This hasn’t exactly been the most compelling of bowl seasons so far but fear not, things are about to go to the next level as some terrific New Year’s Six Bowl games get under way. As great as some of the matchups are between some really great teams 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 in the four major bowl games that are not in a College Football Playoff semifinal:
1. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor vs. Miami LB Shaquille Quarterman
Taylor (above, right) burst onto the scene for the Badgers as they very nearly ran the table to the playoff, with the young freshman falling just short of 2,000 rushing yards. He may still be able to reach that mark but it won’t be easy in the Orange Bowl as Quarterman is one of the best linebackers in the game and quite adept at shutting down opposing run games. One thing to keep in mind is that Taylor has a bit of a fumbling issue and you can bet that Quarterman wants a turnover chain to end the season.
2. USC LB Uchenna Nwosu vs. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
The Trojans’ top edge rusher has been terrific in 2017 and he’ll need one more heroic effort if he wants to cap the year off with another memorable bowl victory. His task in the Cotton Bowl? Only that he needs to put pressure on the veteran quarterback while also making sure Barrett can’t beat USC with his legs. Nwosu has six sacks in his last five games and will be hoping to grow that number at JerryWorld.
3. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham and OL Austin Golson vs. UCF DL Jamiyus Pittman and LB Shaquem Griffin
The Knights might be undefeated thanks to their flashy offense but don’t discount how much their first-team All-AAC defenders have contributed to their dream season. Griffin’s (right) story has received a lot of press but that should only serve to highlight his play on the field as one of the best linebackers in the country. His teammate Pittman is pretty good at setting the edge himself and both will be the top priority for Auburn’s offense to stop in the Peach Bowl.
4. Washington DL Vita Vea, LBs Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven vs. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
While the Selection Committee doesn’t consider past seasons, you have to admit this Fiesta Bowl could be a little bit of a grudge match for the Nittany Lions after they missed out on the playoff last year to the Huskies. Barkley has been one of the more electric players in college football running the ball and in the passing game so he’ll be the top priority for a stingy UW defense to stop. Vea is a freak of a defensive lineman (in a good way) and the Washington linebackers are both sure tacklers more than capable of filling gaps and covering the flats. This one is going to be very fun to watch.
5. Washington DBs JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp vs. Penn State QB Trace McSorley, WR DaeSean Hamilton and TE Mike Gesicki
The Huskies’ front seven is legit but their safety combo of McIntosh and Rapp is one of the best in the country and easily two of the biggest hitters on the West Coast. Both will need their A-Game in Glendale, Arizona, as the Penn State passing attack is extremely explosive whether it’s McSorley (right) finding Gesicki around the edges or Hamilton deep down the field.
6. Auburn EDGE Jeff Holland vs. UCF QB McKenzie Milton
Holland has been a huge revelation for an already stout Tigers defense, making an impact on opposing offenses even if he isn’t able to secure a sack (though he gets plenty of those). He’ll have his work cut out for himself in Atlanta as Milton has been one of the most prolific dual-threat signal-callers in the country and responsible for 42 touchdowns this season. That number includes a rushing score in each of his last six games and something Holland must be aware of on each snap.
7. USC QB Sam Darnold and WR Deontay Burnett vs. Ohio State DBs Denzel Ward, Damon Webb and Jordan Fuller
Do USC’s Rose Bowl heroes from last season have another monster postseason performance in store as the two conference champs not in the playoff do battle in Arlington? We’ll see if the Trojans can keep up their second-half surge against one of the nation’s best secondaries and one that should play plenty of man-to-man in this game. Every one of these players has a chance to be an early draft pick so you can bet that NFL scouts will be zeroed in on this matchup.
8. Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli vs. Miami DB Jaquan Johnson
This might be Johnson’s final game with the Hurricanes even if it won’t be the final time he steps foot in Hard Rock Stadium. The leader of the Miami secondary has been superb this season and has put on the famed Turnover Chain six times over the course of 2017. He’ll have his hands full keeping track of Fumagalli however, as the Badgers’ star tight end is not only their biggest receiving threat but also one of the best in the country at moving the chains.
9. Washington RB Myles Gaskin vs. Penn State LB Jason Cabinda
Cabinda goes against Saquon Barkley every day in practice so he’s no stranger when it comes to trying to stop some of the best running backs in the game. The senior will not have an easy final game however, as Gaskin remains one of the most underrated tailbacks in college football and looking for another 1,300-yard season to go along with the 19 touchdowns he’s already recorded.
10. USC LB Cameron Smith and John Houston vs. Ohio State RBs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber
Smith (right) is a regular on the All-Pac-12 first team and forms a nifty tandem with Houston as the run-stuffers on the Trojans’ defense. While both have faced some pretty good tailbacks over the course of the season, Dobbins and Weber are in a different class given their abilities to burst through the hole and take the ball the rest of the way to the end zone.
Best of the Rest
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 29)
*USC RBs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr vs. Ohio State LBs Chris Worley and Jerome Baker
*USC LB DLs Rasheem Green and Christian Rector vs. Ohio State OT Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince
*USC DL Josh Fatu vs. Ohio State OL Billy Price
*USC OL Toa Lobendahn and Chuma Edoga vs. Ohio State DL Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard
*USC OL Nico Falah and Chris Brown vs. Ohio State DL Dre’mont Jomes and Tracy Sprinkle
*USC DBs Jack Jones, Iman Marshall and Chris Hawkins vs. Ohio State WRs Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon, TE Marcus Baugh
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 30)
*Washington QB Jake Browning and WR Dante Pettis vs. Penn State DBs Marcus Allen, Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye
*Washington OL Kaleb McGary vs. Penn State DL Shareef Miller
*Washington OL Coleman Shelton and Andrew Kirkland vs. Penn State DL Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30)
*Wisconsin OL Beau Benzschawel vs. Miami DL RJ McIntosh
*Wisconsin LBs T.J. Edwards and Garret Dooley vs. Miami RBs Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas
*Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook vs. Miami DBs Michael Jackson and Malek Young
*Wisconsin DBs D’Cota Dixon and Natrell Jamerson vs. Miami QB Malik Rosier and WR Braxton Berrios
*Wisconsin DL Alec James vs. Miami OL Kc McDermott
*Wisconsin OL Michael Deiter and David Edwards vs. Miami DLs Chad Thomas, Joe Jackson and Trent Harris
*Wisconsin OL Tyler Biadasz vs. Miami DL Kendrick Norton
*Wisconsin DL Olive Sagapolu vs. Miami OL Tyler Gauthier
Peach Bowl (Jan. 1)
*UCF RB Adrian Killins Jr. vs. Auburn LBs Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams
*UCF LBs Chequan Burkett and Titus Davis vs. Auburn RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kam Martin
*UCF TE Jordan Akins vs. Auburn DB Tray Matthews
*UCF WR Tre’Quan Smith vs. Auburn DB Carlton Davis
*UCF DL Trysten Hill vs. Auburn OL Braden Smith and Casey Dunn
*UCF DBs Mike Hughes and Kyle Gibson vs. Auburn WRs Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers
*UCF OL Wyatt Miller vs. Auburn DL Marlon Davidson
— 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.