Arden Key and LSU's defense will need to come up big if the Tigers have any hopes of beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa
The College Football Playoff rankings are out and the race for the national title is heating up with numerous big-time games on the horizon. As great as some of the college football matchups are this weekend between title 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. LSU LBs Arden Key and Donnie Alexander vs. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts and RB Damien Harris
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have combined for some epic games over the years and while this season’s matchup doesn’t quite measure up, it’s still going to be a fascinating battle. If Ed Orgeron has any hope of pulling off an upset, he’ll need his linebackers to stop the run and chase down an elusive dual-threat quarterback in Hurts (above, right). Luckily for LSU, Key and Alexander are two of the most talented defenders in the league and they’ll need their A-games against an offensive backfield that can beat you up the middle as easy as they can hit the edge.
2. Clemson OL Mitch Hyatt vs. NC State DL Bradley Chubb
Hyatt has been a mainstay on the Tigers’ offensive line and you can count on one hand the number of sacks he’s allowed. He’ll face another huge test on Saturday though as Chubb has been the best pass rusher in the country this season and well tested after playing several top-notch tackles the past few weeks.
3. Oklahoma DBs Steven Parker, Jordan Thomas, Parnell Motley and William Johnson vs. Oklahoma QB Mason Rudolph, WRs James Washington, Marcell Ateman and Jalen McCleskey
Bedlam might be the best game of the weekend and in such a closely matched contest between rivals, stopping big plays will be a must in order to come out with a win. The Cowboys feature the country’s most potent aerial attack given the burners they have on the outside, putting a ton of pressure on a Sooners secondary that has already been lit up at times this season.
4. USC LBs Cam Smith and Uchenna Nwosu, DL Rasheem Green vs. Arizona QB Khalil Tate, RBs J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson
Be prepared to stay up late on Saturday night to catch a potential shootout in the Pac-12 South as the most exciting player in the sport right now, the electric Tate, returns to his hometown to take on the Trojans. Smith has been one of the best tacklers in the conference the last few seasons and his teammates are the best edge tandem USC has had in a while. All three will need their best efforts in order to wrap up the dangerous Wildcats backfield.
5. LSU RBs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams vs. Alabama LBs Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans
The Tigers have had a long line of highly touted running backs and very few of them have been able to solve that fearsome Crimson Tide defense. Next up? Guice and Williams will be looking to help spring an upset and move the chains on a more consistent basis against the No. 1 rushing defense in the FBS, keyed by Hamilton and Evans.
6. Oklahoma State DBs Tre Flowers and A.J. Green vs. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and WR CeeDee Lamb
For as good as the Cowboys’ offense is, you still have to play a little defense in the Big 12 in order to win games. OSU has a pretty good combo in the secondary with Flowers and Green but they know they’re going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Mayfield and his young playmaker on the outside.
7. Florida State DBs Derwin James, Tavarus McFadden and Trey Marshall vs. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey, WRs Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips
This season has been an utter disaster for the Seminoles but that doesn’t mean the team is devoid of talent. The secondary in particular has several guys who will keep playing on Sundays but they’ll need to come to play against the Orange, whose passing attack is extremely dangerous and can hit big plays downfield even in tight coverage.
8. Miami QB Malik Rosier, WRs Ahmmon Richards and Braxton Berrios vs. Virginia Tech DBs Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds
It’s been a while since the Hurricanes have been in this kind of position and they can help secure that elusive ACC Coastal Division title with a big win on Saturday night to remain undefeated. The biggest challenge in the game might come on the offensive end as their trio of stars in the passing game will try to figure out a lock-down secondary that will give a ton of different looks on the back end.
9. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham vs. Texas A&M DB Armani Watts
Watts is one of the biggest playmakers in the SEC and roams the secondary like a center fielder who loves to pick off passes if you leave them up in the air just a bit too long. Stidham has been solid as a passer on the Plains but hasn’t had a huge game for the Tigers just yet. Given who he’s facing off against in College Station, it could be difficult to come out with a road win if he doesn’t avoid the Aggies safety when dropping back to find a receiver.
10. Virginia LB Micah Kiser and DB Quin Blanding vs. Georgia Tech RB KirVonte Benson and QB TaQuon Marshall
Kiser is one of the ACC’s top linebackers and should be in contention for All-American honors after being a tackling machine in the middle of the underrated Cavaliers defense. He’s also backed up by one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league in Blanding, who will team up with Kiser to look and slow down the Yellow Jackets’ dangerous option-oriented offense and potentially get Virginia to an elusive bowl game.
Best of the Rest
*NC State RB Nyheim Hines and HB Jaylen Samuels vs. Clemson LBs Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph, DB Van Smith
*Virginia Tech LBs Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds vs. Miami RB Travis Homer
*Wake Forest DL Duke Ejiofor vs. Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey
*NC State DL Justin Jones vs. Clemson OL Tyrone Crowder
*NC State OL Tony Adams vs. Clemson DL Dexter Lawrence
*Syracuse LBs Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett vs. Florida State RB Cam Akers
*Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins
*Northwestern DB Godwin Igwebuike vs. Nebraska QB Tanner Lee and WR De’Mornay Pierson-El
*Ohio State LBs Chris Worley and Jerome Baker vs. Iowa RBs Akrum Wadley and James Butler
*Penn State LB Jason Cabinda vs. Michigan State RBs LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London
*Michigan State LBs Chris Frey and Joe Bachie vs. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
*Penn State DB Marcus Allen vs. Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke
*Nebraska DB Joshua Kalu vs. Northwestern SB Garrett Dickerson
*Indiana WR Simmie Cobbs and TE Ian Thomas vs. Wisconsin DBs Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon
*Minnesota RB Rodney Smith vs. Michigan DL Maurice Hurst and LB Mike McCray
*Iowa OL Sean Welsh vs. Ohio State DL Dre’Mont Jones and Tracy Sprinkle
*Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook vs. Indiana CB Rashard Fant
*Iowa DL Nathan Bazata vs. Ohio State OL Michael Jordan
*Texas LBs Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler vs. TCU RB Kyle Hicks
*Iowa State LB Joel Lanning vs. West Virginia RB Justin Crawford
*Texas DBs DeShon Elliott and Kris Boyd vs. TCU QB Kenny Hill, WRs John Diarse and KaVontae Turpin
*Texas Tech DBs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Octavious Morgan vs. Kansas State WRs Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber
*Oklahoma State OL Zach Crabtree vs. Oklahoma LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
*West Virginia DBs Kyzir White and Dravon Askew-Henry vs. Iowa State WR Allen Lazard and QB Kyle Kempt
*Oklahoma LBs Kenneth Murray and Caleb Kelly vs. Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill
*Kansas State RB Alex Barnes vs. Texas Tech LBs Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks
*West Virginia LBs Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long vs. Iowa State RB David Montgomery
*West Virginia OL Kyle Bosch and Matt Jones vs. Iowa State DL Ray Lima
*Iowa State DB Kamari Cotton-Moya vs. West Virginia QB Will Grier
*Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Isaac Dotson
*Colorado LBs Derek McCartney and Rick Gamboa vs. Arizona State RBs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard
*Washington LBs Azeem Victor, Ben Burr-Kirven and Keishawn Bierria vs. Oregon RBs Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James
*Oregon LB Tony Dye vs. Washington RBs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman
*Utah DBs Chase Hansen and Marquise Blair vs. UCLA QB Josh Rosen and WR Darren Andrews
*Washington State OL Cody O’Connell vs. Stanford DL Harrison Phillips
*Oregon OL Tyrell Crosby vs. Washington DL Vita Vea
*Arizona State LBs Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun vs. Colorado RB Phillip Lindsay
*UCLA OL Scott Quessenberry and Najee Toran vs. Utah DL Lowell Lotulelei
*UCLA LBs Kenny Young and Lokeni Toailoa vs. Utah QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss
*Washington State WR Tavares Martin Jr., QBs Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski vs. *Stanford DBs Alijah Holder, Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid
*Stanford LBs Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler vs. Washington State RB Jamal Morrow
*Auburn DBs Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews vs. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
*Texas A&M RBs Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams vs. Auburn LBs Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams
*South Carolina LB Skai Moore vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
*LSU QB Danny Etling and WR D.J. Chark vs. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Anthony Averett
*Auburn OL Austin Golson, Mike Horton and Darius James vs. Texas A&M Qualen Cunningham, Zaycoven Henderson and Jarrett Johnson
*Florida DB Duke Dawson and Missouri WR J’Mon Moore
*LSU DBs John Battle and Donte Jackson vs. Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and Cam Sims
*LSU DL Christian LaCouture vs. Alabama OL Jonah Williams
*Ole Miss DL Marquis Haynes and LB DeMarquis Gates vs. Kentucky RB Benny Snell
*South Carolina OL Alan Knott vs. Georgia DL John Atkins
*Kentucky DB Mike Edwards vs. Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown
Group of 5
*Wyoming DBs Andrew Wingard, Marcus Epps and Rico Gafford vs. Colorado State QB Nick Stevens and WR Michael Gallup
*Temple DB Sean Chandler vs. Navy QB Zach Abey and WR Tyler Carmona
*Tulsa RB D’Angelo Brewer vs. Memphis LB Genard Avery
*Tulsa DB Mc
— 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.