I'll always remember being a ripe sixteen years old and looking forward to seeing Michigan's commitments play in the Army All-American Bowl. Six years later, we all have two All-America games to look forward to, all thanks to Under Armour's relentless efforts to lure many prospects away from the Army game. The year of its creation, the Under Armour game was merely an appetizer in comparison to the Army game, but things have since changed -- Under Armour has five-star prospects Leonard Fournette, Jabrill Peppers, Cameron Robinson, Da'Shawn Hand, Adoree Jackson and others all on its roster.
Even though Under Armour has more recognizable names in this year's set of games, both will still be worth your while. Seven Michigan commitments will showcase their abilities in the Under Armour Game, while one commitment and another extremely important target in defensive end Malik McDowell will play in the Army bowl.
Army All-American Bowl
Where: Alamodome in San Antonio, TX
When: Saturday, January 4th at 1 PM
This year's Army Bowl won't be overly intriguing for Michigan fans, as only one commitment will take the field and no prospects of interest will decide during the broadcast. It doesn't help that Under Armour has leached more and more players off of Army with every passing year. Here's what you need to know about the two players of interest in this year's bowl.
Mason Cole (East Team)
Cole is the lone Michigan commitment in the game. He'll most likely see the majority of his reps on the interior of the line during practice and in the game, and we would like to see him showcase the ability to get consistent push on run plays. Offensive lineman are at a great advantage in the run game during these bowl games because of the handicaps put on potential blitzing linebackers and secondary players, so he will get chances to take on elite defensive lineman in simple run schemes. Will the mean streak he plays with during high school games translate to this game? Will he show up looking underweight, or will he come in heavier and looking more like a college-ready guard? We'll be looking for answers to both questions when he takes the field.
Malik McDowell (West Team)
One of only two top targets left on Michigan's class of 2014 board, McDowell comes into this game with the potential to fall or rise in the national rankings. As of right now, he's a top 50 prospect with massive upside because of his frame, raw athletic ability and potential to play more than one position on the defensive line. Will he be exposed when he goes up against the nation's top offensive line prospects? He struggled at times against top competition at camps, but he has the ability to be dominant if he plays with the right pad level and energy. Where will he line up? Two years ago, McDowell was seen as a future strong side defender, but he put on some unclean weight and began to look more like a future three-tech defensive tackle. He has since cleaned up his frame, but will it be enough for the Army Bowl coaching staff to give him a look at end? If he comes in looking like a dominant five-tech defensive end and gets consistent push, it's possible that he gets a bump to five-star status in some rankings. He could drop out of the top 50 altogether if he looks like a defensive tackle and struggles because of his length.
Under Armour All-American Game
Where: Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL
When: Thursday, January 2nd at 4 PM
The Under Armour Game has done a fantastic job of bringing in the very best players in the country, as stated earlier in this article. Seven Michigan commitments will play in the game, but there aren't any Michigan targets who will decide during the game; Malik McDowell and Vic Enwere are the only true 2014 targets left, anyway. Let's take a look at what each commitment needs to show us during their time in Florida.
Jabrill Peppers (Team Nitro)
Peppers is the crown jewel of Michigan's class, and this game will give him an opportunity to prove to the nation why he's the best player in the entire country; there are still many Michigan and non-Michigan fans out there wondering why Peppers isn't ranked as the top player in the country, and playing in the same game as Da'Shawn Hand and Leonard Fournette will give him the chance to show why he belongs above them. Will he look like a shutdown corner all week long in practices, and will he take any snaps at safety, running back or returner? Coming down with an interception or blowing up an elite ball carrier on national television will go a long way toward helping his still-growing reputation, but dominating throughout practice and the game will most likely result in him being rated as the top overall player across the board.
Bryan Mone (Team Nitro)
Mone has more to gain from this All-American contest than anyone else in this article. Seen as a mid- to high-level four-star prospect, some across the country see him as a dominant, athletic defensive tackle prospect who still isn't given the ratings he deserves. He dominated every offensive lineman he crossed paths with in high school and made plays many defensive tackles simply can't make, but will he look as explosive against future BCS offensive lineman? We know that he already possesses a massive frame and enough strength to deal with any lineman that will play in this game, so it will all come down to his technique. A week throwing lineman around and forcing tackles for loss or allowing linebackers to flow will force scouts to bump him up in the rankings; a mediocre week will only reinforce their opinion that he is a top-150 player with work left to do.
Drake Harris (Team Nitro)
Outside of Mone, Harris and Speight could both help themselves greatly in this contest. Drake lost his entire senior season due to a groin injury and took plenty of heat for it from his local community members. Will he be able to explode out of his stance and run the kind of routes that helped him surpass the 2,000-yard receiving mark in his junior season, or will he look like a pedestrian with elite ball skills? He should be able to run like he used to, and he could run. That said, look for him to turn heads with his hands and ability to make tough, acrobatic catches look easy. A healthy showing could help his stock.
Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Team Nitro)
Bushell-Beatty and Jared Wangler are the two most unheralded Michigan recruits coming into this week's game, and both will get the chance to show why they should get fourth stars. JBB needs to come out and flash a mean streak in the run game and combine it with the ability to stay with the quicker pass rushers in the country.
Michael Ferns (Team Nitro)
Unlike most of the prospects in these games, Ferns will be fighting to keep his stock steady, as opposed to fighting for a chance to rise. He struggled against scat backs in scouting camps and saw a slight drop in his ratings because of it, and and he will surely see his fair share of coverage duty in this game. He already looks and plays the part of run-thumping middle linebacker, but he needs to show that he can stay with backs in the flat and tight ends over the middle if he wants to keep his current rating.
Wilton Speight (Team Nitro)
Speight enters this game with little to no national hype surrounding his name, although the Michigan fan base is quietly confident in him after he put up extremely efficient and impressive numbers during his senior campaign at Collegiate. We already know that he has average arm strength, but can he make accurate throws to receivers he isn't all too familiar with? Will he show the same ability to manipulate the pocket and escape pressure against better competition? Will his lack of a big arm cost him? It will be interesting to see how many snaps he sees at the event given the amount of competition he'll have at the position. He has a chance to prove to many that his accuracy and knowledge of the game outweigh his lack of an elite arm.
Jared Wangler (Team Nitro)
I was surprised when I heard that Wangler, a two-star recruit to some scouts, was offered a spot on the Under-Armour roster in a year that features a normal amount of talent at linebacker. He isn't overly physical or ridiculously gifted; it will be interesting to see if his innate ability to make plays on the ball will shine through against competition that will make the local Ann Arbor schools look like the sisters of the poor. Will he play inside or outside? Will the Under Armour staff notice his abilities in coverage? One week of strong play could boost him in the rankings.
Every last one of these players could rise or fall based on their performances in the upcoming All-American week, but it's obvious that some are in better positions to shine than others. The skill players -- mostly offensive -- will all have turns to make plays and create some hype heading into their college campaigns. The offensive lineman and linebackers often don't get real chances to shine because of the restrictions on blitzes, so expect the commentary on them to be toned down. I'm mostly looking forward to seeing Jabrill Peppers and Drake Harris; the fact that Michigan eight All-Americans this year is outstanding and exciting on its own.