The first of two bowl games at Qualcomm Stadium features a Northern Illinois team who lost just one game this season.  It turned out to be a costly loss as it knocked the team from BCS bowl game contention.  On the other hand Utah State overcame the loss of their starting signal caller early in the season to finish with a respectable 8-5 record.  This game is filled with underrated defensive backs.

Tyler Larsen/C/Utah State: Larsen brings a wide variety of opinions from scouts but at the very core he’s a tough and intelligent blocker on the pivot with a great feel for the game.  Fundamentally sound, Larsen uses all his assets to their maximum and is effective on the line of scrimmage or blocking in motion.  I don’t expect Larsen to put up great workout numbers prior to the draft but do expect him to have a long NFL career.  5th Round

Nevin Lawson/CB/Utah State: Lawson is a cornerback that’s been swiftly moving up draft boards all season long.  He possesses the size and speed to start at the next level and has really improved his play.  He’s consistently shut down opponents and comes with a nose for the football (4 ints/13 PBU’s).  Lawson has what it takes to contribute as a rookie as a dime back/special teams player during his rookie year in the NFL.  5th/6th Round.

Jimmie Ward/CB/Northern Illinois: If you’re looking for a versatile defensive back with a complete game in next May’s draft, look no further than Ward.  The three year starter has lined up at both safety and cornerback, most recently leading NIU in tackles (77), interceptions (6) and PBU’s (14).  He’s an instinctive defender with terrific ball skills and a great head for the game.  What Ward lacks is speed and he’s a liability in downfield coverage.  Still, in the right system he’ll be a terrific nickel/dime back that can play in zone or man coverage.  6th Round

Ken Bishop/DT/Northern Illinois: Bishop is another terrific football player on the NIU squad who comes up shy in the department of measurables.  Measuring just over 6-foot, 1-inch and tipping the scales at 308lbs, he’s a hard charging interior lineman with deceptive athleticism and strength.  Watch as Utah State double teams Bishop in the middle of the line and count how many times he gives up an inch or is off his feet.  It would be surprising if the sum is greater than one.  Bishop is a prototypical defensive tackle who could line up in the 3-technique and he’ll be a solid rotational player at the next level.  7th Round

Maurice Alexander/S/Utah State: If there’s a sleeper in this game, a player scouts talk about yet no one on the outside mentions, it would be Alexander.  The junior college transfer, who was not a member of the Aggie team a year ago, has stormed back with a monster senior campaign.  Sized well, Alexander has been a force defending the run (80 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss) while also displaying solid ball skills (1 int, 6 PBU’s).  Never rated by scouts prior to the season, Alexander has positioned himself as a potential late round pick.  7th Round