COL­LEGES

Tampa Bay Times - - Col­leges - Con­tact Matt Baker at [email protected]­pabay.com. Fol­low @MBak­erTBTimes.

still gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion about whether to leave school for the draft but all in­tend to com­pete Dec. 29 in At­lanta.

Mis­sis­sippi State coach Joe Moor­head said he thinks all his NFL prospects — in­clud­ing po­ten­tial firstround picks de­fen­sive end Mon­tez Sweat and de­fen­sive tackle Jef­fery Sim­mons — will play in the Jan. 1 Out­back Bowl, but things are al­ways fluid with 20-year-olds.

“I think it’s just part of the way that the game has pro­gressed,” Moor­head said Thurs­day be­fore the Out­back Bowl’s con­tract sign­ing cer­e­mony. “Cer­tainly when guys are in line to progress their ca­reers at the next level and have an op­por­tu­nity to make a lot of money to play the game that they love — I don’t want to say it’s sur­pris­ing (they choose to skip a bowl game), but I can say it’s un­der­stand­able, if that makes sense.”

It def­i­nitely makes cents, or at least min­i­mizes the chance of a player los­ing out on money be­cause of in­jury. That’s what hap­pened to Notre Dame line­backer Jay­lon Smith, a pro­jected top-five pick who fell to the sec­ond round after se­ri­ously in­jur­ing a knee in the Fi­esta Bowl at the end of the 2015 sea­son.

McCaf­frey and Four­nette were among the first play­ers to avoid that risk by skip­ping their bowl games. Both were in­jured dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, and run­ning backs are known for hav­ing short NFL ca­reers.

The NFL didn’t seem to care about their choice. Both were drafted in the top eight, and both have had suc­cess in the NFL. Four­nette was a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie for the Jaguars, and McCaf­frey leads the Pan­thers in rush­ing and re­ceiv­ing yards this year.

The NFL didn’t care last sea­son, ei­ther, when Florida State safety Der­win James ig­nored the In­de­pen­dence Bowl. The Charg­ers drafted him at No. 17. James is the fa­vorite to be named the league’s de­fen­sive rookie of the year.

The other play­ers who have cho­sen to skip their bowl games this sea­son: Ari­zona State wide re­ceiver N’Keal Harry (Las Vegas Bowl), Hous­ton de­fen­sive line­man Ed Oliver (Armed Forces Bowl), North Carolina State line­backer Ger­maine Pratt and wide re­ceiver Kelvin Har­mon (Gator Bowl), Ok­la­homa State run­ning back Jus­tice Hill (Lib­erty Bowl) and South Carolina wide re­ceiver Deebo Sa­muel (Belk Bowl).

Their de­ci­sion has left their teams with holes to fill. For­tu­nately for Iowa, that’s an easy fix. Though Fant is ex­tremely tal­ented and could be cho­sen in the first round next year, he might not be the Hawkeyes’ best player at his po­si­tion. Team­mate T.J. Hock­en­son won the John Mackey Award this week as the na­tion’s top tight end.

For Fer­entz, there are no hard feel­ings about los­ing a great player be­fore the end of the sea­son.

“I don’t think a player owes any­body any­thing,” Fer­entz said. “It’s like a real job. What you owe your em­ployer is show­ing up ev­ery day and do­ing a good job. But if you de­cide the next day you don’t want to work any­more, that’s your pre­rog­a­tive.

“You’ve got to do what’s best for you.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Iowa tight end Noah Fant has said he won’t play in the Jan. 1 Out­back Bowl in Tampa to pro­tect his in­ter­ests for next year’s NFL draft.

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