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  • Who will take best advantage of their newfound national spotlight during bowl season? From shining stars to inspiring stories, we've singled out the player you need to see in every game on the schedule.
By The SI Staff
December 14, 2017

The bowl season allows the spotlight to shine brighter on players who may not have gotten enough of it for their efforts during the regular season, whether due to a lower conference profile or stiff competition for headlines elsewhere around the country. At last, those standouts have the stage largely to themselves, with the chance to win some far-flung fans among a national television audience.

To get you ready for three weeks of unique matchups and unique stories, we’re spotlighting our picks for the most interesting player on the field in all 39 bowl games leading up to the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 8. Each of the players below carries a backstory, a next-level skill or a measure of star power you won’t want to miss.

New Orleans Bowl: Troy RB Jordan Chunn

The last time the college football world was focused on Chunn, he was rumbling through LSU’s defense on the way to a 30-carry, 190-yard night that keyed the Trojans’ upset win in Tiger Stadium. The next game against South Alabama, Chunn suffered a leg laceration that required 18 stitches and sidelined him for the next two weeks. Now back at full strength, Chunn enters his college finale one touchdown shy of the Sun Belt’s all-time record (48, held by Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette) with a juicy matchup against North Texas’s 107th-ranked run D.​ — Eric Single

Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Iyiegbuniwe (pronounced ee-yay-boo-nee-way) led the Hilltoppers in tackles and forced three fumbles on his way to all-Conference USA honors. The Bowling Green native has become a team captain for a Hilltoppers team that can’t always lean on the offense the way it has in recent years. — Scooby Axson

Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon QB Justin Herbert

The Pac-12 has a couple quarterbacks vying for top draft pick honors in the 2018 NFL draft, but Herbert could end up as the crown jewel of the 2019 class. Oregon’s offense was among the best in the country with a healthy Herbert under center. With senior running back Royce Freeman deciding to skip the bowl game, Herbert has a good chance to showcase his arm talent.​ — Max Meyer

New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State WR Michael Gallup

Gallup has put together one of the best seasons of any receiver in the nation. With 94 catches for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns, the senior from Monroe, Ga. has established himself as one of the top threats in the Mountain West. He has gone for more than 100 receiving yards six times this year, and the Rams are 4–2 in those games. He has also eclipsed 200 receiving yards twice this year, both in victories. — Khadrice Rollins

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State DL Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

The senior is a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year (offense or defense), owns the conference’s all-time sacks record and ranks second in the nation this season with 13. Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raiders’ offensive line should be on high alert, especially since Rolland-Jones is one sack shy of breaking Terrell Suggs’s all-time FBS record. — Molly Geary

Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic RB Devin Singletary

The primary beneficiary of Lane Kiffin’s aggressive offense, Singletary is working on a streak of 11 consecutive 100-yard games (including two 200-plus showings) and scored a whopping 30 total touchdowns (29 rushing, one receiving) in the regular season, six more than the next closest player. His 138.2 rushing yards per game landed him fourth in the national rankings. — ES

DXL Frisco Bowl: SMU QB Ben Hicks

The Mustangs had two first-team all-AAC wide receivers (Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn), and that doesn’t happen without a QB who can get them the ball. Hicks grew a lot in his sophomore season, changing his 19–15 TD-to-interception ratio as a freshman to 32–9 in 2017. He’ll go against a Louisiana Tech defense that ranked eighth in the C-USA in passing D but second in picks. — MG

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: FIU QB Alex McGough

McGough threw for 2,791 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and also had five rushing scores. While FIU’s running attack is by committee, it’s on McGough alone to play efficiently. If Temple is able to force turnovers, it’ll be lights out for the Golden Panthers. — SA

Bahamas Bowl: Ohio QB Nathan Rourke

As a sophomore, Rourke passed for 2,018 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions … and ran for 21 scores while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. That’s more rushing touchdowns than Rashaad Penny, Lamar Jackson, Bryce Love, Ronald Jones and, well, actually everyone but FAU’s Singletary (29) had in 2017. — MG

Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/TNS via Getty Images

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan QB Shane Morris

Josh Allen’s every move will be scrutinized by NFL scouts looking to get a live look at one of the 2018 draft’s most divisive prospects, but Morris’s career revival in Mount Pleasant after leaving Michigan as a graduate transfer will also come to a high-profile close in Boise. After arriving in Ann Arbor with five-star expectations yet never seizing control of the Wolverines’ offense, Morris heated up down the stretch this fall to propel Central Michigan into the bowl picture, tossing 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions over a season-ending five-game winning streak. — ES

Birmingham Bowl: South Florida QB Quinton Flowers

Flowers held out in the recruiting process for the chance to play quarterback, and he should reward USF’s faith in him by lighting up the scoreboard against a compliant Texas Tech defense in his final college game. His heroics nearly led the Bulls to a win over UCF that could have set them up for a New Year’s Six trip. — SA

Armed Forces Bowl: Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw

Will Bradshaw complete a pass? As the point man for the Black Knights’ option attack, he has turned in five games with no completions this season, including a 21–0 win over Air Force in which he didn’t even throw the ball once—but finished with 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He and the nation’s leading rusher, San Diego State star Rashaad Penny, could end up trading big gains in Fort Worth. — ES

Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State G Colby Gossett

For the first time in Sun Belt history, three offensive linemen from the same school made first-team all-conference, a credit to the Mountaineers’ stunning total of just eight sacks allowed this season, second in the nation only to Army. Gossett cracked the first-team for the second consecutive year, and he and his linemates are App State QB Taylor Lamb’s best chance to go score-for-score with senior Toledo QB Logan Woodside. — ES

Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State DE Tobenna Okeke

The senior pass rusher has been a consistent presence for a group that has dominated opponents from the start of this season. Okeke's five sacks are tied for the best mark on the team and his nine tackles for a loss are the second best on the team. The main reason to watch Okeke though is because of what he did the last time he was at Aloha Stadium: On Nov. 11, he had three sacks and two forced fumbles in a 31–21 win over Hawaii. Look to see if he can replicate that performance. — KR

Cactus Bowl: UCLA QB Josh Rosen

It’s not often you get to see a potential No. 1 draft pick in the Cactus Bowl, so there’s not really another option to choose from. Rosen is the best pure thrower in his class, and his timing and precision on his passes is exhilarating to watch. — MM

Quick Lane Bowl: Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith

The Huskies’ defense has been led by the nation's most prolific pass rusher, a sophomore who has found the quarterback in nine of his 12 games this year for a total of 14 sacks. Elvis Dumervil's NCAA record of 20 sacks in a season is probably out of reach, but with one more sack against Duke, Smith will be in a six-way tie for 14th on the all-time list, and he can move into a tie for sixth with 2.5 sacks. — KR

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah K Matt Gay

Kickers deserve love too, especially the most recent recipient of the Lou Groza Award. Gay has made 27 of his 31 field-goal attempts this season, including two from 56 yards out. He also drilled all 37 of his extra points. Special teams enthusiasts tuning in should also be on the lookout for Utah’s super punter, Mitch Wishnowsky. — MM

Independence Bowl: Southern Miss WR Korey Robertson

The Golden Eagles’ top receiver has crossed the 100-yard mark five times this season, helping him rank 15th in the country in receiving yards (1,070) and tied for ninth in receiving TDs (11). Robertson will test the Florida State secondary, which will be without star safety Derwin James, who is skipping the game to prepare for the NFL draft. — MG

Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College RB A.J. Dillon

Boston College’s true freshman running back was unanimously named first-team All-ACC and was also the unanimous pick for the conference’s newcomer of the year. Dillon has been the focal point of Boston College’s offense all season and racked up 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns on more than five yards per carry. Interestingly enough, he did not catch a pass the entire season: Two hundred sixty-eight carries, zero receptions. — DR

Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona QB Khalil Tate

Purdue allowed its most points of the season when it surrendered 35 to Lamar Jackson and Louisville. Tate is a poor man’s Jackson. He blew past the opposition consistently with his legs, and is competent enough throwing the ball to create big plays through the air as well. Tate was considered a Heisman candidate despite not playing the first month of the season, and that’s because of how dominant he was in the games he did appear in. — MM

Texas Bowl: Missouri QB Drew Lock

Lock piled up ridiculous numbers in his junior season, setting the SEC single-season record with 43 touchdown passes as the Tigers woke up from a 1–5 start on the strength of one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. He could feast on a Texas defense that with be without several stars sitting out ahead of the NFL draft process. — ES

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Military Bowl: Navy QB Malcolm Perry

There’s been plenty of mystery this season surrounding who would start each week at QB for the Midshipmen, but the 5'9" Perry turned heads when he ran for 250 yards in the snow in the loss to Army, racking up more yards himself than the Black Knights had overall. It seems safe to say he’s earned the Military Bowl start. — MG

Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech CB Greg Stroman

Stroman will be charged with doing something, anything to disrupt Oklahoma State’s prodigious passing game, which led the nation with 392.2 yards per game, and the All-ACC senior may be up to the task; this year, he was good for four picks and 15 passes defended. — JN

Alamo Bowl: Stanford RB Bryce Love

Love possesses sprinter speed and underrated power, a deadly combination that has led to his remarkable feat of 12 straight games with a run of at least 50 yards. He has been battling an ankle injury but still has put up warrior-like efforts for Stanford down the stretch. With a few weeks of rest, we could see a more dominant Love in what could be his final collegiate game. — MM

Holiday Bowl: Washington State DE Hercules Mata’afa

The bad news: We’ll only get to see Mata’afa for the second half, since he was penalized for targeting in the second half of Washington State’s regular season finale and must serve a four-quarter suspensopm. The good news: The defensive tackle is an absolute wrecking machine when he is on the field. He finished fifth in the country with 21.5 tackles for a loss and led the Cougars with 9.5 sacks despite missing two games. — MM

Belk Bowl: Wake Forest QB John Wolford

The underrated Wolford is a four-year starter who threw 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions while leading the ACC in passing efficiency in 2017. He’s helped bring the Demon Deacons from the ACC basement and back-to-back three-win seasons to a position of relevance in one of the nation’s toughest divisions and will want to go out with a bang. — MG

Sun: Arizona State WR N'Keal Harry

The only reason why the choice for the Sun Bowl’s can’t-miss player isn’t top-10 NFL draft pick Bradley Chubb is because there’s a chance Chubb will sit out the Sun Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. The sophomore wideout Harry is also an enthralling watch, as the 6’4” weapon is a force for Arizona State, especially on 50-50 balls. He was one of only two Pac-12 players to record an 1,000-yard season in 2017, and the Wolfpack will have their hands full trying to guard him. — MM

Music City Bowl: Northwestern RB Justin Jackson

Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Evanston. The remarkably durable back has totaled 5,283 rushing yards over his career, the fourth-best total in Big Ten history and 12th best all-time in the FBS. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Jackson, who evades defenders with sharp cuts rather than outright speed, you have one more chance to do so. — DR

TaxSlayer Bowl: Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson

Thompson couldn’t have been blamed for freezing up when he replaced an injured Nick Fitzgerald in the middle of a stunning Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss, but the true freshman ran for 121 yards and a touchdown and threw for another score as the Bulldogs clawed back into the game. His counterpart for his first career start? Lamar Jackson, who knows something about being a super-raw true freshman. — ES

Liberty Bowl: Iowa State QB/LB Joel Lanning

Lanning is Iowa State’s most versatile weapon. The Cyclones’ 2016 starting quarterback attempted four passes this season and received 34 carries at running back but spent most of his time at linebacker, where he logged five sacks. He spent time on offense, defense and special teams and recovered a fumble against Oklahoma that was key to Iowa State’s biggest win of the year. — JN

Arizona Bowl: Utah State CB Jalen Davis

Davis, who collected a handful of All-America honors this month, is a pure ballhawk. Three of his five interceptions this season were returned for touchdowns; only 10 other players in FBS had more than one pick-six. — SA

Outback Bowl: South Carolina LB Skai Moore

The redshirt senior earned first-team All-SEC honors this year after he missed the entire 2016 season to recover from neck fusion surgery. Moore, a slightly undersized backer at just 218 pounds, is a classic “tweener” who does a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks. — DR

Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame RB Josh Adams

Adams’s struggles in Notre Dame’s marquee matchups put a damper on his season—in the Irish’s three losses, he totaled just 142 rushing yards and no touchdowns—but he is a big, bruising back who can wear most defenses down. In Notre Dame’s best game of the season, a 49–14 thrashing of USC, Adams ran all over the Trojans to the tune of 191 yards and three touchdowns. — DR

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Cotton Bowl: USC LB Uchenna Nwosu

He might not be as well-known as other key Trojans, but Nwosu was arguably USC’s MVP this season. The pass rusher has made a name for himself in his senior campaign, registering 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He’s also excellent at deflecting passes, with a team-leading 13 breakups (yes, more than any USC defensive back). — MM

Fiesta Bowl: Washington WR/PR Dante Pettis

Like Penn State star Saquon Barkley, Pettis is just as likely to swing this game on special teams as he is on offense. Washington’s top wideout is one of the most dangerous men on fourth down in the country, setting an NCAA record this season with his ninth career punt return touchdown. Pettis also led the Huskies with 62 receptions, 721 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. — MM

Orange Bowl: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

Taylor is next up in the seemingly never-ending line of elite Wisconsin running backs. Although he was largely bottled up in the Big Ten championship game (15 carries for 41 yards and no touchdowns), the 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns he put up as a true freshman qualify him as one of the year’s premier breakout players. Taylor’s running style makes it hard to believe he still has so much time left—he’s really patient, but he’s thick enough to run defenders over in the open field. — DR

Peach Bowl: UCF LB Shaquem Griffin

Griffin was born with a malformed left hand and had it amputated at age four. After spending much of his career low on the depth chart, he blossomed as a junior and kept shining this season, logging 5.5 sacks, two fumbles and a (one-handed) interception this fall. — JN

Rose Bowl: Georgia QB Jake Fromm

You’ve probably heard this stat by now: No true freshman quarterback has led his team to a national title since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985. Fromm has the arm, the mobility and the poise to snap the streak. He probably won’t rival Baker Mayfield’s box score line, but the Bulldogs don’t need him to do that. If Fromm can just make enough throws to set up the Bulldogs’ powerful rushing game, they’ll be in good shape. — Chris Johnson

Sugar Bowl: Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow

Nick Saban probably started having nightmares about Renfrow, a 5'10" former walk-on wide receiver, the moment he learned Alabama would be facing Clemson again. After snagging seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the title game following the 2015 season, Renfrow hauled in 10 catches for 92 yards and two scores in the rematch after last season, including a last-second, two-yard game-winner. — CJ​

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