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Surprise! Bama dominates bowl season's top 50 players

Surprise! Bama dominates bowl season’s top 50 players

Dec 14, 2016

It’s the college football postseason, which means about two-thirds of FBS teams are playing one more game … but four teams are hoping to play two.

With that in mind, we asked 10 of our writers to grade players from across the country on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best performance possible in the postseason.

Here are our experts’ top 50 players heading into the bowl games. If you’re looking for Lamar Jackson, Jabrill Peppers or anybody else who was at the Heisman ceremony at the very top, you’ll have to scroll down. An Alabama defensive star was our panel’s No. 1 player.


Jonathan Allen

Alabama Crimson Tide

Senior | Defensive lineman

Score: 9.9

Previous rank: 3

If Allen is sour about not getting invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, here’s his chance to show it. Washington hasn’t seen a defensive lineman with his size (294 pounds) and speed (8.5 sacks, 15 QB hurries, a blocked kick and two defensive touchdowns). — Alex Scarborough


Dede Westbrook

Oklahoma Sooners

Senior | Wide receiver

Score: 9.75


Previous rank: 1

The Heisman finalist is averaging 48.8 yards on his touchdown catches. It’s safe to say that Auburn hasn’t had to deal with a deep threat like that all season. — Jake Trotter


Lamar Jackson

Louisville Cardinals

Sophomore | Quarterback

Score: 9.7


Previous rank: 2

Jackson will be playing in his first game since he won the Heisman Trophy, so here is betting LSU will come after him hard to make a statement. But Jackson has a statement of his own to make, after the Cards lost their final two games and he had a crucial fumble late against Kentucky. Last year’s bowl performance was a springboard for 2016. He’s hoping for the same into 2017. — Andrea Adelson


Deshaun Watson

Clemson Tigers

Junior | Quarterback

Score: 9.65

Previous rank: 11

A year ago, Watson nearly single-handedly led Clemson to a national championship, so the task will at least be a familiar one this season. Watson has played his best football during November and December (1,784 yards, 20 TDs) and has the Tigers’ offense clicking in time for a tough matchup with Ohio State’s defense. — David M. Hale


Myles Garrett

Texas A&M Aggies

Junior | Defensive line

Score: 9.6

Previous rank: 21

Some teams were fortunate to face a less-than-100 percent Garrett, who was affected by an ankle injury for half the season. Kansas State won’t be so fortunate. With a month of rest before the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, a full-strength Garrett should be primed for a possible multiple-sack game. — Sam Khan Jr.


Reuben Foster

Alabama Crimson Tide

Senior | Linebacker

Score: 9.55


Previous rank: 12

Washington is likely to spread the field and force extra defensive backs into action, leaving Foster on an island against a strong running game that includes Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. Foster already leads Alabama with 94 tackles. You can count on him to break 100 in a few weeks. — Alex Scarborough


Jourdan Lewis

Michigan Wolverines

Senior | Cornerback

Score: 9.5

Previous rank: 7

The veteran cornerback doesn’t get all that many chances to get his hands on the football, as it’s usually safer to not test Lewis at all. But if Florida State wants to try to open up the passing attack, odds are at some point it will have to throw Lewis’ way — and he will be ready to cap his Michigan career with a memorable performance. — Austin Ward


Baker Mayfield

Oklahoma Sooners

Junior | Quarterback

Score: 9.45

Previous rank: 9

Mayfield is on track to break the FBS record for passing efficiency. Although Auburn was stout against the run this season, the Tigers were gashed by the SEC’s better quarterbacks. — Jake Trotter


Jabrill Peppers

Michigan Wolverines

Junior | Linebacker

Score: 9.4


Previous rank: 5

If this is the end of the line for Peppers with the Wolverines, expect Jim Harbaugh to pull out all the stops for the versatile star by featuring him heavily in all three phases against Florida State. Harbaugh has been almost over-the-top with his praise of all the ways Peppers can impact a football game, and Peppers will likely get a significant showcase for NFL scouts before potentially declaring for the draft. — Austin Ward


Minkah Fitzpatrick

Alabama Crimson Tide

Sophomore | Defensive back

Score: 9.35


Previous rank: 13

Washington’s Jake Browning threw just two interceptions in his first seven games. In his past six games, however, he has thrown five picks. That’s good news for Alabama’s sophomore safety, who has a team-high five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. — Alex Scarborough


Dalvin Cook

Florida State Seminoles

Junior | Running back

Score: 9.3

Previous rank: 8

Michigan is the eighth team in the top 25 of defensive efficiency that Cook will face in 2016, and the third in the top 10. Against Florida (ranked fifth) and Clemson (ninth), Cook combined for 322 rushing yards and five touchdowns. But Michigan (third), with its 13th-ranked rush defense, is the toughest group he’ll see. — Jared Shanker


Zach Cunningham

Vanderbilt Commodores

Junior | Linebacker

Score: 9.25

Previous: unranked

The high-flying linebacker was one of the SEC’s most productive players during the regular season, leading the league with 119 tackles. He also has 16.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and that amazing blocked kick against Auburn. — Edward Aschoff


Ed Oliver

Houston Cougars

Freshman | Defensive tackle

Score: 9.2

Previous rank: 22

The nation’s best true freshman had his best performances against Houston’s toughest opponents (Oklahoma and Louisville), so when the Cougars’ defensive tackle gets to meet San Diego State’s NCAA rushing record seeker, Donnel Pumphrey, you can bet Oliver will aim for another dominant showing. — Sam Khan Jr.


Christian McCaffrey

Stanford Cardinal

Junior | Running back

Score: 9.15

Previous rank: 19

McCaffrey went on an absolute tear to close the season against some of the Pac-12’s weakest run defenses. Now, North Carolina awaits with the nation’s No. 113-ranked unit, so expect McCaffrey to put on another show, especially because the Hyundai Sun Bowl will be his last time wearing a Stanford uniform. — David Lombardi


Derek Barnett

Tennessee Volunteers

Junior | Defensive end

Score: 9.1

Previous rank: 18

Barnett finished the regular season with an SEC-high 12 sacks, which gave him 32 for his career and tied Tennessee career sack leader Reggie White (1980-83). Barnett has at least 10 sacks in each of his three seasons at Tennessee, and he has an SEC-high 18 tackles for loss this year. — Edward Aschoff


Adoree’ Jackson

USC Trojans

Junior | Defensive back

Score: 9.05

Previous rank: 6

Jackson’s services will be needed in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, in which Penn State awaits with one of the nation’s top passing offenses. Jackson will likely cover the Nittany Lions’ Chris Godwin, who has grabbed nine touchdowns this season. And, yes, he’ll be returning kicks and punts. — David Lombardi


Malik Hooker

Ohio State Buckeyes

Sophomore | Defensive back

Score: 9

Previous rank: 16

The redshirt sophomore made the most of his opportunity to step into the starting lineup, and he has capitalized on virtually every chance that has come his way since then. Hooker already has six interceptions and three touchdowns this season, and with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson prone to turning over the football, a couple more golden chances could be heading his way. — Austin Ward


Demarcus Walker

Florida State Seminoles

Senior | Defensive end

Score: 8.95

Previous rank: 20

There wasn’t a more disruptive defender in the ACC this season, and now Walker turns his attention toward Michigan, a team that allowed its QB to be pressured on 28 percent of dropbacks (47th in Power 5). When Walker had two or more sacks against FBS foes this year, FSU was 5-0 and allowed 17 points per game. When he didn’t, the Seminoles were 3-3 and allowed 33 points per game. — David M. Hale


John Ross III

Washington Huskies

Junior | Wide receiver

Score: 8.9

Previous rank: 27

The Huskies’ offense was a hallmark of efficiency throughout most of the regular season, thanks in large part to Ross’ speed. Now Washington faces its biggest test against Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Ross has successfully stretched every defense that he has faced; he leads the Power 5 with 17 touchdown catches. — David Lombardi


Pat Elflein

Ohio State Buckeyes

Senior | Offensive line

Score: 8.85

Previous rank: 40

Most of the to-do list he made when the senior decided to come back for another season with the Buckeyes has already been accomplished, including winning the Rimington Trophy. But the hardware Elflein really wants will require two more Ohio State victories, and it’s safe to assume the anchor of the offensive line will do everything he can to be at his best against Clemson in the College Football Playoff. — Austin Ward


Tim Williams

Alabama Crimson Tide

Senior | Linebacker

Score: 8.8

Previous rank: 34

Washington’s Trey Adams earned his status as first-team All-Pac-12, but he hasn’t seen an edge rusher with Williams’ speed this season. The senior outside linebacker is tied for the team lead in sacks (8.5) and could bolster his résumé as a first-round pick with a big game. — Alex Scarborough


Cam Robinson

Alabama Crimson Tide

Junior | Offensive line

Score: 8.75

Previous rank: 47

Neither Myles Garrett, Arden Key nor Carl Lawson could get the best of Alabama’s franchise left tackle, so don’t expect first-team All-Pac-12 defensive lineman Elijah Qualls of Washington to cause a ruckus. Robinson has passed every major test he has faced this season on his way to being potentially the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s draft. — Alex Scarborough


Budda Baker

Washington Huskies

Junior | Defensive back

Score: 8.7

Previous rank: 25

The Huskies’ secondary has proven itself as one of the nation’s most talented units, and Baker is its field general. He delivered more spectacular anticipation and closing speed in the Pac-12 championship game. Now, can he win the chess match against Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts while offering the same level of suffocating run support? — David Lombardi


Donnel Pumphrey

San Diego State Aztecs

Senior | Running back

Score: 8.66

Previous rank: 10

This will be fun: Pumphrey, who has rushed for 2,018 yards this season, is 108 yards shy of breaking the FBS career record. Pumphrey will face Houston, the nation’s No. 2-rated run defense (allowing only 2.9 yards per carry) in the Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico. — David Lombardi


Raekwon McMillan

Ohio State Buckeyes

Junior | Linebacker

Score: 8.65

Previous rank: 14

There will be some familiar faces lining up on the other sideline in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and Ohio State’s junior linebacker will no doubt be fired up to make a good impression on the Clemson Tigers. McMillan’s individual numbers were slightly down this season, but make no mistake: He is playing at a high level and will be in the middle of the effort to slow Deshaun Watson. — Austin Ward


James Washington

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Junior | Wide receiver

Score: 8.6

Previous rank: 44

Although Washington will have Colorado’s attention, Oklahoma State’s improved rushing attack figures to set up opportunities for the receiver downfield in play-action against an aggressive Buffs defense. — Jake Trotter


Leonard Fournette

LSU Tigers

Junior | Running back

Score: 8.55

Previous rank: unranked

Assuming Fournette follows through on his plan to participate in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and his gimpy ankle holds up, he’ll have his work cut out in his final college game. LSU’s star running back will go up against a Louisville defense that is one of only four in the FBS to allow fewer than 3 yards per carry (2.99). — David Ching


Desmond King

Iowa Hawkeyes

Senior | Defensive back

Score: 8.5

Previous rank: 29

King, last year’s Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s best defensive back, has only two interceptions this season because teams largely avoid targeting him. Even so, he could produce a big game against the Gators in the Outback Bowl. Florida quarterbacks tied for 95th in the country with 13 interceptions. King’s ability to impact the game as a kick returner also shouldn’t go unnoticed. — Jesse Temple


Christian Wilkins

Clemson Tigers

Sophomore | Defensive line

Score: 8.45

Previous rank: 24

In last year’s playoff semifinal against Oklahoma, Wilkins proved to be Clemson’s secret weapon, catching a pass on a fake punt that served as a turning point in the game. This year, there’s no secret about what Wilkins brings to the table. He’s one of the most athletic linemen in the country, and he’ll be tasked with stuffing Ohio State’s big-play ground game. — David M. Hale


T.J. Watt

Wisconsin Badgers

Junior | Linebacker

Score: 8.4

Previous rank: 28

Watt has been a disruptive force in the backfield and might present Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell with problems he hasn’t seen all season. Watt has 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown the past three games, which means he’s on a hot streak entering the postseason. He won’t be too keen on watching the Broncos row the boat. — Jesse Temple


Jake Butt

Michigan Wolverines

Senior | Tight end

Score: 8.35

Previous rank: 35

Besides Amara Darboh, Butt is Michigan’s favorite receiving threat. The Wolverines can run the football with multiple players, so if Florida State gets sucked up to the line of scrimmage, Butt’s route running and catching ability could be key in the Orange Bowl. — Jesse Temple


Ethan Pocic

LSU Tigers

Senior | Center

Score: 8.33

Previous rank: 37

The All-American center will go head-up in the bowl game against a veteran and longtime starter, Louisville nose tackle DeAngelo Brown. Fifth-year senior Brown made the All-ACC team this season, posting 11 tackles for loss and three sacks while anchoring a defensive front that ranks 10th nationally against the run. — David Ching


J.T. Barrett

Ohio State Buckeyes

Junior | Quarterback

Score: 8.3

Previous rank: 42

Maybe the offense wasn’t as explosive through the air this season as the junior might’ve liked, but as far as down seasons go, accounting for 33 touchdowns doesn’t leave all that much to complain about for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have complete trust in Barrett to run the power spread offense and have long bought what he sells as the unquestioned leader. Both will be vitally important heading into the biggest games of Barrett’s career. — Austin Ward


Mike Williams

Clemson Tigers

Junior | Wide receiver

Score: 8.25

Previous rank: 30

Ohio State allowed just three red zone touchdowns to wide receivers this year, but Williams presents a different type of target. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he is both fast and physical and happy to go over, past or through a defender. He finished the regular season second in the nation in both targets (27) and touchdowns (9) in the red zone. — David M. Hale


Saquon Barkley

Penn State Nittany Lions

Sophomore | Running back

Score: 8.2

Previous rank: 23

With a month of rest, Barkley should be primed for a big day against USC in the Rose Bowl. USC’s run defense has been stingy and ranks 29th nationally. But if any player can break through, it’s Barkley, who is one of the most exciting, dynamic runners in college football. — Jesse Temple


Teez Tabor

Florida Gators

Junior | Defensive back

Score: 8.18

Previous rank: 26

Tabor might not have been as active as he was last season, but he’s still considered a first-round draft pick, thanks to his shutdown corner skills. He has four interceptions and has defended nine passes on the season, and he has plenty of postseason motivation after not being named a Jim Thorpe finalist. — Edward Aschoff


Sam Darnold

USC Trojans

Freshman | Quarterback

Score: 8.15

Previous rank: 41

Darnold ranks second nationally with an 87.0 QBR. His excellent play is a huge reason USC is in the Rose Bowl. Now the freshman has a chance to showcase his versatility in the Granddaddy Of Them All, in which a solid Penn State pass defense awaits. The Nittany Lions have allowed 6.2 yards per attempt, which ranks them 14th nationally. — David Lombardi


Jake Browning

Washington Huskies

Sophomore | Quarterback

Score: 8.1

Previous rank: 17

A large portion of the Huskies’ chances against Alabama rest on Browning’s shoulders. He is throwing a touchdown pass once every 8.4 attempts — an NCAA record — but he has also experienced struggles against the better defenses Washington has faced. The Crimson Tide give Browning the opportunity to address some nagging doubts. — David Lombardi


Tre’Davious White

LSU Tigers

Senior | Cornerback

Score: 8.05

Previous rank: unranked

Defending the nation’s most explosive offense will be a major challenge for the LSU cornerback/return man, but White should have plenty of opportunities to make game-changing plays against Louisville. The Cardinals have turned the ball over 31 times, fourth-most in the FBS, and rank 83rd nationally in punt return defense, at 9.2 yards per return. — David Ching


Dorian Johnson

Pittsburgh Panthers

Senior | Offensive line

Score: 8

Previous rank: 37

Pitt will face a tough winter test in the Bronx against Northwestern and its stingy run defense. That will be a fitting finale for Johnson, who is as strong a reason as any for the Panthers’ ground success. He’s Pitt’s first first-team All-American O-lineman in 22 years, and he’s positioning himself for a nice payday come spring. — Matt Fortuna


Samaje Perine

Oklahoma Sooners

Junior | Running back

Score: 7.95

Previous rank: unranked

If Oklahoma can get up on Auburn in the second half, expect the Sooners to turn to Perine to put the game away. Perine is just 82 yards away from breaking Billy Sims’ Oklahoma record of 4,118 career rushing yards. — Jake Trotter


James Conner

Pittsburgh Panthers

Junior | Running back

Score: 7.9

Previous rank: 36

Conner announced over the weekend that he is NFL-bound, so he will be making his collegiate finale against Northwestern. After another 1,000-yard season, numerous ACC touchdown records and more inspirational speeches and hardware than anyone can count, the cancer conqueror will take a curtain call at Yankee Stadium, which is no stranger to chilling moments. — Matt Fortuna


Ben Boulware

Clemson Tigers

Senior | Linebacker

Score: 7.85

Previous rank: unranked

Boulware leads the Tigers with 113 tackles, and he is the emotional leader of the team. He will be at his best in the final game (or games) of his career. Also, let’s not forget Boulware was named defensive MVP in the Capital One Orange Bowl semifinal against Oklahoma last year, after he recorded eight tackles, a sack and a fourth-quarter interception in the 37-17 victory. — Andrea Adelson


Ejuan Price

Pittsburgh Panthers

Senior | Defensive line

Score: 7.8

Previous rank: 33

The Hendricks Award finalist and sixth-year senior overcame numerous injuries to post a ridiculously efficient final two seasons of production. He’ll take his 12 sacks and ACC-leading 21 TFLs this season into the finale against Northwestern, which has surrendered 35 sacks on the year and will have its work cut out for it in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. — Matt Fortuna


JuJu Smith-Schuster

USC Trojans

Junior | Wide receiver

Score: 7.75

Previous rank: 32

Penn State’s pass defense has delivered solid numbers this year, but Schuster and his fellow Trojans receivers will test that unit in the Rose Bowl. Schuster’s production — 63 catches for 781 yards — is down from last season, but quarterback Sam Darnold is spreading the ball around well, so don’t read too deeply into the smaller numbers. — David Lombardi


Curtis Samuel

Ohio State Buckeyes

Junior | Running back

Score: 7.7

Previous rank: unranked

The most versatile weapon on the Ohio State offense has become the one it might not survive without, and Samuel will be in for a heavy workload against Clemson’s defense in the College Football Playoff. With a month to cook up new ways to get the H-back involved, there’s really no way to predict just how Samuel might be unleashed to add to his total of 15 touchdowns this season. — Austin Ward


Corey Davis

Western Michigan Broncos

Senior | Wide receiver

Score: 7.65

Previous rank: unranked

Wisconsin’s secondary struggled in the second half of the Big Ten championship game against Penn State. That means Davis, the FBS leader in receiving yards, could replicate his success against the Badgers in the Cotton Bowl. He is quarterback Zach Terrell’s favorite target for a reason. — Jesse Temple


Carlos Watkins

Clemson Tigers

Sophomore | Defensive end

Score: 7.6

Previous rank: 50

Ohio State’s best offensive play right now might be J.T. Barrett on the keeper, which means Clemson will need Watkins to plug the middle when the Buckeyes quarterback takes off. On passing downs, Ohio State might task center and Rimington Award winner Pat Elflein with stopping Watkins one-on-one, which might mean Watkins adds to his 8.5 sacks. Double Watkins, and it frees up Clemson’s myriad pass-rushers. — Jared Shanker


Austin Carr

Northwestern Wildcats

Senior | Wide receiver

Score: 7.55

Previous rank: unranked

Carr terrorizes even the best defenses, and Pittsburgh doesn’t even remotely qualify for that category. Pitt ranks 109th in the FBS in scoring defense (35.6 points per game) and 127th out of 128 in pass defense (343.1 yards). If a 4-8 Syracuse team can throw for 440 yards and score 61 points against Pitt in the regular-season finale, imagine what Carr and the Wildcats can do against the Panthers in the Pinstripe Bowl. — Jesse Temple


Arden Key

LSU Tigers

Sophomore | Defensive end

Score: 7.5

Previous rank: 49

LSU’s star edge rusher has to be licking his chops over the opportunity that awaits in the bowl matchup against Louisville. Chasing down Lamar Jackson isn’t much fun, but Louisville has surrendered 39 sacks this season, more than all but two Power 5 teams, including 11 in a blowout loss to Houston. — David Ching

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