The 2022 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 first weekend of bowl action is reserved primarily for some of the top Group of 5 schools in the nation — i.e. those schools in the FBS but not in the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, ACC or Pac-12.
The Bears figure to have their fair share of needs heading into the 2023 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 2023 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 2023 NFL Draft prospects in each Week 1 bowl game.
Note: Times are listed in Central Standard Time (CST). Players denoted with asterisks will not be playing in the game, whether it be because of having declared for the draft or being injured.
UAB vs. Miami (OH)
Friday, Dec. 16, 10:30 a.m.
- UAB RB DeWayne McBride
- UAB CB Starling Thomas V
- UAB OT Kadeem Telfort
Two 6-6, Group of 5 teams battling it out early in the morning in the Bahamas. This is college football.
UAB is highlighted by star running back DeWayne McBride, a tough runner who ran for 1,713 yards and 19 touchdowns this year. Starling Thomas V might just be the fastest defensive back in the 2023 draft class, and offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort has tremendous size at 6-foot-8 and 330 pounds. Though Miami (OH) doesn’t have a prospect at the caliber of 2022 draft prospects and current Bears Dominique Robinson and Sterling Weatherford this year, shoutout goes to fellow Benet Academy graduate and current Redhawks defensive lineman Jacob Snell.
No. 24 Troy vs. No. 25 UTSA
Friday, Dec. 16, 2:00 p.m.
- Troy LB Carlton Martial
- Troy C Jake Andrews
- Troy EDGE Richard Jibunor
- UTSA WR Zakhari Franklin
Two of the top Group of 5 schools face off in the Cure Bowl this year, and while they aren’t stacked in 2023 draft talent, they should put together a competitive outing on Friday.
Martial is the all-time FBS leader in tackles with 564, which seems like a nice place to start! He’s only 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, but his athleticism and reliability as a tackler should help him overcome his major size deficiencies to land with an NFL team. Andrews is a three-year starter along Troy’s interior offensive line with starting experience at center and both guard positions, which should help him generate NFL attention should he declare. Jibunor is a former Auburn product who has had 14.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in his last two season. On UTSA’s side, Franklin is a polished route runner with good ball skills and back-to-back seasons with double-digit touchdowns and over 1,000 yards.
Louisville vs. Cincinnati
Saturday, Dec. 17, 10:00 a.m.
- Louisville CB Kei’Trel Clark*
- Louisville EDGE YaYa Diaby
- Louisville OT Trevor Reid
- Louisville OG Caleb Chandler
- Louisville QB Malik Cunningham*
- Louisville DL Jermayne Lole*
- Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr.
- Cincinnati TE Josh Whyle*
- Cincinnati TE Leonard Taylor*
- Cincinnati WR Tre Tucker*
- Cincinnati CB Arquon Bush
- Cincinnati QB Ben Bryant*
Louisville and Cincinnati are two quality squads who both don’t have their starting quarterbacks in this matchup. Things should get interesting very quickly.
With the players Louisville has out, the focus goes almost exclusively to the trenches. Reid is an athletic freak along the offensive line, and his running mate Chandler brings a high IQ and a nasty demeanor to the table. On defense, the Cardinals have Senior Bowl invite Diaby, a versatile threat with inside-outside versatility and tremendous hand usage. The Bearcats have several key offensive weapons out in this bowl game, but Cincinnati still features intriguing defenders like the quick-triggered Pace and the scrappy defensive back Bush.
Las Vegas Bowl
Florida vs. No. 14 Oregon State
Saturday, Dec. 17, 1:30 p.m.
- Florida QB Anthony Richardson*
- Florida OG O’Cyrus Torrence*
- Florida EDGE Brenton Cox Jr.*
- Florida WR Justin Shorter*
- Florida LB Ventrell Miller*
- Florida OT Richard Gouraige
- Florida DL Gervon Dexter
- Florida S Trey Dean III
- Florida S Rashad Torrence II
- Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave*
- Oregon State CB Rezjohn Wright*
A sneaky Pac-12 threat against a Florida team capable of beating almost anyone and losing to almost anyone?
Florida will be without some of their top prospects, including quarterback Anthony Richardson. There is some talent in terms of draft-eligible prospects, though. Dexter is an intriguing defensive tackle with Day 2 upside and good raw strength and speed. The Gators’ two starting safeties are both quality talent, with Torrence specializing more as an athletic coverage defender and Dean as a big-bodied thumper. Keep Gouraige in mind as a nasty run blocking tackle late on Day 3, too. While Oregon State is down their two best NFL prospects, they have won their last three games, including an upset victory over then-No. 9 Oregon.
Jimmy Kimmel L.A. Bowl
Washington State vs. Fresno State
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2:30 p.m.
- Washington State LB Daiyan Henley*
- Washington State QB Cameron Ward
- Fresno State OT Dontae Bull*
- Fresno State QB Jake Haener
- Fresno State RB Jordan Mims
- Fresno State WR Jalen Cropper
Both Washington State and Fresno State have had some ups and downs this season, but they’re two quality programs who have shown impressive stuff at each of their peaks.
I don’t expect Ward to declare for the 2023 draft even if he is eligible, but he’s a toolsy quarterback prospect with good arm talent and solid mobility. He’s a name to remember going forward. On Fresno State’s end, Haener leads the charge under center as a capable and accurate, if not exactly flashy, cornerstone quarterback. He has some quality weapons to work with, including YAC machine Cropper and electric tailback Mims.
Southern Miss vs. Rice
Saturday, Dec. 17, 4:45 p.m.
- Southern Miss LB Hayes Maples*
- Rice EDGE Ikenna Enechukwu
These are admittedly two teams I’m not super knowledgeable on, seeing as though Southern Miss and Rice went 6-6 and 5-7 this year, respectively.
However, there is some pro-caliber talent to be had in this game. The biggest name is Enechukwu, who has had 17.5 tackles for a loss in the last two years for Rice and has a diverse pass-rushing arsenal. Maples missed the 2022 season for Southern Miss due to injury, and while it’s unlikely he declares for the 2023 draft, he’s a name whose previous tape warrants consideration.
New Mexico Bowl
BYU vs. SMU
Saturday, Dec. 17, 6:30 p.m.
- BYU OT Blake Freeland
- BYU QB Jaren Hall
- BYU OT Clark Barrington
- BYU WR Puka Nacua
- BYU TE Isaac Rex
- SMU WR Rashee Rice*
- SMU QB Tanner Mordecai
Offense is the name of the game for both BYU and SMU this year.
BYU is led on offense by their quarterback, Hall, who has age and injury concerns aplenty but delivers a live ball while showing good pocket presence and athleticism. He has some solid weapons up front like explosive deep threat Nakua and physical red-zone threat Rex. Up front, the Cougars have some NFL-caliber offensive linemen in Barrington and potential Day 2 target Freeland. SMU will be without star wide receiver Rice, but with Mordecai at quarterback and an aggressive offensive philosophy, the Mustangs should be tough to stop.
North Texas vs. Boise State
Saturday, Dec. 17, 8:15 p.m.
- North Texas WR Jyaire Shorter
- Boise State S J.L. Skinner
- Boise State OT John Ojukwu
Fun fact: Boise State was one of my favorite teams growing up because of Kellen Moore and the blue turf, and I got a free North Texas hoodie in my senior year of high school! You don’t care? Whatever. You’re welcome.
Shorter is a big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds who has been very efficient with his touches; he has 598 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 22 catches this season. On Boise State’s end, Skinner is a massive 6-foot-4, 220-pound safety who reminds me of a more instinctive and polished version of 2021 sixth-round pick Hamsah Nasirildeen. Ojukwu has fallen a bit under the radar nationally, but his length and impressive footwork in pass protection earned him an invitation to the Shrine Bowl.