As the college football season begins to hit its final stretch, there will be some players that are going to start turning the page toward their next step to the NFL as they either graduate from their respective schools or declare for the draft a year early. Either way, the topic of conversation will soon be shifting to whether or not some players should even bother playing in a postseason bowl game as they focus on their prospects of playing in the NFL and potentially being drafted in the first round.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who has been beaten up for the better part of the past two seasons, says he will not abandon his teammates if the Bruins should happen to reach the bowl season this year (UCLA is 4-5 and needs two wins to qualify for a bowl game). Rosen, who is expected to be one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft once he officially declares for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining, is on record of saying he would not miss out on a chance to play one final game with his teammates.
“I mean, bowl games are just fun,” Rosen said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I like going out there with the guys and you’re in another city for a week and you have a good time.”
The trend of top college players skipping out on bowl games in order to focus on their NFL futures has picked up steam in recent years. Most notably, a year ago, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffery each sat out of their team’s bowl games. And any thought that doing so would reflect poorly on them and cost them some draft stock was proven to be ridiculous by the results of the draft, when Jacksonville selected Fournette with the fourth pick and Carolina took McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick. If anything, Fournette and McCaffrey may have given strength to the argument for players skipping bowl games.
It is important to keep a few things in perspective here, though. Both Fournette and McCaffrey had dealt with injury concerns during the course of their final seasons. Had they been injury free during the season, it is possible to believe their outlook on a bowl game may have changed. Rosen would certainly be understood if he had a change of heart given his injury history at UCLA and his potential stock at the NFL level next spring. And until UCLA actually is heading to a bowl game, this devotion to play in a bowl game is nothing more than something nice to hear. We’ll see what happens if and when UCLA is officially going bowling.
But there will certainly be other players who will be pressed with similar circumstances. Unless you are playing for a national championship or in one of the premier bowl games in the New Years Six lineup, what more is there to prove at the college level for some players who are destined to be top NFL picks? If Penn State is playing in the Outback Bowl, we could be greedy and say we want to see one more game from Saquon Barkley, but there is a solid argument suggesting why a player like Barkley should sit out of the bowl season as well, given he will likely be one of the top-rated running backs on the big board next spring.
Each player must make the decision that is best for them first. By the time that decision has to be made, they will have done more than enough for their respective programs, and the time will be there for them to focus on themselves first. Those who skip the bowl games will have their critics, for sure, but nobody wants to be the next Jaylon Smith, who suffered a serious knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl in 2016 and saw his draft stock fall from a sure first rounder to a second round pick that did not play a down until earlier this season.