The college bowl season is about to get started and there will be plenty of players facing the best competition that they've seen all season. For some 2013 NFL Draft prospects, the bowl matchup will give NFL scouts there best view yet at the skills and readiness of prospects. Here is a run down of the top pairings to watch from a draft perspective in the early bowl games.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU DEs Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo vs Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Boyd was one of the top quarterbacks in college football this year and has submitted his paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board. The junior completed 67 percent of his passes in the regular season for 3,550 yards with 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran for 706 yards (492 net) and nine touchdowns. Boyd has a good arm and some natural accuracy, but is undersized at 6-foot-1, 220-pounds.
Clemson went 10-2, but the Tigers' two losses came against teams that had elite pass-rushers: Florida State and South Carolina. Boyd needs to show that he has the ability to withstand the rush and produce. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith took a pounding in 2011, but still threw for over 463 yards against an even better LSU defense. Boyd isn't viewed as highly as Smith, but the former wants to be on that level.
Mingo and Montgomery, both juniors, need to show that they have the ability to defend an explosive passing attack by getting to the quarterback. Montgomery had a solid season with seven sacks, but Mingo disappointed with only four sacks entering the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Each one of them could use a big game to help their draft stock, Mingo especially.
Outback Bowl: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney vs Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
This is the best draft matchup of any of the college bowl games. Clowney is in the running as the best pass-rushing prospect in college football and is a near lock to be a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He is NFL ready right now after a season in which he recorded 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss.
If Lewan can shut down Clowney, Lewan's draft stock could skyrocket high into the first round for the 2013 or 2014 NFL Draft. Lewan had a strong junior season this year, but he never saw an elite pass-rusher and had a very easy schedule. Lewan also had some disappointing moments against Alabama and Ohio State. The 6-foot-8, 309-pounder has length on his side, but he hasn't seen a rusher with Clowney's speed this season. Lewan's draft stock could plummet if Clowney dominates him, so Lewan needs to at least hold his own against Clowney. This will be the top matchup to watch on New Year's Day.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin RB Montee Ball vs Stanford LBs Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin torched Stanford for 194 yards and three touchdowns in the Pac-12 Championship game. Skov and Thomas need to show an improved effort against Ball in the Rose Bowl. Skov really played well as a run-defender against Oregon, while Thomas got red hot as a pass-rusher in the final two games against UCLA with four sacks. Both will have their run defense tested by the Badgers and need to show improvement from the Pac-12 Championship.
Like Ball, Franklin is a potential second-day pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. From Ball's perspective, it would look bad if he is shut down by Stanford's defense while Franklin had his way with them. Ball started the 2012 season very slowly and heated up in the middle of the year during conference play. The Big Ten was weak, while the Cardinal has one of the most physical defenses in the nation, making Franklin's effort against them all the more impressive.
The last quality Pac-12 defense that Ball played was Oregon State, and the Beavers held him to 61 yards on 15 carries. He finished the year with an average of 5.2 yards per carry over 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns. Despite that production, Ball still needs to prove he can be effective against good defenses, not the slow defenses he normally saw in the Big Ten. The senior has a lot on the line in the Rose Bowl.
Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore vs Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson
Moore was one of the best defensive linemen in college football in 2012. He had 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss during the regular season. The junior also led his team in tackles with 80. Moore was extremely consistent and has proven himself as a natural pass-rusher. He had 5.5 sacks as a freshman and 8.5 sacks as a sophomore. A big game against Johnson would add further proof that Moore is a high first-round pick.
Johnson had a very good senior season protecting Landry Jones' blind side. In 2011, Johnson was Oklahoma's starter at right tackle. The 6-foot-7, 303-pounder will battle against Moore on some plays, but the Aggies move Moore around the line, so Johnson won't have to shut him down on every play all game. That makes the senior's job easier, and if he can win his battles with Moore, it will give a nice boost to his draft stock.
BCS National Championship Game: Alabama G Chance Warmack and C Barrett Jones vs Notre Dame DT Louis Nix
The standout Crimson Tide interior linemen will have their hands full with Nix. They had a dominant second half against Georgia after some early struggles with nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Nix has been a disruptive force all year for the Fighting Irish. The 6-foot-3, 340-pounder is surprisingly quick and explosive. Nix totaled 45 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss during the regular season. He has caused a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage.
Warmack and Jones are the top prospects at their respective positions for the 2013 NFL Draft and both look like future first-round picks. Nix has submitted his paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and if he has big game against the Alabama duo, it would help his bid to be a Thursday night pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Jones and Warmack would help both of their causes by shutting down Nix. Warmack could crack the top 20, while Jones could be a first-rounder with one more dominant performance.