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College football bowl games preview and live chat: Opening weekend

Bowl season begins with a smattering of high-potential prospects

Although yesterday featured some MACtion events such as the Bahamas Bowl and the Cure Bowl, this Saturday promises to be the real start of the college football bowl season. Featuring six matchups between mostly smaller-school teams, each game has at least one NFL Draft prospect you want to keep an eye on. Below you’ll find information about each of the bowl games slated for Saturday as well as the main NFL prospects to watch. As always, let’s talk about the games, leave questions on prospects and enjoy the weekend.

Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State

Boca Raton Bowl
11:00 A.M. EST, ESPN

As seems to be the case most years, Western Kentucky has a high-flying passing offense this season headlined by quarterback Bailey Zappe, a senior who has some solid-to-average tools. Most likely a late-round pick, he’ll be looking to stand out in this game and in the upcoming Senior Bowl. Similarly, Appalachian State’s quarterback Chase Brice has a great frame at 6’3” and 235 lbs, and decent accuracy. Also look for Mountaineers wide receiver Jalen Virgil in the return game. You’ll hear more about his amazing feats of athleticism during the 2022 NFL Combine.

UTEP vs. Fresno State

New Mexico Bowl
2:15 P.M. EST, ESPN

Fresno State is another team reliant on their passing game. Sporting average size and speed, Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Cropper nonetheless has been productive for the Bulldogs thanks to his reliable hands and connection with quarterback Jake Haener. Look for the duo to set up a connection with back shoulder throws against the Miners.

UAB vs. No. 13 BYU

Independence Bowl
3:30 P.M. EST, ABC

UAB tight end Gerrit Prince has the playing style of a big wide receiver and is ranked first in the nation in yards per reception for tight ends. While he doesn’t have the size of a prototypical in-line tight end, he looks like he could grow into his frame a bit and become slightly more of a blocker.

Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty

LendingTree Bowl
5:45 P.M. EST, ESPN

Liberty signal caller Malik Willis is the star of the show, drawing comparisons to other dual-threat quarterbacks, like Lamar Jackson. He is at least physically similar to the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, in that he’s quick on his feet—predicted to clock around a 4.50 40-time—and has a cannon for an arm. There are many analysts predicting that those tools and his body of work at Liberty will be enough to get him drafted in the first round.

Utah State vs. Oregon State

LA Bowl
7:30 P.M. EST, ABC

Coming off a long and prolific college career—at three schools, no less—Utah State linebacker Justin Rice is a smaller linebacker at 6’2” and 225 lbs but has the range you want at that size. Offensively for the Aggies, Deven Thompkins is a smaller receiver at only 5’8”, but doesn’t play small. The senior has the third-most contested catches in the FBS, with 12, according to PFF.

No. 23 Louisiana vs. Marshall

New Orleans Bowl
9:15 P.M. EST, ESPN

In what is turning out to be an extremely deep class at offensive tackle, Max Mitchell is a smart, fluid mover, and excels in pass blocking sets. He looks like an early round draft riser. On the other side of the ball for the Ragin Cajuns is big nose tackle Tayland Humphrey. An East-West Shrine Game participant, he has a massive 82” wingspan and 34” arms and has the strength to back it up.