win over San Jose State on Nov. 22. That was one of seven games in which he scored at least three TDs. Reynolds also has thrown eight TD passes, so he has had a hand in 37 of Navy's 55 touchdowns this season.
Reynolds and Navy's running backs should find the going relatively easy against Middle Tennessee State, which allows 185.8 rushing yards per game; the Blue Raiders are 84th nationally in rush defense. Middle Tennessee twice allowed an opponent to rush for 300 yards.
The flipside: Middle Tennessee's offense should put up good numbers against Navy's defense, which has been particularly weak against the pass. Middle Tennessee has a balanced offense, rushing for 208.3 yards per game and throwing for 207.4.
Middle Tennessee has forced 31 turnovers, including 16 fumbles. But Navy's triple-option offense has been noteworthy for its lack of turnovers; the Midshipmen have committed just eight turnovers, including just four lost fumbles.
Navy has lost five of its past six bowl games, and a win would give Navy its fifth nine-win season in the past 10 years.
The game features few senior NFL prospects. Middle Tennessee's best seniors are defensive tackle Jimmy Staten (6-foot-4, 304 pounds) and guard Josh Walker (6-5, 323). Middle Tennessee's most talented player probably is sophomore strong safety Kevin Byard (5-11, 216), who has 166 tackles, nine interceptions (with four returned for TDs), seven pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He already has 326 career interception-return yards; the NCAA career record is 501 by former Florida State star Terrell Buckley.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Monday, Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief, a junior considering early NFL draft entry, is the top pro prospect in the Music City Bowl. Moncrief has made 53 catches for 825 yards this season, but inconsistently mixed in a few explosive performances (100-yard games against Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Missouri) with several games in which he was barely involved in the offense (Texas A&M, Troy, Mississippi State). At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Moncrief has plenty of size for the NFL but has deferred his decision until after the bowl game.
Another Rebel to watch is hard-hitting safety Cody Prewitt, a junior who is also considering early entry. Prewitt was everywhere for the Ole Miss defense this season, making a team-high 50 solo tackles with an SEC-high six interceptions and a team-high seven pass breakups. He also projects well as a special-teams player at the pro level.
Although the Yellow Jackets could produce a Day 3 draft pick or two, the primary Georgia Tech prospect to watch is Jeremiah Attaochu. He'll rush the passer from a defensive end position, probably against Ole Miss Freshman All-SEC left tackle Laremy Tunsil. At 6-3, 245 pounds, he's more of an outside linebacker prospect at the NFL level. Attaochu led the Yellow Jackets in tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (12.5). Tunsil, meanwhile, is one to watch for the future.
Ole Miss freshman tight end Evan Engram, a key peg in the Rebels' offense as a slot receiver, is expected to return from what was thought to be a season-ending injury.
National University Holiday Bowl
Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Monday, Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Holiday Bowl between Arizona State and Texas Tech is expected to be the highest-scoring game of the postseason. And with the plethora of offensive talent on display, it is easy to see why.
Texas Tech has the most productive tight end in college football, with junior Jace Amaro catching 98 passes -- 36 more than Eric Ebron of North Carolina, the next closest tally -- for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. Amaro (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) does much of his work in the slot and is going to be a dynamic weapon in the passing game, but he has work to do to advance his skills as an in-line blocker. Underrated senior wide receiver Eric Ward (6-0, 205) will inevitably be compared to fellow Red Raider alums Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. It would be a major disappointment if redshirt sophomore Le'Raven Clark (6-5, 320) was not among the top left tackles in the college ranks next season.
Arizona State is expected to be without running back Marion Grice, who has not been able to practice because of a leg injury that also kept him out of the Pac-12 championship game. Grice (6-0, 227) is a natural in the red zone with 20 total touchdowns this season and an outstanding receiver, but even without him, the Sun Devils have plenty of firepower. Junior-college transfer Jaelen Strong (6-4, 205) is a sure-handed wide receiver with adequate speed, posting 71 receptions for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns in a seamless transition to the Pac-12, and senior Chris Coyle (6-3, 240) is another tight end masquerading as a slot receiver in the spread.
If either team is going to slow down the opposing offense, it will have to begin up front with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton (6-1, 305) or Texas Tech defensive end Kerry Hyder (6-2, 280). A heavier Sutton failed to match his production from last season -- 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks -- but still shockingly repeated as Pac-12 defensive player of the year. Hyder is a terrifically active force up front, with 60 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.