Josh Kendall

Any Gamecocks planning on skipping the Outback Bowl to protect draft stock?

Emotional Hayden Hurst in his final alma mater at Williams-Brice

For the last time, South Carolina Gamecock Hayden Hurst raises takes in the alma mater at Williams-Brice Stadium for the last time.
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For the last time, South Carolina Gamecock Hayden Hurst raises takes in the alma mater at Williams-Brice Stadium for the last time.

When LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey decided last year they would sit out their team’s bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft, analysts worried it would create a flood of such decisions.

One year later, it’s still a trickle. So far, Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams, Texas safety Deshon Elliott, Texas cornerback Holton Hill and Florida State safety Derwin James are the only players who have announced their intention to skip postseason play. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more, but it’s not a trend yet.

South Carolina (8-4) will play Michigan (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla., and at last check Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp and Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh expected all players to be present and accounted for during that game.

Tight end Hayden Hurst, who announced his decision to turn pro last week, will play in the bowl game, a source told The State. He confirmed that publicly via Twitter on Monday.

He would be one of the few candidates at South Carolina who might benefit from avoiding the injury possibility that one more college game brings with it as well as beginning his NFL Combine preparation several weeks earlier. Linebacker Skai Moore and defensive linemen Taylor Stallworth and Dante Sawyer are South Carolina’s other top draft prospects, according to most analysts, but Muschamp said last week that no one had talked to him about getting out a game early.

“Not so far,” he said.

Same for Michigan, Harbaugh said.

“Haven’t had those conversations yet, but we will I’m sure,” Harbaugh said. “If there is a player on the team that does have that perspective, it doesn’t have to be secret. Just come in and we’ll talk about it, and I’ll be supportive in the discussions about it. None of those have taken place yet though.”

NFLPA president and Cincinnati Bengals tackle Eric Winston pointed out to SI.com that Fournette and McCaffrey weren’t penalized by NFL evaluators for their decision. (The players who have announced their plans to skip this year’s games share one thing -- they would be playing in lower-tier bowl games. Texas is playing in the Dec. 27 Texas Bowl while Florida State is playing in the Dec. 27 Independence Bowl.)

“I think this is the first business decision they have to make as a professional in a lot of ways,” Winston told SI.com. “I do think this is something where they’ve gotta say: Is this last game worth it? How much can I improve, and where would I drop to with an injury? And they gotta make that decision and go with it.”

So far, at least, it sounds like all the Gamecocks and Wolverines will be going with one more college game.

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