This year’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama will be short on star power, but will still feature dozens of players who will find themselves on NFL rosters next season. Eighty-eight of the top seniors in the nation will do battle Saturday, with the South team looking to build on its 33-28-3 edge in the all-time series.
While some people will focus on the players who won’t be on the field this weekend – most notably standout Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who declined an invitation last week – there is still plenty of NFL-caliber talent on both sides. And for those new to the Senior Bowl, don’t expect the kind of laissez-faire defense you see at the NFL’s Pro Bowl being held Sunday in Orlando; these players have plenty on the line, which has led to more than its share of competitive games over the 67-year history of the event. Two teams with high draft picks will provide the coaching for the two sides, with the South led by Chicago head coach John Fox and the North guided by Cleveland’s Hue Jackson. The South is coming off a 27-16 triumph in the 2016 Senior Bowl, with electrifying Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott named MVP.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
LINE HISTORY: Oddsmakers opened the South as 3-point favorites, while the total hit the board at 37. According to BookMaker.eu, almost 86 percent of wagers have been placed on the South, but the number remains at the opening number. Meanwhile, despite almost 63 percent of wagers on the Over, the total has come down a half-point to the current number of 36.5.
WEATHER REPORT: Fans at Ladd-Peebles Stadium should expect partly cloudy skies at game time, with temperatures in the high 50s. Wind will blow out of the northeast at 6 mph, and shouldn’t be a factor.
ABOUT THE NORTH: NFL teams will be keeping a close eye on several players on the North roster, led by Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp; he leaves school as one of the most accomplished pass-catchers in NCAA history (428 receptions, 6,464 yards, 73 TDs) and is expected to be drafted in one of the first three rounds. He’ll fight for scouts’ attention with Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, who racked up nearly 5,000 on the ground and 44 touchdowns in his four years with the Rockets. The top QB prospect on the North roster is Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, who had a decent season with the Panthers (2,855 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs) but is looking at a Day 3 selection unless he blows the competition away in Alabama. Among the other positions, Western Kentucky offensive tackle Forrest Lamp will draw plenty of interest after looking impressive in a loss to Alabama.
ABOUT THE SOUTH: It’s difficult to say whether this is a reflection of the quality of the roster, or the skill level of the player, but the South’s top prospect might just be Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who is considered the top player at his position and has some scouts making comparisons to Jimmy Graham. Cal quarterback Davis Webb is the best signal caller on the roster, compiling more than 4,300 passing yards with 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his only season with the Golden Bears. Scouts will be curious to see what OTs Zach Banner of USC and Connor McDermott of UCLA are capable of on the big stage; the pair are 6-8 and 6-9, respectively, but are still raw. On defense, Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis and Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson are both expected to be drafted high, and will likely excel against a mediocre North offensive line.
* The South is 6-3 SU in the last nine meetings.
* The teams have posted a total below 50 in 13 of the previous 14 Senior Bowls.
* The losing team has averaged just 11.6 points since 2003.