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Labriola on skipping bowl games, Trevor in the NFL

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Another college football bowl season has concluded, and even though Alabama didn’t walk away with another big trophy, and even though some 19 players skipped their school’s bowl game to get ready for the NFL draft process and/or protect themselves against injury, the world still is spinning on its axis.

• Nick Bosa of Ohio State, the brother of Joey Bosa, who is one of the key ingredients of a Los Angeles Chargers’ defense that might just be the difference in that franchise’s ability to defeat the Patriots this Sunday and move on to the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, upped the ante a bit on the traditional skipping of the bowl game. On Oct. 16, Nick Bosa withdrew from school to begin preparing for the NFL Draft process and therefore removed himself from a Buckeyes team that still had games against Michigan State and Michigan, plus the Big Ten Championship Game, and then the possibility of being in the College Football Playoff.

• In Bosa’s defense, he had sustained a core muscle injury in the Buckeyes’ third game of 2018 – against TCU – that required surgery to repair. A good portion of his decision came down to rehabilitating after that surgery. Still, he was the best defensive player on a team believed to have an excellent chance to win a conference championship, which the Buckeyes did, and advance to the CFP, which the Buckeyes didn’t.

• With the exception of Bosa, none of the other players who passed on bowl games skipped out on a chance to compete for a possible championship, and the chance to compete for a ring might be the way to stem the flow of these kinds of defections, but more on that later.

• First, a look at an alphabetical list of players who skipped out on a bowl game – and maybe just as significant a part of their decision – skipped out on an extra month of practice leading up to that bowl game:

• Ed Alexander, defensive line, LSU: Alexander, a junior defensive tackle, decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. In three seasons with the Tigers, Alexander totaled 58 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

• Deandre Baker, cornerback, Georgia: The 2018 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in college football, Baker posted 40 tackles, two interceptions, and 12 passes defensed in earning All-America honors. He was a senior in 2018 and has been listed as a potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.

• Yodny Cajuste, offensive tackle, West Virginia: He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2018 and a two-year starter on West Virginia’s offensive line.

• Blake Cashman, linebacker, Minnesota: He led the Gophers with 104 tackles to go along with 15 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks during a season in which he was voted second team all-Big Ten.

• Noah Fant, tight end, Iowa: In three seasons at Iowa, Fant caught 78 passes for 1,082 yards and 19 touchdowns. There is some belief he has a chance to be the first tight end selected in the 2019 draft.

• Rashan Gary, defensive line, Michigan: In three seasons at Michigan, Gary totaled 119 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks. He also was sidelined for three games in 2018 with a shoulder injury.

• Donnell Greene, offensive tackle, Minnesota: According to reports, Greene (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) signed with an agent after undergoing surgery on his meniscus. He started 29 games.

• Will Grier, quarterback, West Virginia: The first big-name quarterback to announce he was skipping bowl season, Grier had personal bests of 3,864 passing yards, 37 touchdowns vs. only eight interceptions in his senior year at West Virginia. Grier is being touted as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

• Kelvin Harmon, wide receiver, North Carolina State: Harmon’s 1,186 receiving yards led the ACC this season, and his 81 catches placed him third in the conference. His 177 career receptions are fourth in school history, and his 2,665 yards rank third.

• N’Keal Harry, wide receiver, Arizona State: In three seasons, Harry totaled 213 catches for 2,889 yards. Both marks rank third in Arizona State history.

• Darrell Henderson, running back, Memphis: Henderson is a junior who finished 10th in the Heisman voting after totaling 1,909 yards (8.9 average) and 22 touchdowns in 2018.

• Karan Higdon, running back, Michigan: The Wolverines’ leading rusher the past two seasons, Higdon, a senior, ran for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. Higdon will participate in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26.

• Justice Hill, running back, Oklahoma State: In 36 games over three seasons, Hill rushed for 3,539 yards and 30 touchdowns on 632 attempts (5.6 average), and after missing the final two games of the 2018 season with injuries he decided to skip the Liberty Bowl.

• Justin Layne, defensive back, Michigan State: Layne, a junior, finished 2018 tied for the Big Ten lead in passes defended (16) and pass breakups (15).

• Bryce Love, running back, Stanford: After finishing second in the 2017 Heisman balloting following a season in which he rushed for 2,118 yards (8.1 average) and 19 touchdowns, Love was roundly praised for coming back for his senior season. But after a series of nagging injuries limited him to 739 yards and a 4.5 average this season, Love decided to skip the Sun Bowl and prepare for the NFL Draft.

• Ed Oliver, defensive line, Houston: Oliver, who declared for the draft before his junior season, had 54 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss in eight games and also missed multiple games with a knee injury. For his career, Oliver totaled 192 tackles, 53 tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks.

• Germaine Pratt, linebacker, North Carolina State: As an all-ACC selection in 2018, Pratt was second in the conference this season with 104 tackles. He missed the season finale against North Carolina with an injury and then decided to skip the Gator Bowl.

• Deebo Samuel, wide receiver, South Carolina: With 148 catches for 2,076 yards and 29 total touchdowns, including four on kickoff returns, Samuel has been a big-play threat when healthy.

• Greedy Williams, cornerback, LSU: After redshirting as a freshman, Williams labeled himself as one of college football’s top cornerbacks in 2017 when he intercepted six passes for the Tigers. This year, Williams totaled 33 tackles and two interceptions.

• None of the players who declined to participate in a bowl game and the weeks of practices leading up to it were on any of the four teams that were competing in the four-team tournament for the big trophy, and with the exception of Bosa, none of the players made their decisions until their teams were “eliminated” from a spot in the final four.

• NFL teams aren’t about to come down hard on players who choose to skip the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl or the AutoNation Cure Bowl or the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl in order to prepare for the NFL Combine and all of the workouts/interviews that lead up to the draft at the end of April, because, well, talent is talent. Maybe a player is downgraded slightly for such a decision, but how much different is it than a quarterback who loses the competition to be the starter at one school transferring to another school where he’ll get a chance to play.

• For the NCAA and the polyester-jacket-wearing bowl representatives, however, this could become a growing problem. These countless minor bowl games can be financial losers for the schools that participate because of the number of tickets the participants are required to sell, or eat the cost if unsold, and players see little advantage in subjecting their bodies to up to a month of practices for a bowl game that is meaningless to all but coaches who have bonuses in their contracts for these appearances and some boola-boola alumni who still know all the words to the fight song.

• Maybe the way to stem this tide is for the NCAA to expand the championship tournament to eight teams, or even the 16-team version it holds for all other levels of football. There are bound to be all kinds of excuses presented as to why this can’t happen, but expanding the championship tournament has to be better than weeks worth of meaningless bowl games played in front of thousands of empty seats between teams weakened by players opting not to participate.

• While on the subject of college football players and their NFL aspirations/expectations, what has turned into a popular topic on the squawk show circuit this week is how unfair it is that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence cannot be drafted into the NFL until 2021.

• The NFL has a rule prohibiting players from being eligible for the draft until they are three years removed from their high school graduation. Lawrence, who played most of this season as a 19-year-old, would be 21 when he becomes draft eligible.

• While it can be somewhat routine for prodigies in basketball, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, and swimming to dominate their chosen sport as adolescents, but football deserves to be considered differently. Lawrence is listed as 6-5, 215, and as is the case with most heights and weights listed by a college, those likely are inflated numbers.

• In this case Lawrence’s actual height is insignificant when compared to his actual weight. Look at a photo of Lawrence, at his build, at his muscle definition at this stage of his life, and then project his slight body type into a league packed with men in their 20s and 30s, 10 years older, who will be trying to do him harm every time the ball is snapped.

• At this stage of his life, Lawrence’s build would be comparable to that of an NFL kicker, and kickers just aren’t expected to withstand the kind of collisions that would be an every-game part of being an NFL quarterback.

• From an arm-talent standpoint, Lawrence might be ready for the NFL. From a coverage-recognition standpoint, Lawrence might be ready for the NFL. From the standpoint of being able to learn an offense and understand how an opposing defense will try to neutralize it, Lawrence might be ready for the NFL.

• But it’s the physical pounding. The hits he’ll have to take as he’s throwing the ball. The attrition to his body over the course of a 17-week NFL season. Those are things Trevor Lawrence is unprepared for, and nothing but time for his body to grow and mature will change that.

• There can be an argument made that it’s a shame Lawrence will have to play for free for a couple of more seasons before he’ll be able to monetize his talents, but the solution to that shouldn’t be exposing him to the physical demands of professional football before his body is ready.

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