NFL hopefuls go for broke in 65th Senior Bowl

Jan 22, 2014 - 3:18 PM Mobile, AL ( - The 65th Senior Bowl will take place at Ladd- Peebles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as some of the nation's top college talent get a chance to make one more impression in the hopes of improving their NFL Draft stock.

Considering these teams are hand-picked, the final result is very often forgotten. Last season, the South squad claimed a 21-16 victory over the North, with E.J. Manuel earning MVP honors. The South leads by a 29-26-3 margin all-time in the event.

Two NFL head coaches will take on the coaching duties in this contest, as is tradition. Taking the reins for the North will be the Atlanta Falcon's Mike Smith. Under Smith's leadership the Falcons took a giant step back from their 13-3 2012-13 campaign this season, marking their first losing season in six years under Smith.

Smith will get to work with a venerable who's who of ACC quarterbacks, with Tahj Boyd of Clemson, Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech and Stephen Morris of Miami-Florida all on the roster. Boyd is the best of the three, as he threw for 34 touchdowns and 3,851 yards on 68.5 percent passing this season, while adding 10 rushing scores, landing on a number semifinalist lists for major awards.Morris (198-of-344, 3,028 yards, 21 TDs, 12 INTs) and Thomas (227- of-402, 2,907 yards, 16 TDs, 13 INTs) were solid, but have a bit more to prove.

The two top running backs for the North are Wisconsin's James White and West Virginia's Charles Sims. White rushed for 1,444 yards and 13 touchdowns on 221 carries this season for the Badgers, en route to a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Sims, who transferred to West Virginia after a successful stretch at Houston, enjoyed a strong campaign during his only year in Morgantown, piling up 1,095 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at West Virginia since 2009.

Oregon's Josh Huff is the premier receiving prospect for the North Side. The 5-foot-11 speedster was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention this season and tallied 57 catches for 1,036 yards, including five 100-yard single game efforts. Wake Forest's Michale Campanaro will also line up on the outside, after finishing with 67 receptions for 803 yards and six scores. Shaquelle Evans (47 receptions, 709 yards, nine TDS) of UCLA and Kain Colter, who is playing as a receiver after serving as a quarterback at Northwestern, are other pass-catchers to watch, while Jacob Pedersen (Wisconsin) and C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa) are top prospects at tight end.

The North will have no trouble rushing the passer, with some of the most top defensive linemen in the country. Highlighting the group are Nagurski Award winner Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh) and consensus All-American and national sacks leader Trent Murphy (Stanford). Linebackers Marcus Smith (Louisville), who can also line up with his hand in the dirt and Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA) make the front seven even more formidable. The secondary will be anchored by Deone Bucannon (Washington State) and Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State), who were each named to their respective all-conference first teams.

Gus Bradley, the first-year coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, will be on the opposing sideline coaching the South. The Jaguars finished 4-12 this past season, although they did win four of their last eight games. Bradley, who coached in the 2006 Senior Bowl while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent the previous four campaigns, before he took over in Jacksonville, with the Seattle Seahawks.

The players slotted at quarterback for the South come from the more minor conferences, although their talent cannot be questioned. Derek Carr (Fresno State) is looking to follow in his brother's footsteps, at least in terms of an elevated pick in the draft, after throwing for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns this season. He is only the fourth player to ever accomplish that feat. David Fales (San Jose State) was another prolific passer in the Mountain West Conference, and is one of only two quarterbacks, Carr being the other, to have thrown for more than 4,000 yards each of the last two years. Keep an eye on Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), who won the Walter Payton Award, while dominating in the FCS.

The backfield is not as deep for the South, with Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky) one of only three running backs on the roster. Andrews can carry the load by himself, as he proved throughout his college career, especially the last two seasons when he led the nation in all-purpose yardage. Two standouts from the FCS ranks will also get a chance to shine with Lorenzo Taliaferro (Coastal Carolina) and Jerick McKinnon (Georgia Southern) also accepting invitations.

First-team All-American Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) is perhaps the most coveted receiving prospect in this exhibition. Matthews finished his career with records for receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759) in the SEC after totaling 1,477 yards on a SEC record 112 receptions. Filling in around Matthews will be talented receivers from across the country such as Kevin Norwood (Alabama), Ryan Grant (Tulane) and Cody Hoffman (BYU). Arthur Lynch (Georgia) is the only tight end on the squad.

On defense the South has some players with a great deal of exposure as defensive end Dee Ford (Auburn) and linebacker Christian Jones (Florida State) were just matched up as foes in the BCS National Title Game. Jones was an All- ACC second team member and Ford was named to the first-team SEC. Will Sutton (Arizona State), who won consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year awards, will line up at defensive tackle and talented linebackers Kyle Van Noy (BYU) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech) shore up the middle.

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