The Reese’s Senior Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football all-star event, an exciting opportunity for NFL Draft prospects wanting to elevate their stock ahead of the NFL’s annual selection event. But how are the Senior Bowl teams chosen? We delve into the process that shapes the National and American Teams that go into battle during the week in Mobile.
How Are the Senior Bowl Teams Chosen?
Since 2021, the Senior Bowl has split its roster of top college football players into the National Team and American Team. Except for a three-year span in the early 1990s, prior to the switch, teams were separated into North and South rosters.
The North was made up of players from colleges in the northern and northeastern areas of the United States and the Pacific region. Meanwhile, the South embraced players from programs in the Southwest, California, and other southern colleges.
MORE: 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl Invites
From 1991 to 1993, however, the Senior Bowl teams were renamed the AFC and NFC. This was to reflect the coaching staff provided to the game by the NFL, while also establishing the event as a true professional stepping stone. The game has previously been described by some as “your first game as a professional.”
The permanent name change from North and South to American and National in 2021 was done — according to Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy — to avoid “insensitive” imagery related to the Civil War.
So how are the players that make up the two teams selected?
The Senior Bowl Roster Selection Process
Unsurprisingly, finding the very best talent to play in the Senior Bowl is a painstaking task that actually begins as soon as the previous year’s edition of the event is over.
Every eligible player — a college graduate or true four-year player — is evaluated by the Senior Bowl scouting staff, which formulates the Senior Bowl Watch List. For the 2023 Senior Bowl, this list comprised 484 position players — that doesn’t include kickers, punters, or long snappers.
The list also doesn’t include players who are true or redshirt juniors who can become eligible for the event by graduating from school by the December preceding the event.
Players on the Senior Bowl watchlist are then evaluated throughout the college football season by the Senior Bowl staff — a team of nine scouts with over 150 years of NFL experience. This is done by a combination of watching tape and attending live games.
MORE: Top Quarterbacks at the 2023 Senior Bowl
According to the Senior Bowl website, of the 120 players on the 2022 rosters, only four hadn’t been seen in person during the 2021 college football season. If a Senior Bowl scout hasn’t been to your school, there’s a good chance that you aren’t making the roster.
The first wave of invites usually goes out at the end of October, with another group of around 40 invites following a few weeks later. By the time the college football regular season is finished, and before the bowl games commence, the players that the Senior Bowl staff want in Mobile have all been invited.
Of course, injuries and other factors may mean that the initial invite process might not fill the entire roster. To prepare for that eventuality, the Senior Bowl has a number of emergency invites that ordinarily go out at the conclusion of bowl season or once the College Football Playoffs are complete.
The Senior Bowl selection process clearly works. Following the 2022 event, 106 players that competed in Mobile were selected in the NFL draft. Of those, 45 were selected in the top 100. It was the second consecutive year that the event had provided 106 players for the NFL’s annual selection event.