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2021 Hula Bowl Preview

Looking at the 7 MWC players participating.

Northern Illinois v San Diego State Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

The 2021 college football season is over, but post-season bowls will be occurring over the next few weeks. The five all-star games Mountain West players traditionally take part in are the Tropical Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game (although the game won’t be played), the Hula Bowl, the Collegiate Bowl, and the Senior Bowl. This post will focus on the Hula Bowl.

These events are used primarily as camps with a game at the end. Invited players get officially measured and weighed upon checking in. Then, there are a few days of practice with NFL coaches. The practice time for players is really at the heart of these events.

This is due to the time players and coaches can spend together honing their craft collaboratively. It gives the players a chance to be looked at by coaches who know the NFL game. What better way to understand where and how to improve than to hear it from the source. Receiving this feedback can give the players an edge as they head into their training for the NFL Combine or their respective Pro-day.

Finally, and somewhat related, this gives players a chance to stand out. If a player was overshadowed on his team by other talented individuals, wasn’t featured in his offense, or in the case of those in this article, playing in a Group of 5 conference, they have the opportunity to open the eyes of the coaches with their play and jump onto the radar before draft time. While the combine and pro-days are also good opportunities for this, the more chances of coaches seeing one play and compete, the better position they put themselves in.

This year, there are four players from the Mountain West is participating in the Hula Bowl. Below we will provide a brief description of each player and illustrate what kind of showing they need to improve their draft stock.

Hula Bowl Schedule:

January 31, 2021 (Sunday)

  • 4:30 pm (Hawaii time)/7:30pm (Mountain Time) CBS Sports Network

The Players:

Parker Ferguson (Air Force)

Provided by NittanyFalcon

For the last three years, the left side of the Air Force offensive line has featured two of the best offensive linemen in Falcon history, Parker Ferguson and Nolan Laufenberg, and both have declared for the NFL draft this year.

Parker Ferguson played left tackle at Air Force and has good size at 6’5” and 290 pounds. Currently on DraftScouts.com, he is listed at #37 in the tackle draft list, and is not expected to be drafted, but is a possibility as an undrafted free agent. Naturally, at Air Force, there is little opportunity to show pass blocking ability due to the option offense that the Falcons run, and this is most likely the main reason for his spot on the list, as he is an excellent run blocker with good mobility. This game will be an opportunity for Ferguson to show his ability as a pass blocker against high level competition. The passing game should be displayed frequently with the participating quarterbacks such as Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey, Mississippi State’s KJ Costello, Memphis’ Brady White, and Tulsa’s Zach Smith.

OL Syrus Tuitele (Fresno State)

Provided by godogs13

The biggest plus for Syrus has been his durability. Even when Fresno State went through seemingly dozens of O-Line players in 2019, Tuitele was the only starter the entire season. He was also part of the elite protection lines in 2017 and 2018 on the right end of the line. His play did regress during the 2020 season, but you could say that about the entire O-Line, so it’s hard to blame it all on him. At this point, it’s tough to see him as getting drafted unless he really explodes during the Hula Bowl week and a potential pro day. I definitely think a team will take a look at him after the draft, but he doesn’t have the elite skills or size that Netane Muti had last year when he was drafted by Denver.

WR Rico Bussey (Hawaii)

Provided by Jeremy

Bussey arrived at Hawaii as a graduate transfer from North Texas, and signaled the beginning of a new era of Hawaii football. New head coach Todd Graham had a different vision for the offense, and needed a receiver like Bussey. Bussey’s 2018 season with North Texas, in which he compiled 1017 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns will catch the eyes of scouts more than his brief appearance with the Rainbow Warriors, but his size will also catch the attention of the NFL at 6’2” 190 lbs. Bussey will want to show off his physicality and catch radius during the Hula Bowl, and reassure onlookers of his sure handedness. His 2020 season was decent, but did not stand out statistically so this is an opportunity for Bussey to show off his ability.

OL Taaga Tuulima (Hawaii)

Provided by Jeremy

Tuulima will be one of the headliner names of the Hula Bowl. Tuulima was one of 67 athletes recently nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. The Ewa Beach product began his career at Hawaii as a defensive tackle, but ultimately turned out to be a standout offensive lineman. He’s earned accolades both as a scholar-athlete and all-conference in the Mountain West. Tuulima started three seasons for Hawaii at center and anchored an offensive line that launched the success of recent seasons, keeping quarterbacks Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro upright. Doubted out of high school, expect Tuulima to catch the eyes of pro scouts by keeping opposing defensive tackles away from his quarterback. He can raise his draft stock by avoiding being in the spotlight, not conceding sacks or struggling in run-blocking.

DB EJ Muhammad (Nevada)

EJ started for two years over his six years at Nevada. In those two years, he amassed 123 tackles, six tackles for loss, plus 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. The stats and play-making ability are there for Muhammad, but the size may not be. He is listed at only 5’11”, 195 pounds and after playing the nickel back position in college, which would suit him best in college. His size and weight will likely make scouts pause on him but if he can make plays in practice and on the field, they won’t be able to ignore him.

P Tyson Dyer (New Mexico)

The Australian punter has a productive career for the Lobos. Over three years, he averaged 44.1 yards per punt, with a career-best 46.1 in 2019. His leg is legit. The biggest factor working against him is his age. Dyer is already 28, about six years older than his competition. NFL teams will likely view youth as a tiebreaker between Tyson and others, so he will need to ensure he is a step above the competition.

DB Tariq Thompson (SDSU)

Tariq has been one of the best players on the San Diego State defense from his first game, playing as a true freshman. He was a stat-sheet stuffer during her four years, racking up tackles, forced fumbles, defended passes, and interceptions. He is a versatile player in the secondary but seems like an ideal fit as a nickel cornerback. In the Hula Bowl, Thompson will need to demonstrate he can play in the box against the run, keep up with slot receivers in coverage, and above all, make a few of the big plays he was known for in college. Checking off these boxes should cement him as a draft prospect.

Note: The weaknesses or questions described about each player below aren’t necessarily the views of the contributors or site, but rather what could be questions or concerns NFL scouts or talent-elevators or the media have about them, which are still worth discussing as they can have ramifications.