After months of hype and preparation, the All-American Bowl is right around the corner.
With star-studded rosters that will pit the East and West coasts against each other, viewers can have a natural fandom even as they root for individual players that will be joining their favorite college programs.
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Here are five things to watch in the bowl.
Incoming Tennessee running backs
Tennessee fans should pay close attention to the ground game for the East. Their future is likely going to be on the field.
Quavaris Crouch and Eric Gray are two of the four running backs for the squad. Crouch, No. 14 in the Chosen 25, averaged 10.8 yards per carry and scored a dozen times on the ground this season for Harding University (Charlotte, N.C.)
On the other side, make sure you point out Gray to your Michigan friends. Gray averaged more than 200 yards per game this season, finishing with 2,499 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He then decommitted from Michigan and signed with the Volunteers.
If there is a running back duo that can help Tennessee regain relevancy in the SEC, it might be these two.
Alabama vs. Oklahoma: Part 2
With five commits apiece for Alabama and Oklahoma, get ready for a second round of the Orange Bowl.
This one should be a closer contest.
Fans can cross their fingers Taulia Tagovailoa and Spencer Rattler are in the game at the same time. Both come with extreme hype of different variety: Tagovailoa is the brother of current Alabama star Tua and Rattler is the No. 1 pro-style QB in the class.
Just as the Heisman race ran through the Crimson Tide and the Sooners, we might be seeing a future competition open before our eyes.
Four of the five future Alabama players are on Team East. Trey Sanders, the top-ranked RB, will look to do damage against the western front.
At the line will be true battle. Two defensive linemen, including five-star Antonio Alfano, may see snaps against two future Clemson offensive linemen, EJ Ngoma-Ogar and Stacey Wilkins.
If Alfano and Byron Young can get through, they’ll take their shots at Rattler. But he has two Oklahoma targets at his disposal, four-stars WR Trejan Bridges and TE Austin Stogner.
It’s a rivalry waiting to happen.
Eastern defensive line
All the athletes say they want to compete against the best competition when they come to the All-American Bowl.
Unfortunately for the offensive linemen of the West, their wish has been granted.
The East team has three of 247 Sports‘ top four SDE: No. 1 Zach Harrison, No. 3 Alfano and No. 4 George Karlaftis.
Karlaftis is a four-star recruit while the others have five, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security: He amassed 56 tackles for loss and is the only one of that group to be named to the ALL-USA First Team Defense.
Then, they have Travon Walker, the No. 2 DT in the country.
If the West can’t move the ball, this will be likely why.
The West WR corps is missing Kyle Ford; will it even matter?
Kyle Ford, a five-star talent, will miss the game with an injury.
That could serve as another problem for the West quarterbacks as they avoid the East defensive line.
But skimming through the roster, his absence might not even make a difference. That’s how strong the corps is.
Bru McCoy dominated as a senior, helping Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) repeat as National Champions and being named MaxPreps’ Player of the Year. He can play WR and DB; this game, expect all his energy to be on offense.
You can also expect him to sign during the game. McCoy is debating between USC and Texas.
He will be paired up with Garrett Wilson, another Chosen 25 wide receiver committed to Ohio State.
Bridges is a four-star wide receiver, but his connection with Rattler is clear — the future Sooners are rooming together in San Antonio and are already close friends.
But the one player to really keep an eye on who has slightly less name recognition than the five-star athletes: Puka Nacua of Orem (Utah) High School.
Nacua beat the other WRs of the group out to be a finalist for USA TODAY Offensive Player of the Year. Why? All he did was lead the country in receiving yards while breaking the Utah state record in that category, total receptions and receiving touchdowns.
How the East counters him will be a treat to watch.
East vs. West coaching style
This weekend gives viewers the chance to get a look at the differences between east and west coast styles.
McCoy called it “eye-opening” during a phone interview, saying the east coast has a more “competitive dawg mentality” while there’s more joking around at West practices.
He has no issue with finding a balance in the middle.
So far, there’s no proof that one style is better than the other. Team West has won four of the last five All-American Bowls, but only leads the all-time series 10-8.
Between the college signings and atmosphere on the benches, the sidelines might be as intriguing as the game.
Will the hard-nosed Eastern style get the better? Or will there be more evidence of west coast best coast?
The All-American Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 5 in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas and will be televised live on NBC at 1 p.m. EST.