Bowl season. For better or worse, it's where the (potential) NFL stars of tomorrow make their names.
Unfortunately, just as much as some guys use the postseason schedule to beef up their draft stock, others try and fail. Their draft stock takes a hit because of ill-timed, poor performances, leaving them to rely on pre-draft workouts, combines and history to boost themselves back up.
Here are some of the players who will have their work cut out for them over the next few months.
QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Prior to bowl season, Geno Smith was predicted by some to be the No. 1 overall pick. Post-bowl season, he still is the No. 1 pick on some boards, but people have far more doubts about him now than they did a couple of months ago.
This year's draft isn't going to be like last year's, which was chock full of future quarterback stars. If anyone is going to be a success in this year's class, most expect it to be Smith—but given the fact that his team embarked on a five-game midseason losing streak this year, that says something about the weaknesses of this class.
And then there was that performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse in December. In a 38-14 loss to a Big East team, Smith made some key mistakes—including an intentional grounding call at a critical third-quarter juncture that gave the Orange a safety—that directly led to his team's poor performance. Not the kind of statement you want to see from your future franchise player if you're one of the teams with a top selection in this year's draft.
WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Just like there aren't a multitude of elite quarterbacks on the board this year, there aren't a lot of elite wide receivers. Last year, Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and a select few others dominated the draft board in terms of wideouts; this year, though, they may not get taken as early, Tennessee teammates Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, plus Austin, are getting much of the hype.
The problem was that Austin didn't exactly live up to the hype in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was an all-around struggle for the Mountaineers, and that included him. Austin finished with just 30 yards in the air, 45 on the ground and no touchdowns. It was a disappointing performance considering he had managed to come up so huge in games against Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
Austin had a couple of moments this season where he certainly had all the scouts talking. It just would have been nice to have another big game on one of the biggest stages he was on in 2012.
QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Landry Jones was one of the quarterbacks who had a huge opportunity to make a big statement during bowl season, and he's another one of the quarterbacks who squandered the opportunity.
In fact, at several points during this season, Jones had opportunities to prove his worth against the league's best teams, and pretty much across the board, he failed. His team lost to Kansas State in September. It lost to Notre Dame in October in a game where Jones' impact was nearly nonexistent in the second half. And in the Cotton Bowl last week—during a game in which Jones could have made a big statement against Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's team—he struggled again.
Against Texas A&M, Jones threw for 278 yards, a touchdown and a pick. He couldn't find the end zone until the very end of the first half and wouldn't find it again for the rest of the game. He was outplayed significantly by Johnny Manziel. If he could have played better, he really could have bumped up his draft stock; instead, it was the same old story for him against another elite team.