Gildan New Mexico Bowl—Saturday, 1 p.m. on ESPN
Fantasy owners love running backs, and the bowl season kicks off with a couple of good ones. Arizona is paced by Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s second-leading rusher with 1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. However, he’s a sophomore so you’ll have to be patient. Instead, focus on Nevada’s Stepfon Johnson, a draft-eligible junior with 1,703 rushing yards (fourth in the nation) and 22 touchdowns. Draftniks can also keep an eye on Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who at one time beat out Nick Foles for the starting gig but red-shirted last season as Foles handled the Wildcats’ offense. Scott is more in the mobile-QB mold, with 485 rushing yards (averaging nine rushes a game) and five rushing scores as well as 3,238 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. He’ll be throwing to Austin Hill, a Biletnikoff finalist but just a sophomore, and senior Dan Buckner, a big (6-3) target whose season has been hampered by ankle issues.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—Saturday, 4:30 p.m. on ESPN
The running back parade continues as another pair of top-20 rushers take the field when Utah State and Toledo square off. Toledo’s David Fluellen (1,460 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) is a draft-eligible junior, while Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams (1,277 rushing yards and 12 rushing scores plus 43-663-5 as a receiver) is an undersized (5-8) yet versatile threat who could play his way into the second day of the draft. A pair of Utah State receivers, senior Chuck Jacobs (36-550-5) and senior Matt Austin (42-652-5) are also on the NFL draft day radar.
BONUS SMALL-SCHOOL COVERAGE
While some debate whether an SEC team could beat one of the foundering NFL clubs, astute scouts (and fantasy owners) know the sun doesn’t necessarily rise and set with the BCS schools.
This weekend you’ll also see the cream of the small-school crop, the divisions of college football that settle things on the field rather than at the polls. Friday night (7 p.m., ESPNU) check out the Division III title game pitting Mount Union against St. Thomas (MN). If you’ve enjoyed the play of Washington’s Pierre Garçon or Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts—both Mount Union alums—you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to the heir to their throne, Jasper Collins. In fact, Collins saw his first extended action in 2012 when Shorts went down with an injury; in three games sans Shorts, Collins put up 24 catches for 424 yards. Through 14 games this year Collins has 84 catches for 1,574 yards and 22 touchdowns—welcome numbers on any fantasy team.
Friday night (8 p.m., ESPN2) you can also catch one of the FCS semifinals, with Georgia Southern visiting North Dakota State. Southern has a couple of defensive players (DT Brent Russell, S JJ Wilcox) on the NFL draft radar, but you can watch this one for pure enjoyment rather than fantasy scouting.
Saturday provides two more small-school football-watching opportunities. At 1 p.m (ESPN2) Valdosta State takes on Winston-Salem in the Division II national championship game. A pair of Valdosta offensive linemen—OT Ryan Schraeder, OG Edmond Kugbila—and CB Greg Reid are considered draft prospects, but once again no “skill” position players have captured much in the way of NFL attention.
Finally, Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., ESPNU) sets the FCS title game with another semifinal as Sam Houston State travels to Eastern Washington. Sam Houston CB Dax Swanson is worth a look, as is Eastern Washington OLB Zach Johnson. And fantasy owners will want to pay particularly close attention to the Eastern Washington passing game. Junior WR Brandon Kaufman (84-1,635-13) is the statistical leader, bouncing back after missing much of last season with a broken bone in his hand. But don’t discount senior WR Greg Herd (62-864-6), the team’s second-leading target. And senior WR Nicholas Edwards has battled injuries of his own this season, but in Kaufman’s absence last year he caught 95 balls for 1,250 yards and 19 touchdowns so he can ball as well.