|Date of game: 1/26/2013
Senior-North vs. Senior-South (ET)
GAME NOTES: The 64th-annual Senior Bowl is on tap this weekend at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile Alabama, as the nation's top seniors gather to show off their talent for NFL brass one last time.
The North team will be under the guidance of the Oakland Raiders' coaching staff, led by Dennis Allen. The South will be under the watchful eye of Detroit Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff.
This contest has featured players that have gone on to have a huge impact in the NFL. Since the turn of the century, stars like LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), Larry Johnson (2003), Philip Rivers (2004) and Matt Forte (2008) have won MVP honors.
The South holds a 30-27-3 edge in the event under its current form. In the early 1990s, the format was changed to ACF against NFC with the AFC winning two of three meetings. Despite trailing in the all-time series, the North has closed the gap a bit with wins in two of the last three matchups, including a 23-13 victory in last year's event.
Coach Allen will look to quarterbacks Zac Dysert (Miami-Ohio), Mike Glennon (NC State) and Ryan Nassib (Syracuse) to lead the offense. Of the three, Nassib was the one who really made a name for himself as a senior, completing 62.4 percent of his throws, for 3.749 yards, with 26 TDs, leading Syracuse to an 8-5 record, a 5-2 mark in Big East play and a win over West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Nassib has a strong following and is expected to be the third quarterback in Syracuse history to be drafted into the NFL (Donovan McNabb, Don McPherson).
Scouts will get long looks at Dysert and Glennon as well. Dysert certainly looks the part at 6-4, 230 pounds and has put up big numbers in the Mid- American Conference over his career with the RedHawks, including completing 62.9 percent of his throws in 2012, for 3,483 yards and 25 TDs. Glennon was one of the ACC's top signal-callers in 2012, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 31 TDs for the Wolfpack. Another big signal-caller (6-6, 232), Glennon has a lot of the qualities that NFL teams look for.
Whoever is under center for the North will have the luxury of handing the ball off to a stable of capable tailbacks in Pac-12 stars Kenjon Barner (Oregon) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) and Fresno State's Robbie Rouse. Barner stepped into the spotlight in Oregon's backfield this season and had a monster campaign, rushing for 1,767 yards and 21 TDs. Franklin didn't find the end zone as much as Barner, but did rush for 1,734 yards and 13 TDs for the Bruins. A bit of a lesser-known commodity on the national level, Rouse is Fresno's all-time leading rusher, finishing his career with 1,490 yards and 12 TDs in 2012.
The North's receiving corps is chock-full of talent as well, highlighted by Oregon State's Markus Wheaton (91 receptions, 1,244 yards, 11 TDs in 2012) and a wildcard of sorts in former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who is likely to make a position change to maximize his NFL potential.
Defensively speaking, the North squad has some intriguing names. Up front, the players to watch include SMU's Margus Hunt (31 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks), Texas' Alex Okafor (68 tackles, 18 TFL, 12.5 sacks), Penn State's Jordan Hill (64 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Purdue's Kawann Short (43 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) and North Carolina's Sylvester Williams (42 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks), all of which had strong 2012 campaigns.
The back seven for the North features defensive stalwarts like linebackers Arthur Brown (Kansas State) and Khaseem Greene (Rutgers) and defensive backs TJ McDonaldd (USC), Jordan Poyer (Oregon State) and Desmond Trufant (Washington).
The North possesses serious talent at the quarterback position, but in terms of star power, it is Schwartz that has the upperhand under center, with the South being led into battle by Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Florida State's EJ Manuel and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson. Of the three, Jones is the one who has accomplished the most at the collegiate level, finishing up his career in Norman as Oklahoma's all-time leader in passing yards (12,379), as well as owning a dozen other passing records for the Sooners. In 2012, the 6-4 Jones completed just over 66 percent of his passes, for 4,267 yards and 30 TDs. Manuel holds FSU passing records as well and put up some lofty numbers as a senior (3,392 yards, 23 TDs). Wilson was tabbed the savior in Fayetteville after a monster junior campaign and put up solid numbers with Arkansas in 2012 (3,387 yards, 21 TDs), a year of transition for the Razorbacks.
Like the North, the South should put the ball in the hands of steady backs like Stanford's Stepfan Taylor (1,530 yards, 13 TDs), Clemson's Andre Ellington (1,081 yards, eight TDs) and Florida's Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards, 10 TDs).
South's receiving corps that will benefit from strong play under center includes players like Baylor's Terrence Williams (97 receptions, 1,832 yards, 12 TDs), Duke's Conner Vernon (85 receptions, 1,074 yards, eight TDs), Texas A&M's Ryan Swope (72 receptions, 913 yards, eight TDs), Georgia's Tavarres King (42 receptions, 950 yards, nine TDs) and Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton (90 receptions, 1,335 yards, five TDs).
The South's defensive line lacks the household names that the North's has, but there are certainly some playmakers that will elevate their draft stock as a result of their time in Mobile. Those include BYU's Ezekial Ansah (62 tackles, 13 TFL, 4.5 sacks), LSU's Lavar Edwards (26 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Clemson's Malliciah Goodman (28 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks).
The linebacking corps for the South features standouts in Stanford's Chase Thomas (71 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks), Southern Miss' Jamie Collins (92 tackles, 20 TFL, 10 sacks) and Alabama's Nico Johnson (55 tackles). The top defenders in the secondary for the South come in the form of safeties Robert Lester (Alabama) and Bacarri Rambo (Georgia), both of which should hear their names called relatively early in the upcoming NFL Draft.
It is awfully tough to gauge what will happen in All-Star games. However, while the North has the advantage in the backfield, the pitch-and-catch combos of the South look far superior and could be the difference in this game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South 27, North 20