With Bowl Season and the College Football Playoff behind us, I wanted to look at who helped or hurt themselves the most during the postseason. Bowl season can occasionally shine a light on players headed for bigger roles the following year, like UNC WR Josh Downs in 2020 and OSU WR Marvin Harrison Jr in 2021. It can also lead us to temper expectations for backups we had high hopes for. Here, I’ll take a look at a few noteworthy performances from this year’s cycle of games.
LEQUINT ALLEN, RB SYRACUSE
NFL-bound running back Sean Tucker totaled 1,200+ scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns for the Orange in 2022. His departure leaves a massive void in the backfield that true freshman running back LeQuint Allen hopes to fill.
If last week’s Pinstripe Bowl versus Minnesota was any indication, Allen’s bid for the starting role is starting on the right foot. The 6’0, 195-pound freshman totaled over 150 scrimmage yards operating as the lead back, including an eye-popping 11 receptions for 60 yards. He led the team in targets and receptions, showcasing the receiving upside we beg to see out of our running backs.
Showing the staff he could be a reliable option heading into 2023 was important. This new era of the transfer portal brings uncertainty at every open position heading into the offseason, but Allen’s production and the continuous praise he’s received this season will give him an edge heading into the spring.
I’ll need to see LeQuint continue to add mass to his 195-pound frame, but he enters 2023 as a top 30 RB in my Devy rankings.
BRENDEN RICE, WR USC
With Jordan Addison likely preparing for the NFL Draft, USC was looking for someone to step up in this year’s Cotton Bowl. With all the high-pedigree talent on the Trojan’s roster, it might be a surprise to find out that the player who shined the most was third-year wideout Brenden Rice.
(Unless, of course, you’re Brenden’s father, NFL Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice)
Rice finished the game with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns – by far the most productive outing of his career. He showcased incredible sideline awareness, strong hands, absurd body control, and open-field elusiveness. It was the type of performance that made you ask, “Where has this been all year?”
The USC wide receiving core is best described as “unsettled” going into the 2023 season. 2022 was the first time in the past five years (excluding 2020) that the Trojans didn’t have two receivers pass the 700-yard mark, and it was only the second time they failed to have a 1,000-yard receiver. Although they are loaded with promising talent, flashy transfers, and two of Campus2Canton’s top five freshman wide receivers, there’s a chance Rice’s performance has put him squarely in contention for a starting spot in 2023.
As a third-year player without a legitimate breakout on his resume, his chances at NFL stardom are a long shot, but this performance was impressive enough to put him on the radar.
MARQUARIUS “SQUIRREL” WHITE, WR TENNESSEE
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has brought some major firepower to the Volunteers over the past two seasons. Look no further than Jalin Hyatt, a relatively quiet receiver through his first two seasons who blew up in Heupel’s offense this year and took home the Biletnikoff award for the nation’s best wide receiver. With Hyatt off to the NFL, this year’s Capital One Orange Bowl may have given us a sneak peek into his likely successor in true freshman wide receiver Marquarius “Squirrel” White.
The 5′ foot 10’10”, 165-pound receiver finished the game with nine catches for 108 yards and a touchdown, leading the Volunteers in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns. His performance likely places him in Hyatt’s starting role next year, with Tennessee losing two of their starting receivers to the NFL draft.
Although he is a bit smaller in stature, White shares one important trait with Hyatt: speed. The 3-star true freshman has a verified 10.68-second 100-meter dash time and a 21.58-second 200-meter dash, resulting in a 16.2-yard ADOT and six of his 29 catches going for over 45 yards. He should help replace the element that Hyatt brought to this offense and, with any luck, continue to climb up Devy rankings as a result.
MALIK NABERS, WR LSU
LSU Sophomore receiver Malik Nabers capped off his strong season with a bang, leading LSU in this year’s Citrus Bowl with nine receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He even had a little bit of fun, throwing two passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. It was just another impressive showing for LSU’s most consistent and reliable receiver in 2022.
Although most of us expected a bounce-back for the now NFL-bound wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, it was Nabers who took over as the WR1 for the Tigers. He cleared the 1,000-yard receiving mark and almost doubled the second-leading receiver in the process. He finished as a top-five SEC wide receiver in receptions, YAC, yards per route run, forced missed tackles, and contested catch percentage.
LSU has had tremendous NFL success with receivers, resulting in three first-round picks over the last five years and a 2.9-round average over the last ten. With a receiving core lacking any proven talent entering 2023, Nabers should have every opportunity to improve on his numbers in 2023 and place himself on a similar trajectory as the receivers before him. He should be treated as a top-five WR in the 2024 NFL draft.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES
JOVANTAE BARNES & GAVIN SAWCHUK, RB OKLAHOMA
With Eric Gray off to the NFL and Marcus Major out for the game, the true freshman duo combined for 43 touches, 216 yards, and two touchdowns.
RASHOD DUBINION, RB ARKANSAS
After an early injury to Raheim Sanders, true freshman running back Rashod Dubinion became the Razorbacks’ main runner. He finished with 23 touches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-sealing 2 PT conversion in overtime.
JAYDON BLUE, RB TEXAS
With Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson preparing for the draft, the Longhorns were set to rely on a stable of unproven backs in the Valero Alamo Bowl game. Jaydon Blue reportedly had an intense week of practice leading up to the game, prompting many to assume he would be a part of the game plan – but that wasn’t the case.
Blue failed to record a single snap in the bowl game, capping off a freshman season where he totaled just 33 rushing yards on 15 carries. Instead, he saw Keilan Robinson and Jonathan Brooks take most of the reps, even as they could only muster up a combined 45 rushing yards on 14 carries.
The internal competition won’t get any easier next year. On top of Brooks and Robinson returning next year, Texas will also bring in Cedric Baxter Jr as an early enrollee, Campus2Canton’s early RB1 in the 2026 class. His lack of involvement this year and the scrubbing of his social media have sparked potential transfer rumors for the young back, and it’s possible a change of scenery could be in his best interest. As it stands, I’d have a hard time pulling the trigger on Jaydon Blue until at least the 8-10 round range of startups this offseason.
MARIO WILLIAMS, WR USC
With Jordan Addison opting out to prepare for the NFL draft, it felt like it could finally be time for Mario Williams to shine on the national stage. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite.
Williams received the most targets in the game (10) but was only able to haul in six for 35 scoreless yards and finished third on the team in receiving yards. He also muffed a crucial kickoff return that led to a safety late in the game, resulting in the go-ahead touchdown for Utah and a loss for the Trojans.
It was a disappointing way to cap off a down season for Williams, as the once-promising transfer finished third on the team in receiving yards and failed to make a big impact for the Trojans. They will also bring in two of Campus2Canton’s top-five WRs in this freshman class and a flashy transfer in former Arizona WR Dorian Singer. There is just too much uncertainty here to warrant a pick in the top 25 of Devy wide receivers.
WILL ROGERS, QB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
For anyone playing C2C or CFF leagues, we know we want the quarterback in Mike Leach’s system, and Will Rogers was no different.
His massive stat lines against teams like Memphis, Bowling Green, and East Tennessee State have propelled us to victory in any given week. His play against stronger opponents continues to leave an ugly impression. Take this bowl game, for instance, where Rogers threw the ball 44 times and could only muster up 261 yards and a touchdown to two interceptions. His efficiency also dropped against ranked teams in 2022. He threw seven touchdowns to four interceptions and averaged a 62% completion percentage against five ranked opponents, a substantial drop from the 70%-type passer we have come to expect.
His 2022 season, as a whole, showed limited signs of growth. He threw for 700+ fewer yards, maintained a similar TD-to-INT ratio, saw his completion percentage dip 6%, and still looked like a statue in the pocket. With all the expected turnover at Mississippi State this offseason, it’s hard to picture a big bounce-back season from Will Rogers.
XAVIER WORTHY, WR, TEXAS
It wasn’t my intention to pile on the Longhorns in this article, but it was hard to leave Xavier Worthy out of this section.
After an auspicious freshman season, Worthy entered 2022 with sky-high expectations. Unfortunately, he regressed in most significant categories. Despite receiving 113 targets (up from 103 in 2021), Worthy caught fewer balls, produced over 200 fewer receiving yards, caught four fewer touchdowns, and continued to be plagued by his biggest nemesis: his hands.
PFF credited Worthy with three drops in this bowl game and a 10.6% drop percentage over the year. He only caught 50% of the passes thrown his way this game and just 53% of his targets this season. His lack of chemistry with Quinn Ewers wasn’t all his fault. The redshirt freshman quarterback hadn’t played a meaningful snap of football in almost two years entering the season, but Worthy has played his part in the duo’s missing connection.
Like the aforementioned Blue, transfer rumors continue to swirl around Worthy, with USC predicted as one of his likely suitors. A transfer could help get Xavier on track, but an offseason of work with Ewers could also do wonders heading into 2023. I have yet to drop Xavier out of my top 10 Devy wide receivers, but he’s hanging on by a thread. A disappointing start to the 2023 season could see him fall even further.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES…
EVAN PRATER, QB, CINCINNATI
Prater got his chance to start in this game and showed us exactly why the Bearcats brought back Ben Bryant to be the quarterback of this team. Prater finished 7/15 for 83 yards and a touchdown, adding -30 yards rushing and two fumbles on the ground. If there was anyone still holding out hope, this game should finally bring you some closure.
Cory Pereira // @FF_Guitarist