The MAC Championship presented us a spectacular finish, leaving us hungry for more Northern Illinois-Buffalo football. Luckily, we’ll get a sliver of that matchup this Saturday in Mobile, Alabama.
Offensive tackle Max Scharping and defensive end/outside linebacker Sutton Smith will represent the Huskies in the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl for the North team. The South is equipped with Buffalo’s signature quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson.
All four MAC Senior Bowl participants were selected to the conference’s First Team in 2018. Three of the four (Scharping, Smith, Johnson) were also First Team All-MAC selections in 2017, and Scharping landed that prestigious honor in 2016 as well.
The offensive tackle kept the Huskies sturdy in the trenches over the past four seasons. He burst onto the scene as a freshman All-American and maintained his prowess, becoming the only current player to be showered with three First Team All-MAC selections. Scharping never missed a single game for NIU, starting all 53 games in college. He played two full seasons at right tackle before seamlessly transitioning to the left side as a junior.
Scharping anchored the Huskies’ offensive line to allow zero sacks in his junior season. At 6’6”, 320 pounds, he possesses ideal size for an NFL tackle and operates with good form. Scharping has the power and technique to thrive at a pro level, and footwork is the next area he can improve to become even more lethal as a pass blocker.
Smith spent two years terrorizing backfields and racking up All-American honors. The 6’1”, 237-pound defender was a former running back, and his speed is still evident on the defensive end. As an edge rusher, Smith excelled with a quick jump off the line and elusive spin moves to fly past offensive tackles. He produced an FBS-high 14 sacks in 2017 and upgraded that number to 15 in 2018. The day after the Boca Raton Bowl, he decided to forego his senior season at NIU, and he’ll participate Saturday as a graduated junior.
Considering his smaller frame for an NFL defensive end, Smith will play outside linebacker going forward. His pass rushing and ability to never give up on plays make him a viable pick-up for any team. He forced six fumbles, deflected four passes, and scored four touchdowns over a span of two seasons. In terms of talent, Smith has the entire package — a reason why he was recognized as an AP All-American the last two seasons.
Jackson has all the measurables. He’s a 6’7” quarterback with 10-inch hands and probably can throw the ball farther than 95% of QB draft hopefuls. Jackson throws a near-perfect deep ball and averaged 13.9 yards per completion last season. He’s a competitor, he’s confident with his throws, and he guided the Bulls to their winningest season in program history in 2018.
Jackson didn’t allow a 2017 knee injury derail his college career. Although he decreased his rushing numbers and his presence outside the pocket after the injury, the quarterback improved his passing game. The graduated junior declared for the draft earlier this month after a brief period in the transfer portal and is one of four quarterbacks on the South. Given his arm strength and potential, he’ll likely be selected in the first three rounds in April.
Johnson served the past few years as Jackson’s favorite target in Buffalo. The wideout was already high on draft boards last spring before declaring to return to Buffalo for a senior season. Although his usage decreased in 2018 — partly in the fact the Bulls weren’t in many close contests — Johnson still provided some jaw-dropping performances. His 124 yards on the national stage in the MAC Championship were impressive, but the 238 receiving yards and three touchdowns he registered against Miami (OH) demonstrated his ability to completely take over a game.
He’s a strong wideout who checks every box, without an apparent weakness. Jump balls and fighting for extra yards after contact are his strengths, and he’ll put some of those skills on display this Saturday afternoon.
The 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl kicks off on Saturday, January 26 from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. The game is slated for 2:30 p.m. ET and is broadcast on NFL Network.