The National Football League's conference championships take place Sunday, but most teams already have their eyes set on the upcoming free agency period followed by the NFL Draft. On Saturday, Senior Bowl Week will commence in Mobile, Alabama with the arrival of a number of the nation's top colleges seniors. The 58th annual Senior Bowl will be played today, January 27, at Land-Peebles Stadium.
Though the game between the North and the South is a competitive affair, all of the approximately 700 National Football League coaches and scouts in attendance place heavy emphasis on the practices. Both teams will begin their on field work Monday and then conclude full practices on Thursday before a brief Friday walk through. New York GM Mike Tannenbaum will lead the Jets' contingent in Alabama.
Both rosters are full of talented players. Ohio State QB Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, Wisconsin OL Joe Thomas, Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija, Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe, Michigan DE Lamar Woodley, Michigan DB Leon Hall, Rutgers FB Brian Leonard, Louisville DL Amobi Okoye, and Colorado K Mason Crosby are all members of the North team which will be directed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching staff. Jon Gruden and his Tampa staff led the South team in 2005.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is Gruden's counterpart next weekend. Nolan, leading the South unit for a second consecutive season, has four members of the National Champion Florida Gators on his squad including QB Chris Leak and WR Dallas Baker. A few other Southern standouts sure to draw large audiences include LSU WR Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis, and Georgia DE Quentin Moses.
"I think it's an exciting game, and it's an exciting bunch of players," Nolan said. "Ninety-five to a hundred percent of the players make a team in the NFL, so that's huge."
The South owns an edge in the all-time series, capturing 27 contests against 24 wins for the North. There have been three ties. Even though the practice sessions are weighted more by the scouts, recent star performers have excelled in the game as well. A list of recent MVP's is impressive: QB Phillip Rivers (2004), RB Larry Johnson (2003), WR/QB Antwaan Randle El (2002), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), and quarterback Chad Pennington (2000).
"Going to the Senior Bowl was one of the best decisions I ever made and one of the best decisions the people around me helped me make — to go and showcase my talents and to show the intangibles, the leadership qualities, off-the-field activities, stuff like that," Pennington said before the Jets selected him with the 18th selection in the 2000 NFL Draft.
NFL Network, will carry the game live.