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 weeks 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.
Myrtle Beach Bowl
Marshall vs. UConn
Monday, Dec. 19, 1:30 p.m.
- Marshall CB Steven Gilmore
- Marshall RB Khalan Laborn
- UConn RG Christian Haynes
As I’m sure you’ll figure out, I was late getting this article out! Such is the case when life gets in the way. Marshall ended up winning this game 28-14.
Gilmore is the younger brother of All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and the younger Gilmore brings impressive ball skills and tackling abilities to the table. Laborn took on a heavy workload on Monday, and he’s an explosive runner with good straight-line speed and a well-rounded game. UConn has a particularly enticing guard prospects in Haynes, whose combination of short-area burst, raw power and high motor impressive me on tape.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Eastern Michigan vs. San Jose State
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m.
- Eastern Michigan LG Sidy Sow
- San Jose State CB Nehemiah Shelton
- San Jose State DE Viliami Fehoko
- San Jose State DE Cade Hall
Eastern Michigan ended up victorious in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in a 41-27 matchup.
Sow is a five-year starter at the collegiate level with a well-built frame and guard-tackle versatility. Though San Jose State gave up over 40 points on Tuesday, their defense still has some intriguing talents: Shelton is a plus athlete at cornerback with very good length, while Fehoko and Hall have both had accomplished careers along the defensive line.
Roofclaim.com Boca Raton Bowl
Liberty vs. Toledo
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 6:30 p.m.
- Liberty WR Demario Douglas
- Liberty EDGE Durrell Johnson
- Toledo LB Dallas Gant
Douglas was a popular target of Malik Willis who actually saw his production improve after the current Titans quarterback departed for the NFL, and he offers special teams value as a returner. Johnson is a bit undersized but is explosive off the snap and was absurdly productive in 2022 with 8 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss. Toledo is headlined by Gant, a former Ohio State backup who exploded with 113 tackles for the Rockets this season.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. South Alabama
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 8:00 p.m.
- Western Kentucky DT Brodric Martin
- Western Kentucky CB Kahlef Hailassie
- South Alabama WR Jalen Wayne
- South Alabama CB Darrell Luter Jr.
This is a matchup I’m personally very intrigued by in terms of Group of 5 matchups.
Western Kentucky’s offense brought them to an 8-5 record, but it’s their defense that carries the most 2023 draft prospects. Martin is a massive nose tackle who plays the run well, and Hailassie’s length, physicality and ball skills could see him drafted come Day 3. South Alabama has two Senior Bowl prospects in the form of Wayne — the nephew of Reggie Wayne and a sure-handed pass-catcher — and Luter, whose fluidity and raw speed pop off the screen on tape.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Baylor vs. Air Force
Thursday, Dec. 22, 6:30 p.m.
- Baylor DT Siaki Ika
- Baylor LT Connor Galvin
- Baylor SS Al Walcott
- Baylor C Jacob Gall
- Air Force TE Kyle Patterson
A shaky Baylor team who’s found highs and lows after winning the Big 12 last year against a sneaky good Air Force team could provide for one of the more intriguing smaller bowls of the year.
The star of the show in this one is Baylor’s Ika, a mammoth of a defensive lineman whose strength, size and impressive quickness has drawn comparisons to Vita Vea. The offensive line has two future NFLers in Galvin and Gall, while Walcott is a physical thumper at safety. It is unclear whether or not Patterson will play as of this writing, but he is a dominant blocker with good hands who’s worth keeping an eye on.
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl
Louisiana vs. Houston
Friday, Dec. 23, 2:00 p.m.
- Louisiana WR Michael Jefferson*
- Louisiana DE Andre Jones*
- Houston WR Nathaniel “Tank” Dell
- Houston DE D’Anthony Jones
- Houston FS Gervarrius Owens
- Houston QB Clayton Tune
- Houston DE/FB Derek Parish*
For my money, Louisiana and Houston are two of the better Group of 5 college football institutions out there right now.
Louisiana’s top two draft prospects won’t be playing in the Independence Bowl, but I recommend you check out Jefferson and Jones as potential Day 3 draft picks this year. Houston, on the other hand, features an explosive and productive receiver in Dell, a solid game manager in Tune and a talented defense. Jones has insane burst for a heavier edge rusher, while Owens is a good tackler with solid ball skills.
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Missouri
Friday, Dec. 23, 5:30 p.m.
- Wake Forest WR A.T. Perry
- Wake Forest DT Kobie Turner
- Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman
- Missouri DE Isaiah McGuire
- Missouri SS Jaylon Carlies
- Missouri DE Trajan Jeffcoat
- Missouri DE D.J. Coleman*
- Missouri SS Martez Manuel*
My rooting allegiances to the Tigers aside, this should be a matchup of a good Wake Forest offense and a strong Missouri defense.
The Demon Deacons have a physical specimen at wide receiver in Perry and an experienced starter in Hartman at quarterback to get him the ball, as well as a sneaky deep wide receiver room. On defense, Turner is an intriguing player who transitioned incredibly well to the ACC after a strong career at Richmond. Missouri’s offense has been hit or miss this year, but the defense is one of the best units in the nation. Of those participating in the Gasparilla Bowl, the Tigers have two solid edge rushers in Jeffcoat and McGuire — the latter of whom I’d consider as early as late Round 3 — and a versatile, lengthy defensive back in Carlies.
EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl
Middle Tennessee State vs. San Diego State
Saturday, Dec. 24, 7:00 p.m.
- Middle Tennessee State DE Jordan Ferguson
- San Diego State LB Caden McDonald
- San Diego State SS Patrick McMorris
- San Diego State DT Jonah Tavai
After you’re done watching the Bears and stuffing your faces on Christmas Eve, why not turn on some bowl game action?
Ferguson has been quite productive for Middle Tennessee State over the last two seasons, tallying a combined 17 sacks and 32.5 tackles for a loss in that span. San Diego State has a solid defense anchored by intelligent thumper McDonald, physical defensive back McMorris and stout pass-rusher Tavai.