Skip to main content

College Football's 10 Best Position Battles to Watch in December Bowl Games

Mike McGlinchey

Mike McGlinchey

College Football Uniforms: LSU TIgers

It’s the happy, happiest time of the year for college football fans – bowl season! After a long and winding trip since camp started in August, we’re on the last legs of the 2017 season and all set for some meetings between huge names we usually don’t see play each other. As great as some of the matchups are this postseason 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 between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side during bowl season outside of the New Year’s Six:

1. Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson vs. LSU DL Christian LaCouture and Arden Key (Citrus Bowl — Jan. 1)

If you look back on the Irish’s season, the amount of truly elite pass-rushing units they’ve faced is kind of astounding but there’s still one more on deck for their left wall of an offensive line. Nelson was a unanimous All-American this year and his teammate at left tackle was a consensus pick himself in leading the way for the team’s turnaround campaign. Both LaCouture and Key (above, right) have been banged up at times this year but after a month off to rest up should be good to go and are two of the more athletic and physical rushers off the edge in the SEC.

2. Virginia Tech DBs Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson vs. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, WRs James Washington and Marcell Ateman (Camping World Bowl — Dec. 28)

The best bowl matchup from a strength-vs-strength standpoint might come in Orlando as the high-powered Cowboys offense squares off against Bud Foster’s tough defense. Rudolph may have been the second-best quarterback in his own state but has a strong case that he’s the second-best nationally throwing the football after racking up 35 touchdowns and more than 4,500 yards to the best receiving corps in the country — led by the Biletnikoff Award winner in Washington. Stroman is an All-ACC pick and his running mate on the other side is a talented fifth-year veteran who’s shut down some of the best in the league. Needless to say, they’ll both have their hands full in this one.

3. Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. TCU LBs Travin Howard and Ty Summers (Alamo Bowl — Dec. 28)

Gary Patterson will have a month to scheme, while the Heisman Trophy runner-up will have a month to rest up that bum ankle. The end result could be a fantastic meeting of the No. 4 rushing defense in college football against the best running back in the sport down in San Antonio. The Horned Frogs have a pair of veteran athletic linebackers leading the way of their unique defensive look in Howard and Summers, allowing only 2.91 yards per carry in 2017 and only six touchdowns on the ground all year. Love, meanwhile, averages 8.3 yards a rush and has an FBS-record 12 runs of 50-plus yards this year. Buckle up.

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love

4. Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Boston College RB AJ Dillon (Pinstripe Bowl — Dec. 27)

Dillon may have single-handedly saved his coach’s job and the Eagles’ season when he burst onto the scene to earn ACC Rookie of the Year honors, doing most of his damage in the second half of the year. A terrific talent, the slashing runner put up 1,432 yards despite loaded boxes galore and found the end zone 13 times. He’ll face a stiff test at Yankee Stadium however in a senior with loads of experience shutting down good tailbacks in Jewell. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year also was a unanimous All-American and finished the regular season fourth in the country in tackles. These two should combine for the biggest hits the Bronx will see until Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge start taking batting practice in the spring.

5. Virginia LB Micah Kiser vs. Navy QB Malcolm Perry (Military Bowl — Dec. 28)

Kiser is fifth in the country in tackles (an amazing 134 stops so far this season) and the heart of the Cavs defense that will be practicing hard to stop that Navy option offense. He’ll be counted on to not only wrap up the ball carrier in this bowl game but also make quick, correct decisions in terms of who has it and who you need to defend. Perry, who played most of the year as a slotback, has become a revelation for the Midshipmen since taking over quarterback duties and was that blue blur you saw in the snow against Army to end the regular season. He’s rushed for at least 250 yards and a touchdown in both of his starts under center and will be the focal point that Kiser is aiming to stop in this game.

6. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa vs. Michigan State OL Brian Allen and David Beedle (Holiday Bowl — Dec. 28)

Mata’afa is one bad... well, you know. The Cougars’ first consensus All-American on the defensive side in 15 years, the appropriately named Hercules led the Pac-12 in tackles for a loss (21.5) and sacks (9.5), while being a huge pain for opposing offensive lines to deal with given how quick off the ball he is and how fast he flies around to disrupt things up front. He will miss the first half of the Holiday Bowl to serve a targeting penalty but should more than make up for it in the second half as he tries to stymie the All-Big Ten tandem on the interior of the Spartans’ line.

7. Virginia Tech LBs Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka vs. Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill (Camping World Bowl — Dec. 28)

The Hokies’ stellar secondary against the Cowboys’ top-rated passing attack isn’t the only thing to watch for when those two sides take the field in Orlando because Hill is just as big of a threat to take it to the house on the ground as teammates like James Washington are through the air. The sophomore ran for 1,347 yards at nearly six per carry and found the end zone 14 times — and likely would have had more had the team not been involved in several blowouts. He’ll go up against one of the best linebacking corps in the country though, as the imposing Edmunds (right) led Tech again with more than 100 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss on his way to first-team All-ACC honors. His running mate Motuapuaka averages more than seven tackles a game himself and is rangy enough to make life difficult for opposing running backs who think they can bounce things outside.

Image placeholder title

8. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and WR Jaylen Smith vs. Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons, LBs Leo Lewis and Montez Sweat, DBs Mark McLaurin and Tolando Cleveland  (TaxSlayer Bowl — Dec. 30)

All signs point to this bowl being the final college football game in the absolutely amazing career of Jackson, who has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 3,400 passing yards and 25 touchdowns while also rushing for at least 1,400 yards and 17 scores. The Heisman winner has been terrific once again for the Cardinals and perhaps even better than he was a year ago, finding his favorite target in Smith on a consistent basis. The Bulldogs will be without several of their coaches but still have plenty of defensive talent that can not only play physical but also can track you down. At all three levels MSU will need herculean efforts from their players if they want to stop (or at least contain) Jackson, who no doubt will be looking to ride off into the history books in style.

9. Duke QB Daniel Jones vs. Northern Illinois DL Sutton Smith (Quick Lane Bowl — Dec. 26)

It’s not often you’ll see #MACtion make a lot of waves on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to postseason honors but Smith was just that incredible this year on his way to All-America first-team nods. He led the country in tackles for a loss (a whopping 28.5) and sacks (14) on his way to becoming the MAC Defensive Player of the Year with little competition. Looking to avoid his wrath is Jones, who might be David Cutcliffe’s most talented quarterback in terms of physical tools and is well known for his ability to escape out of the pocket (three games with more than 50 rushing yards, six scores on the ground).

10. Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch and DL David Moa vs. Oregon RBs Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit (Las Vegas Bowl — Dec. 16)

Vander Esch (129 tackles, three forced fumbles in 2017), Moa and the Broncos defense know what it takes to slow down prolific rushing attacks this season, having limited Rashaad Penny and San Diego State earlier in the year. Things might be a little different a few miles from The Strip however as the Ducks bring a balanced look that can really make a missed assignment pay with enough speed to turn a sliver of daylight into a touchdown. Starter Royce Freeman is one of the best backs in FBS history by the numbers but he’ll be sitting things out for this game to focus on the NFL. His backups are more than capable of shouldering the load and leading Oregon on the ground though, with Benoit (right) impressively averaging seven-plus yards a carry and Brooks-James adding even more of a receiving element to the mix.

Image placeholder title

Best of the Rest

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16)

*Troy QB Brandon Silvers vs. North Texas DB Kishawn McClain

*Troy DL Hunter Reese vs. North Texas OT Jordan Murray

*Troy DB Blace Brown vs. North Texas WR Jalen Guyton

AutoNation Cure Bowl (Dec. 16)

*Western Kentucky DB Joe Brown vs. Georgia State WR Penny Hart

*Western Kentucky QB Mike White and WR Nacarius Fant vs. Georgia State DBs Chandon Sullivan

*Western Kentucky TE Deon Yelder vs. Georgia State DB Bryan Williams

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 16)

*Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson vs. Oregon DB Arrion Springs

*Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver vs. Oregon QB Justin Herbert

*Boise State RB Alexander Mattison vs. Oregon LB Troy Dye

*Boise State DL Jabrill Frazier and Miles Durrant vs. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby

*Boise State DB Kekoa Nawahine vs. Oregon WR Charles Nelson

*Boise State OT Archie Lewis vs. Oregon DL Jalen Jelks

Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Sept. 16)

*Marshall DB Malik Gant vs. Colorado State WR Michael Gallup

*Marshall QB Chase Litton vs. Colorado State LB Evan Colorito

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Sept. 16)

*Middle Tennessee DBs Jovante Moffatt and Reed Blankenship vs. Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen and TE Blake Mack

Image placeholder title

*Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill vs. Arkansas State DL Ja’Von Rolland-Jones

*Middle Tennessee WR Ty Lee vs. Arkansas State DB Blaise Taylor

*Middle Tennessee OL Chandler Brewer vs. Arkansas State DL Dee Liner

Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 19)

*Akron LB Ulysses Gilbert III vs. Florida Atlantic RB Devin Singletary

*Akron WR Tra’Von Chapman vs. Florida Atlantic DB Jalen Young

*Akron DB Alvin Davis vs. Florida Atlantic QB Jason Driskel

*Akron DL Jamal Davis vs. Florida Atlantic OL Reggie Bain

DXL Frisco Bowl (Dec. 20)

*Louisiana Tech DBs Secdrick Cooper and Amik Robertson vs. SMU WRs Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton

*Louisiana Tech OT Joshua Outlaw vs. SMU DL Justin Lawler

*Louisiana Tech Jordan Bradford vs. SMU OL Evan Brown

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21)

*Temple DB Delvon Randall and Sean Chandler vs. Florida International QB Alex McGough

*Temple DL Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin vs. Florida International RB Alex Gardner

*Temple DL Freddie Booth-Lloyd vs. Florida International OL Jordan Budwing

Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 22)

*UAB RB Spencer Brown vs. Ohio LB Quentin Poling

*UAB DB Darious Williams vs. Ohio WR Papi White

*UAB QB A.J. Erdely and WR Andre Wilson vs. Ohio DBs Javon Hagan and Bradd Ellis

*UAB DL Garrett Marino and Teko Powell vs. Ohio OL Jake Pruehs and Joe Anderson

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22)

*Central Michigan DL Joe Ostman, DBs Josh Cox and Amari Coleman vs. Wyoming QB Josh Allen

Wyoming QB Josh Allen

*Central Michigan TE Tyler Conklin vs. Wyoming DB Andrew Wingard

*Central Michigan QB Shane Morris, WRs Corey Willis and Mark Chapman vs. Wyoming DBs Marcus Epps, Robert Priester and Rico Gafford

*Central Michigan RB Jonathan Ward vs. Wyoming LB Logan Wilson and DL Carl Granderson

*Central Michigan OL J.P. Quinn vs. Wyoming DL Youhanna Ghaifian

Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23)

*Texas Tech WR Keke Coutee vs. USF DB Deatrick Nichols

*Texas Tech LB Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks vs. USF QB Quinton Flowers and RB D’Ernest Johnson

*Texas Tech DBs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Justus Parker vs. USF WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

*Texas Tech OL Jack Anderson vs. USF DL Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector

*Texas Tech WRs Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson vs. USF DB Devin Abraham

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23)

*San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny vs. Army LBs James Nachtigal and Cole Christiansen

*San Diego State LBs Ronley Lakalaka and Jay Henderson vs. Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw and FB Darnell Woolfolk

*San Diego State DBs Tariq Thompson and Parker Baldwin vs. Army RBs Kell Walker and Jordan Asberry

Dollar General Bowl (Dec. 23)

*Appalachian State DBs Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes vs. Toledo QB Logan Woodside and WR Diontae Johnson

*Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore vs. Toledo LB Ja’Wuan Woodley

*Appalachian State LBs Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer vs. Toledo RB Terry Swanson

*Appalachian State OL Victor Johnson and Beau Nunn vs. Toledo DL Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

*Appalachian State DL Caleb Fuller vs. Toledo OL Elijah Nkansah and Brant Weiss

Hawai’i Bowl (Dec. 24)

*Fresno State OL Aaron Mitchell vs. Houston DT Ed Oliver

Image placeholder title

*Fresno State LB Jeffrey Allison vs. Houston RB Duke Catalon

*Fresno State QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson vs. Houston DB Terrell Williams

*Fresno State DB Mike Bell vs. Houston WR Steven Dunbar

*Fresno State OT Christian Cronk vs. Houston DL Nick Thurman

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 26)

*Utah DB Chase Hansen vs. West Virginia WR David Sills V

*Utah WR Darren Carrington vs. West Virginia DB Kyzir White

*Utah DL Bradlee Anae vs. West Virginia OL Yodny Cajuste

*Utah LBs Sunia Tauteoli and David Luafatasaga vs. West Virginia RB Justin Crawford

*Utah RB Zack Moss vs. West Virginia LBs David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

*Utah OL Salesi Uhatafe vs. West Virginia DL Lamonte McDougle

Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26)

*Duke LB Joe Giles-Harris vs. Northern Illinois RB Jordan Huff

*Duke WR T.J. Rahming vs. Northern Illinois DB Shawun Lurry

*Duke DL Mike Ramsay vs. Northern Illinois OL Jordan Steckler

Cactus Bowl (Dec. 26)

*Kansas State DB D.J. Reed vs. UCLA QB Josh Rosen

UCLA QB Josh Rosen

*Kansas State DL Will Geary and Reggie Walker vs. UCLA OL Scott Quessenberry and Kolton Miller

*Kansas State RB Alex Barnes vs. UCLA LB Kenny Young

*Kansas WRs Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber vs. UCLA DBs Adarius Pickett and Nate Meadors

Walk-On’s Independence Bowl (Dec. 27)

*Southern Miss DBs Tarvarius Moore and Curtis Mikell vs. Florida State WRs Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate

*Southern Miss WRs Allenzae Staggers and Korey Robertson vs. Florida State DBs Tavarus McFadden and Trey Marshall

*Southern Miss RB Ito Smith vs. Florida State LBs Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matthew Thomas

*Southern Miss OL Devin Farrior and Arvin Fletcher vs. Florida State DL Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27)

*Iowa QB Nate Stanley vs. Boston College DBs Lukas Denis and Isaac Yiadom

*Iowa DB Miles Taylor vs. Boston College TE Tommy Sweeney

*Iowa RB Akrum Wadley vs. Boston College LB Ty Schwab

Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 27)

*Arizona RBs J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson vs. Purdue LB Ja’Whaun Bentley

*Arizona OL Nathan Eldridge and Jacob Alsadek vs. Purdue DL Lorenzo Neal and Galen Robinson

*Arizona DB Jace Whittaker vs. Purdue QB Elijah Sindelar

Academy Sports+Outdoors Texas Bowl (Dec. 27)

*Texas DBs Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke vs. Missouri QB Drew Lock and WR J’Mon Moore

*Texas QBs Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger vs. Missouri DL Marcell Frazier

*Texas DL Poona Ford and LB Anthony Wheeler vs. Missouri RB Ish Witter

Northrop Grumman Military Bowl (Dec. 28)

*Virginia LB Chris Peace and DL Andrew Brown vs. Navy RB Darryl Bonner

Virginia Cavaliers S Quin Blanding

*Virginia DB Quin Blanding vs. Navy WR Tyler Carmona

*Virginia QB Kurt Benkert and RB Jordan Ellis vs. Navy LB D.J. Palmore and DB Sean Williams

Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28)

*Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson and WR Cam Phillips vs. Oklahoma State DBs Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards

*Virginia Tech DL Tim Settle and Ricky Walker vs. Oklahoma State OL Brad Lundblade and Marcus Keyes

*Virginia Tech OL Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo vs. Oklahoma State DL DeQuinton Osborne

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28)

*Stanford DL Harrison Phillips vs. TCU OL Austin Schlottman and Matt Pryor

*Stanford QB K.J. Costello, WRs J.J. Arcega -Whiteside and Trent Irwin vs. TCU DBs Ranthony Texada, Niko Small and Nick Orr

*Stanford OL Devery Hamilton and A.T. Hall vs. TCU DL Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu

*Stanford TE Kaden Smith vs. TCU DB Ridwan Issahaku

*Stanford DB Justin Reid vs. TCU WR KaVontae Turpin

*Stanford LBs Peter Kalambayi, Bobby Okereke and Joey Alfieri vs. TCU RB Kyle Hicks and QB Kenny Hill

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28)

*Washington State OL Cole Madison vs. Michigan State DL Kenny Willekes and Demetrius Cooper

*Washington State DBs Jalen Thompson and Robert Taylor vs. Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke and WR Felton Davis III

*Washington State RB Jamal Morrow vs. Michigan State LBs Chris Frey and Joe Bachie

*Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Michigan State DB David Dowell

*Washington State LB Isaac Dotson vs. Michigan State RB L.J. Scott

Belk Bowl (Dec. 29)

*Wake Forest QB John Wolford and TE Cam Serigne vs. Texas A&M DB Armani Watts

Image placeholder title

*Wake Forest DBs Essang Bassey and Jessie Bates vs. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk

*Wake Forest DL Duke Ejiofor vs. Texas A&M OL Keaton Sutherland

*Wake Forest OL Justin Herron vs. Texas A&M DL Qualen Cunningham

Sun Bowl (Dec. 29)

*NC State DL Bradley Chubb vs. Arizona State QB Manny Wilkins

*NC State RB Nyheim Hines and HB Jaylen Samuels vs. Arizona State LBs Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun

*NC State OL Tony Adams and Garrett Bradbury vs. Arizona State DL JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood

*NC State WR Kelvin Harmon vs. Arizona State DB Chase Lucas

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 29)

*Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson vs. Northwestern DB Godwin Igwebuike

*Kentucky LB Courtney Love vs. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson

*Kentucky RB Benny Snell vs. Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher

*Kentucky DB Mike Edwards vs. Northwestern SB Garrett Dickerson

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl (Dec. 29)

*New Mexico State QB Tyler Rogers and WR Jaleel Scott vs. Utah State DBs Jalen Davis and Dallin Leavitt

*New Mexico State RB Larry Rose III vs. Utah State LB Suliasi Tamaivena

*New Mexico State DL Cedric Wilcots and Roy Lopez vs. Utah State OL Roman Andrus and Quin Ficklin

*New Mexico State DB Ron LaForce vs. Utah State TE Dax Raymond

TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 30)

*Louisville DL Trevon Young vs. Mississippi State OL Martinas Rankin

*Louisville DBs Chucky Williams and Trumaine Washington vs. Mississippi State WR Keith Mixon

*Louisville LBs Stacy Thomas and James Hearns vs. Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Dec. 30)

*Iowa State DBs Kamari Cotton-Moya and Brian Peavy vs. Memphis WR Anthony Miller

Image placeholder title

*Iowa State RB David Montgomery vs. Memphis LB Genard Avery

*Iowa State LB Joel Lanning vs. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson and TE Joey Magnifico

*Iowa State WR Allen Lazard vs. Memphis DBs T.J. Carter and Jonathan Cook

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1)

*Michigan DL Maurice Hurst vs. South Carolina OL Alan Knott

*Michigan DL Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich vs. South Carolina QB Jake Bentley

*Michigan RBs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans vs. South Carolina LB Skai Moore

*Michigan LB Devin Bush vs. South Carolina RB A.J. Turner

*Michigan DBs Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus vs. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst

*Michigan OL Mason Cole vs. South Carolina DL Dante Sawyer

*Michigan DB Lavert Hill vs. South Carolina WR Terry Googer

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1)

*Notre Dame RB Josh Adams vs. LSU LBs Donnie Alexander and Devin White

*Notre Dame LBs Nyles Morgan and Drue Tranquill vs. LSU RBs Derrius Guice and Darrell Williams

*Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown vs. LSU DBs Donte Jackson and Greedy Williams

*Notre Dame DB Julian Love vs. LSU WR D.J. Chark

*Notre Dame DL Jerry Tillery vs. LSU OL Will Clapp

*Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush and TE Durham Smythe vs. LSU DBs John Battle and Grant Delpit

— 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.