Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald will have to make room on his trophy shelf for at least one more award. Donald was named the top practice player at the Senior Bowl practices this week.
“Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle,” said Mike Smith, the coach of the Atlanta Falcons, in a statement released by the Senior Bowl. The Falcons coaching staff is coaching the North team in this year’s Senior Bowl. “I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s short in stature by NFL standards and doesn’t maybe have all the measurables, but he’s one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He’s done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game.”
Donald cleaned up on the college football awards circuit. He was named the winner of the Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award in addition to being named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American.
The Senior Bowl also handed out awards for the top players by position. Auburn’s Dee Ford was named the most outstanding defensive lineman, which is somewhat humorous considering Donald is also a defensive lineman. Northern Illinois defensive back Jimmie Ward, West Virginia running back Charles Sims, Iowa wide receiver C.J. Fiedorowicz, Notre Dame offensive lineman Zach Martin, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Auburn kicker Cody Parkey have all been recognized for their performance in practices this week as well.
Last year’s top practice player at the Senior Bowl was Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who went on to be the number one overall draft pick. Donald may not be the number one pick in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft, but his stock certainly could not be much higher at this point. With NFL scouts and coaches gathering at the Senior Bowl, what a potential draft pick does during practices at the Senior Bowl tends to carry more weight than anything that happens during the actual game, although ending the week on a high note with a solid game performance certainly helps.
WHO: 9-3 Wisconsin (Big Ten) vs. 10-2 South Carolina (SEC)
WHAT: Capital One Bowl (68th Year)
WHERE: Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida
WHEN: Jan. 1 at 1:00 PM ET
WHY: Wisconsin and South Carolina will both be looking to pound out yardage on the ground, and they will bring two talented running backs with them to do just that. Wisconsin will hand the football off to Melvin Gordon with regularity after rushing for 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. South Carolina will counter with one of the top running backs in the SEC not playing for Auburn, Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Both teams are going to bring some defense to the field as well. The spotlight will be shining on Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who appears to be playing in his final game at the college level before turning pro. This season has been a roller coaster for Clowney with speculation he was heading to the NFL buzzing during last season’s bowl game for the Gamecocks. He delivered one of the signature hits of the 2012 season in his owl performance last season, but will he have any highlights to send him off to the NFL against the Badgers?
The Badgers defense will be anchored by linebacker Chris Borland, one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten and a solid tackler any time the ball comes near him. Borland has set the tone for a defense that allowed just 14.8 points per game this season, although they gave up 31 points in their final game of the regular season to Penn State. If the Gamecocks can provide time for quarterback Connor Shaw to work, South Carolina should be in decent shape in this even match-up.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 23
Wisconsin jumped out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter of play on the road at Illinois, but the Illini have battled back in the second quarter. Wisconsin leads at halftime, 28-17.
Wisconsin got on the scoreboard a few different ways in the first. James White and Melvin Gordon each recorded touchdown runs and Joel Stave completed a short pass to Brian Wozniak to build a 21-0 lead in ten minutes of play.
Illinois put together a stronger second quarter despite having just 19 rushing yards at the half. Nathan Scheelhaase has passed for 155 yards but it was Aaron Bailey who tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to Matt LaCosse to cut the Badger lead down to 11 in the final minute of the half.
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, one of the best at his position in the Big Ten, had to be removed from the game in the first half due to what was reported to be a right leg injury. His return was also reported to be questionable. His absence may not be as big of a deal in this particular game, but losing one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten for any amount of time is never a good thing. If he is out for the second half, then Illinois should try to attack the middle of the field and not be afraid to take some chances.
The second half should start with the Illini trying to capitalize on the momentum of the second quarter. Wisconsin has not been able to put this game away, and they have lost some close calls this season (Arizona State, Ohio State). If the Badgers can’t separate themselves a little bit in the third quarter, the Illini could make a run in this one.