The regular season is in the books for most college football teams across the country but a precious few are left standing to battle for a conference title. As great as some of the matchups are this weekend between championship contenders are though, they might not hold a candle to the games within a game — between players on either side of the ball.
Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 10 of the best position vs. position battles of the bunch between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side:
1. Georgia LBs Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith vs. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kam Martin
The Tigers’ rout in the regular season edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry was marked by the balance they had between the run game and the passing game. Johnson (above, right) rushed for 167 yards three weeks ago and will be looking to put up similar numbers in Atlanta, even if he’s a little banged up. The Bulldogs' linebacking corps is one of the most talented groups in the sport and they will need to live up to that kind of billing if they want some revenge for their lone loss on the way to an SEC title.
2. USC LBs Cameron Smith and John Houston vs. Stanford RB Bryce Love
Even with an injured ankle, Love is still a threat to break a 50-plus-yard run on just about every play from his side of the field. While the Trojans won the first meeting going away over at the Coliseum, the Cardinal tailback still busted a 75-yard touchdown run and was averaging a robust 9.4 yards per carry until the game got out of hand. While more weapons have helped the Stanford offense evolve, the key to stopping the team and capturing USC’s first conference title since 2008 will come as a result of how well their two inside linebackers can wrap up No. 20.
3. Wisconsin LBs Garret Dooley, T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly vs. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, RBs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber
Everybody keeps discounting Wisconsin’s chances of winning in Indianapolis but the Badgers are built to slow down teams just like Ohio State. The team’s deep linebacking corps is a big reason why they’re undefeated and sport the best rush defense in the country — allowing only 2.6 yards a carry and four touchdowns on the ground all year. If they can bottle up the Buckeyes’ running backs and force Barrett to beat them with his arm instead of his legs, Wisconsin can book a ticket to the playoff.
4. Auburn LBs Tre’ Williams, Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
Chubb and Michel combined for just 48 rushing yards and a touchdown when they played Auburn a few weeks ago in what was the worst UGA rushing performance in a long time. Chances are that kind of lack of production won’t happen again but the Tigers’ linebackers are still one of the best all-around groups in the league and will be intent on duplicating their performance from the regular season.
5. Miami RB Travis Homer vs. Clemson LBs Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph
If you can sense a theme from the first five of these position battles, it’s that stopping the run will be key to emerging with a conference title this weekend and that certainly applies to the outcome down in Charlotte. The Hurricanes’ passing game has been stuck in neutral the past few weeks and is missing two big weapons for their showdown with Clemson, putting a ton of pressure on Homer to be the focal point of the offense and loosen things up for his struggling quarterback. He’ll be up against two of the most athletic, hard-hitting linebackers in the country however so it won’t be a walk in the park to get past the Tigers.
6. TCU DBs Ranthony Texada, Ridwan Issahaku, Niko Small and Nick Orr vs. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield (right) is well on his way to the Heisman Trophy and probably doesn’t need to do much on Saturday afternoon to lock the award up. Still, he’ll face the stiffest secondary in the Big 12 for a second time around and don’t discount the fact that Gary Patterson is one of the best at making tweaks with his veteran group. Orr is out the first half of the championship game and Small is nicked up but this is still a deep group for the Horned Frogs, who figure to play a ton of different coverage schemes as they try to trip up the Sooners’ talkative quarterback.
7. Stanford DL Harrison Phillips and LB Bobby Okereke vs. USC RBs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr
Sam Darnold gets all the headlines for USC but the team’s run game has been what’s really put them in position to win the conference for the first time in nearly a decade. Jones is a home-run hitter who can make seven-yard runs look effortless and take three-yard losses to the house after contact. Phillips is a monster in the middle of the Stanford defense though and fights off double-teams with ease while Okereke does a terrific job filling gaps. The pair needs their A-game if they’re to contain the Trojans’ one-two punch at running back and give the Cardinal another Pac-12 title.
8. Memphis LBs Genard Avery and Curtis Akins vs. UCF QB McKenzie Milton and Adrian Killins
UCF leads the nation in scoring, Memphis is right behind at No. 2. Safe to say that there will be plenty of offense in the AAC title game so getting stops will be crucial if either side wants to take home the trophy and win a trip to the New Year’s Six. Milton and Killins are a terrific combo in the backfield and they ran wild in the teams’ first meeting back in late September while Avery had a relatively pedestrian game trying to stop them. If the Tigers harbor any hope of pulling off the upset, they’ll need a heroic performance from their star defender in order to do so.
9. Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook and TE Troy Fumagalli vs. Ohio State LB Jerome Baker and DB Damon Webb
Tight ends have been a big Achilles heel for the Buckeyes’ defense and the Badgers’ star at the position is the best in the Big Ten, if not the country. While the passing of Hornibrook sometimes leaves plenty to be desired, he’s been sharp when needed and has a great connection going with his best pass catcher. Baker and Webb will be tasked with making sure the combo doesn’t get going in Indy, whether that’s down the field or in the flats.
10. Ohio State LBs Chris Worley and Tuf Borland vs. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
Taylor has burst onto the scene as a true freshman and played phenomenally as the Badgers’ bell-cow back, coming pretty close to the 2,000-yard mark in the regular season. While he has plenty of speed to take it to the house, it’s his ability to churn out yards behind that big offensive line and run patiently when needed that really makes him special. The Buckeyes’ linebackers will need to play disciplined and focus on wrapping up if they want to put a dent in that Wisconsin ground game and force the Big Ten West champs to be more one-dimensional.
Best of the Rest
*UCF DL Jamiyus Pittman and LB Shaquem Griffin vs. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson
*Miami DL Chad Thomas vs. Clemson OL Mitch Hyatt
*Stanford DB Quenton Meeks vs. USC WR Deontay Burnett
*Miami OL Trevor Darling and Kc McDermott vs. Clemson DL Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence
*Auburn OL Braden Smith and Darius James vs. Georgia DL Trent Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter
*Oklahoma LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. TCU QB Kenny Hill
*TCU LB Travin Howard and DL Matt Boesen vs. Oklahoma OL Orlando Brown and RB Rodney Anderson
*Miami WR Braxton Berrios and QB Malik Rosier vs. Clemson DBs Ryan Carter and Van Smith
*Fresno State OL Aaron Mitchell vs. Boise State DL David Moa
*Troy QB Brandon Silvers and RB Jordan Chunn vs. Arkansas State DL Dee Liner and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones
*Georgia DBs Dominick Sanders and Malkom Parrish vs. Auburn WRs Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers
*Stanford OL Devery Hamilton and David Bright vs. USC DL Rasheem Green and LB Uchenna Nwosu
*Oklahoma DB Steven Parker vs. TCU WR KaVontae Turpin
*North Texas DB Kishawn McClain vs. FAU QB Jason Driskel
*Troy DB Kris Weatherspoon vs. Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen and TE Blake Mack
*Toledo LBs Ja’Wuan Woodley and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi vs. Akron QB Tommy Woodson and RB Manny Morgan
*North Texas LBs E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Garner vs. FAU RB Devin Singletary
*UCF DL Trysten Hill vs. Memphis OL Gabe Kuhn
*ULM OL Frank Sutton vs. Florida State DL Demarcus Christmas
— 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.