The 2016 Holiday Bowl headlines have already been written. When Minnesota players boycotted team activities and threatened to sit out the bowl game — before ending it and agreeing to play — their matchup with Washington State became about more than football.
Nonetheless, a lot of eyeballs will be on Cougars' quarterback Luke Falk in potentially his final collegiate game. He is one a half-dozen legitimate 2017 NFL Draft prospects in the Holiday Bowl, a group that includes four Gophers who could give them a four-man draft class for the second time since 2015.
Here are the best NFL Draft prospects in the Holiday Bowl, ranked:
|1||Luke Falk||QB||Washington State|
|2||Gabe Marks||WR||Washington State|
Unlike all of Mike Leach's air-raid quarterbacks, Luke Falk is highly rated among NFL prospects.
If the record-setting Falk leaves after the season and all goes well from January-April, he could be a first-round selection. His 4.2:1 TD-to-interception ratio and 70.1 completion percentage in a power conference from 2015-16 speak for themselves. Falk can make every throw and will be drooled over by coaches who love efficient quarterbacks who can execute any gameplan.
Gabe Marks will become the third Wazzu receiver drafted since 2013 (Marquess Wilson, 2013; Vince Mayle, 2015).
Pedestrian in size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), the California native could thrive in a system similar to one that will covet Falk. He's a sure-handed target and good route-runner who plays bigger than his frame in the red zone. A few legal issues may hamper his stock but there is no reason he should last beyond the fourth round.
Washington State has the top Holiday Bowl prospects but Minnesota has a better chance of having three or more players selected, led by massive offensive tackle Jonah Pirsig. One of the biggest players in the draft (6-foot-8, 325 pounds), he's a third-day pick.
Behind him are Jalen Myrick and Damarius Travis, a pair trying to become the third and fourth Minnesota defensive backs drafted since 2014 (Brock Vereen, 2014; Eric Murray, 2015). Both are physical players with great speed but occasionally get handsy and beat by speedsters. Teams will love Myrick's 4.3 speed, something that all but guarantees an NFL shot.
And finally is a player that has frustrated Minnesota fans unlike any other. A superb athlete with a reportedly high football IQ, Mitch Leidner never put it together. Analysts — including ESPN's Todd McShay, who was blasted for dubbing him a potential first-round selection last spring — have long drooled over his size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and abilities as a hard-nosed runner.
However, you can't overlook four seasons of sub-60 percent completion clip, horrible TD-to-INT ratio (1.1:1) and countless missed throws per game. Somehow, Leidner will still get a chance as a late-round flier or UDFA but he needs major improvement — or position change — to stick.