The 2021 college football regular season has come to an end, which means one thing: it’s time to go bowling!
Bowl season is arguably the most exciting time of the year for college football fans, as it pits the best of the best up against each other on a big stage. The biggest stretch of action takes place on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, in bowl games known as the “New Year’s Six”. The two playoff semifinal matchups take place, as well as the four biggest non-playoff bowl matchups of the year.
The Bears figure to have their fair share of needs heading into the 2022 offseason, and luckily for them, these bowl weekends will give them a great chance to check out some of the top talent slated to hit the 2022 NFL Draft.
Not all of the prospects listed below will be playing in these matchups, whether it be due to injury or having opted out of the bowl itself. However, I have decided to keep it inclusive and list the top prospects for each team playing this weekend, whether the player suits up or not.
Here are some of the top 2022 NFL Draft prospects in each New Year’s Six bowl game.
Note: This excludes the Peach Bowl, which took place on Thursday between No. 12 Pittsburgh and No. 10 Michigan State. These are some of the top prospects from that game, though a few of the top players did not participate:
- Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett
- Pittsburgh DB Damarri Mathis
- Pittsburgh LS Cal Adomitis
- Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker
- Michigan State FB/TE Connor Heyward
- Michigan State OL Kevin Jarvis
- Michigan State OL Jordan Reid
Cotton Bowl: CFP Semifinal
No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 1 Alabama
Friday, Dec. 31 - 2:30 PM
- Alabama OT Evan Neal
- Alabama WR Jameson Williams
- Alabama WR John Metchie III
- Alabama LB Christian Harris
- Alabama LB Henry To’o To’o
- Alabama CB Josh Jobe
- Alabama S Jordan Battle
- Alabama TE Jahleel Billingsley
- Alabama OG Emil Ekiyor Jr.
- Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr.
- Alabama DL Phidarian Mathis
- Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
- Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
- Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders
- Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce
- Cincinnati CB Coby Bryant
- Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers
- Cincinnati TE Josh Whyle
- Cincinnati S Bryan Cook
The matchup between perennial powerhouse Alabama and Group of 5 underdog Cincinnati is one of the most anticipated games of the 2021 season.
Alabama has a loaded roster every year, and this season is no exception. In terms of 2022-eligible prospects alone, their offense features a dynamic receiver duo, a talented workhorse back, an athletic tight end, a blue-chip tackle prospect, and a physical interior lineman, among others. The defense is loaded with talent, too, with a stacked secondary, talented linebackers, and a well-rounded defensive front with plenty of NFL talent.
Though Cincinnati enters this game as the clear underdogs, that doesn’t mean they have a weak roster by any means. Sauce Gardner has a legitimate claim to be the CB1 in this year’s class, while Desmond Ridder and Myjai Sanders are two quality Day 2 talents. Remember Alec Pierce’s name down the stretch, too: he’s a big-bodied ‘X’ receiver with great physicality and deep speed to take the top off of defenses.
Orange Bowl: CFP Semifinal
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan
Friday, Dec. 31 - 6:30 PM
- Georgia DL Jordan Davis
- Georgia LB Nakobe Dean
- Georgia CB Derion Kendrick
- Georgia S Lewis Cine
- Georgia WR George Pickens
- Georgia DL Devonte Wyatt
- Georgia DL/EDGE Travon Walker
- Georgia OG Jamaree Salyer
- Georgia EDGE Nolan Smith
- Georgia RB Zamir White
- Georgia LB Quay Walker
- Georgia S Tykee Smith
- Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
- Michigan EDGE David Ojabo
- Michigan S Daxton Hill
- Michigan RB Hassan Haskins
- Michigan DL Christopher Hinton
- Michigan OL Andrew Stueber
Though Alabama and Cincinnati are getting more hype, Georgia and Michigan might end up putting forth a more competitive and entertaining game.
Georgia is absolutely loaded with NFL talent this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. When healthy and not dealing with the suspension of Adam Anderson, every member of the Bulldogs’ front-seven could be drafted highly within the next year. Bears fans should take note of Derion Kendrick in particular, who brings good fluidity and ball skills to the cornerback position. They also features an intriguing ‘X’ receiver in George Pickens whom Chicago would be wise to do homework on.
Michigan’s main selling point this season is the ferocious pass-rushing duo of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, the former being a No. 1 pick candidate and the latter standing out as a potential late first-round pick. Neither will fall to the Bears, but Daxton Hill is an athletic and hard-hitting safety whose physical upside could make him enticing on Day 2.
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
Saturday, Jan. 1 - 12:00 PM
- Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton
- Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams
- Notre Dame C Jarrett Patterson
- Notre Dame EDGE Isaiah Foskey
- Notre Dame CB Cam Hart
- Notre Dame WR Kevin Austin Jr.
- Notre Dame QB Jack Coan
- Oklahoma State S Kolby Harvell-Peel
- Oklahoma State OL Josh Sills
- Oklahoma State EDGE Trace Ford
- Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders
The star of the show at Notre Dame is freak athlete Kyle Hamilton, who could end up being as high as a top-5 pick in the 2022 draft. The Fighting Irish don’t have the stacked offensive line they’ve had in years past, but Jarrett Patterson still sticks out as a powerful and technically-sound center with a high floor at the next level. If you’re looking for a late-round sleeper, Cam Hart is a 6-foot-3 cornerback with very good raw athleticism to work with.
Oklahoma State isn’t necessarily a hotbed for 2022 draft prospects, but they do have some players worth targeting in later rounds. Kolby Harvell-Peel is an aggressive safety with good instincts in coverage who can tackle very well, and Trace Ford is an explosive edge rusher who, although undersized, moves well in space and has plenty of quickness off the ball.
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Utah
Saturday, Jan. 1 - 4:00 PM
- Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
- Ohio State WR Chris Olave
- Ohio State OT Nicholas Petit-Frere
- Ohio State EDGE Zach Harrison
- Ohio State DL Haskell Garrett
- Ohio State OL Thayer Munford
- Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert
- Ohio State EDGE Tyreke Smith
- Ohio State CB Sevyn Banks
- Ohio State S Marcus Hooker
- Utah LB Devin Lloyd
Ohio State has put out quality draft classes for years, and the 2022 class figures to be no different. Their wide receiver duo will likely end up going in Round 1, while numerous defenders could end up getting looks from as early as Round 2 down into the later rounds. Bears fans should remember Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford specifically, as the former is an athletic pass protector with an edge in the run game, and the latter is a versatile blocker with great strength and a well-rounded skill-set.
Though Utah is pretty thin on draft talent this year, they have one player in particular who could end up selected in the first round. Devin Lloyd is seen by many as the top linebacker in the 2022 draft, and with his high football IQ, athleticism, physicality and motor, he has all the makings of a high-end, three-down linebacker at the next level.
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Saturday, Jan. 1 - 7:30 PM
- Baylor S Jalen Pitre
- Baylor RB Abram Smith
- Baylor LB Terrel Bernard
- Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
- Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams
- Ole Miss WR Dontario Drummond
- Ole Miss RB Jerrion Ealy
- Ole Miss OL Nick Broeker
- Ole Miss OL Ben Brown
Baylor’s resurgence back towards the top of the Big 12 has been exciting to watch this year, and they feature a couple of prospects who could make some waves at the next level. Jalen Pitre is a physical safety whose versatility in the slot and in the box should see him get playing time in numerous subpackages early on in his career. Abram Smith is a tough runner who fights for extra yards and has good explosiveness out of the backfield, and Terrel Bernard has sideline-to-sideline range as a tackler and impressive mobility.
Ole Miss has been led by Matt Corral into a top-10 ranking near the end of the season, and while their star quarterback figures to go Round 1 this year, the Rebels have a handful of other players with draftable profiles. Should they declare, Nick Broeker is a precise and intelligent lineman with good footwork in pass protection, while Ben Brown is a powerful blocker with a mean streak. Either could be Day 3 targets if the Bears want to add some depth to their offensive line.