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2023 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Post-Game Recap and Analysis

Five MAC players appeared in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and three left their mark in the box score.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Western Michigan at Pitt Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl kicked off in Pasadena on Saturday evening, and didn’t disappoint for the second consecutive year. Last year, the National Team won 25-24 when the American team missed a 46-yard field goal. This year’s contest would also come down to a field goal, with the American Team coming out on top after Eddie Ogamba split the uprights from 24 yards to secure a 19-17 victory. It was a nice redemption for him after missing an extra point earlier on.

These All-Star games have a tendency to be a bit sloppy on the offensive side of the ball and mobile quarterbacks— or quarterbacks who excel off schedule— can be major difference-makers. This game was definitely sloppy. There were four total turnovers; three fumbles and one interception. The American Team gave the ball away three times which turned into 10 points for the National Team.

Outside of that, the American Team dominated the stat sheet. They outgained their opponents for 450 to 202 yards, nearly doubling the yards per play.

The MAC players who took the field today each made critical plays throughout the game. Below is a recap of each player and their box score impact:


Zaire Barnes, LB - Western Michigan

The only MAC representative on the National had the experience of going against three of the other players at once. He showed his athleticism while leading the National defense with six total tackles. He covered the width of the field on a few of them to make a play.

Barnes reacted quickly and put himself in position to intercept a tipped pass and return it 26 yards to inside the ten-yard line.

He read the quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr.’s eyes and sprinted to that side of the field before he broke his hands to start his throwing motion. He was aware of the ball and grabbed it. Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez scored a rushing touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line to take the lead.

Barnes had a good showing. Being tied for the team lead in tackles and forcing a turnover is everything a player can hope for in a one-game showcase. He might have put himself on some NFL assistant coaches’ radar with his week of practice and his game.


Christian Sims, TE - Bowling Green

Chrisitan Sims caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from East Carolina’s Holton Ahlers to open the scoring.

He ran to the sideline, hopped inside the linebacker that was failing to cover him and beat a safety to the pylon for the score. He was targeted one other time, but it fell incomplete in the second quarter.

For a one-game sample with a limited snap count, scoring one of the four touchdowns in the game is as good as it can go. He got the opportunity to practice with NFL assistant coaches, cook a linebacker in coverage and show his speed to the endzone.

Holton Ahlers was the game MVP and deserves some credit for seeing the window and getting the ball to Sims. Without that pass, he might not be the game’s MVP.


Justin Marshall, WR - Buffalo

Justin Marshall is credited with a 29-yard catch and one more target, but that target was a clear throwaway. The deep pass came in the second quarter from Ahlers, with the ball at their own 49-yard line.

Just as Marshall broke to the sideline on a deep corner route, the ball dropped over his shoulder and into his hands. The defense was playing cover two and the deep corner broke behind the shallow corner and away from the deep safety caught in the middle of the field.

Ten receivers caught a pass, and only 18 passes were completed by the American Team. One long catch to finish a strong week of practice is a good week. Marshall was able to impress during the week of practice during the one-on-one drills against defensive backs.


Sidy Sow, OL - Eastern Michigan

Sidy Sow started at left guard for the American Team and had a pretty good day, with one flaw. It’s tough to evaluate the offensive line without knowing what each position is being asked to do, but some things are obvious.

Sow would play two consecutive drives, then be rotated out for two drives. He was alternating between left guard and left tackle as the game went on. On the first play for the American team, he got to show his speed and footwork when he was a pulling guard on a power run.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford did not play well and held on to the ball too long on too many passes. Unfortunately for Sow, the sack he gave up in the fourth quarter was not on Clifford. Minnesota linebacker Thomas Rush came off the blind side edge and got past Sow with a push-pull move. It was a good move but Sow allowed Rush to get his hands on him.

It was only one play on an otherwise unremarkable outing. He was getting downfield on runs well and held up on passes, save the one.


Nico Bolden, S - Kent State

Bolden was the only MAC player on the defense for the American Team, and he had a quiet day. He was on the field but didn’t register any stats. I wouldn’t take much from that. It would’ve been nice to get an assist on a tackle but the scheme of the game forced him to be away from the line of scrimmage. That’s not how he was used at Kent State.

On the positive side, he didn’t get burned. In fact, the National team didn’t throw the ball efficiently at all. They were under 50 percent completion percentage for the game with one touchdown. The one touchdown came down the sideline when Baylor tight end Ben Sims beat a linebacker on an out-and-up route. No one ran free down the middle of the field.