Hurricane Florence has altered the college football schedule quite a bit in Week 3 but there’s still a hefty slate of top-notch games to keep an eye on, including several pitting top 25 teams against each other. As great as some of the matchups are this weekend though, they might not hold a candle to the games within a game — between players on either side of the ball that will
Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 10 games with the best battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts — all of which will go a long ways in determining who wins and who loses this weekend:
Ohio State vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas)
Key battle: Horned Frogs OLs Lucas Niang and Anthony McKinney, QB Shawn Robinson vs. Buckeyes DL Nick Bosa and Jonathan Cooper
In prime time and under the lights at AT&T Stadium, this is one of the most anticipated non-conference battles of the season. TCU will have their work cut out for them in one area in particular if they want to beat a top-five team and that dominates the trenches with a stout defensive line. Robinson can use his legs to escape pressure if he feels it so OSU’s terrific pass-rushing duo off the edge will need to not only get up the field and cause some heat but also be mindful of keeping contain.
Don’t discount: Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins, WR Austin Mack and OT Isaiah Prince vs. Horned Frogs DL Ben Banogu, DBs Niko Small and Ridwan Issahaku
What will defensive mastermind Gary Patterson have in store for the Buckeyes? His typically complex schemes can confuse even veteran QBs so it will be up to Haskins and company to not only make the right decisions with the football but avoid turning the ball over. Don’t be surprised if the flexibility the Horned Frogs have in some of their stars allows them to drop guys who should rush and rush guys who should be dropping in order to bring pressure from areas OSU isn’t expecting.
Key battle: LSU RB Nick Brossette and OL Garrett Brumfield vs. Auburn DT Derrick Brown and LB Deshaun Davis
If you’re going to win big-time SEC games, you have to establish the run. LSU knows that better than most as their entire offense is focused on doing just that. Brossette flashed in the opener against Miami but he and Brumfield will see a much stiffer challenge against one of the best front sevens in the country.
Don’t discount: Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham and WRs Darius Slayton, Nate Craig-Myers and Sal Cannella vs. LSU DBs Greedy Williams, John Battle, Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton
Strength vs. strength right here. Stidham is a Heisman Trophy candidate and sports one of the best receiving corps in the conference. The visiting Tigers have four future draft picks in the secondary, including guys like Williams who know just how to bait you into making the throw you don’t want to make. This will be a fun chess match that comes down to making throws and catches in traffic.
Key battle: Cowboys DBs A.J. Green and Kenneth Edison-McGrudervs. Broncos QB Brett Rypien and WR Sean Modster
The Boise State offense might be the best group in the country through two weeks and has turned Rypien into a dark horse Heisman candidate with the way he has everybody clicking. His favorite target so far this season has been Modster, as the senior already has 241 yards and two scores in limited action over the first two games. This game has been circled by both sides all offseason and if it turns into an expected shootout, OSU finding stops and limiting big plays with their young secondary will be key.
Don’t discount: Broncos LB Tyson Maeva and DB Tyler Horton vs. Cowboys RB Justice Hill and WR Jalen McCleskey
The Broncos can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the country thanks to their defense but veterans like Maeva and Horton will be tested by the Cowboys’ skill position talent. McCleskey isn’t quite the field-stretcher that some of his teammates are but he can beat you a number of different ways and Hill is certainly one of the best backs in the nation.
Key battle: Trojans LBs Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith vs. Longhorns QB Sam Ehlinger and RB Tre Watson
USC’s rush defense numbers are among the worst in the country after two weeks, which is not reflective of the talent in Cardinal and Gold. Gustin is a beast on the edge and Smith (right) is among the most instinctive linebackers at shutting down running lanes. Both Ehlinger and Watson, who is familiar with the duo from his days at Cal, will put further stress on a team that hasn’t yet proven they can stop the run.
Don’t discount: Trojans QB JT Daniels and WR Tyler Vaughns vs. Longhorns DL Breckyn Hager and DB Kris Boyd
Daniels has already started on the road as a true freshman signal-caller but there’s quite a bit of difference between playing in the atmosphere at Stanford and what will go on in Austin after dark. Vaughns is a big-play guy and will need to be the go-to for his QB as he’s pressured by Hager and tries to avoid throwing it near Boyd.
Key battle: Utes QB Tyler Huntley, WR Britain Covey and RB Zack Moss vs. Huskies DBs Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh, LB Ben Burr-Kirven
Can Utah move the ball? It’s been a question around the program for the past decade and is especially important in big games against ranked teams. The Utes' top players didn’t have a great game at all last week at NIU and will need to step things up in a big way against three of the best defenders in the Pac-12.
Don’t discount: Utes LB Chase Hansen and DB Marquise Blair vs. Huskies RBs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed
Gaskin is on his way toward a fourth 1,000-yard rushing season and is somebody every Pac-12 defense has to account for. His backup Ahmed is averaging a robust 7.3 yards per carry and provides quite a jolt when he’s in the backfield, something the Utes’ terrific tandem of versatile defensive playmakers will need to account for.
Best of the Rest
Key battle: Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu and WR A.J. Brown vs. Crimson Tide DBs Deionte Thompson and Trevon Diggs
Don’t discount: Rebels DL Josiah Coatney vs. Crimson Tide OL Ross Pierschbacher and Lester Cotton
Key battle: Commodores QB Kyle Shurmur and RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn vs. Irish LB Drue Tranquill and DB Alohi Gilman
Don’t discount: Commodores DB Ladarius Wiley vs. Irish QB Brandon Wimbush and TE Alize Mack
Key battle: Hurricanes DBs Trajan Bandy and Jaquan Johnson vs. Rockets WRs Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson
Don’t discount: Rockets DB Kahlil Robinson vs. Hurricanes QB Malik Rosier
Key battle: Sooners LB Kenneth Murray vs. Cyclones RB David Montgomery
Don’t discount: Cyclones DBs D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy vs. Sooners WRs CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown
Key battle: Trojans DBs Cedarius Rookard and Blace Brown vs. Cornhuskers WRs Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman
Don’t discount: Trojans OL Trisitan Crowder and J.L. Gaston vs. Cornhuskers DL Freedom Akinmoladun and Mick Stoltenberg
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.