Josey Jewell and Iowa's defense will need to slow down Wisconsin's running game if the Hawkeyes want to play spoiler for the second straight Saturday
This just might be the best weekend of the college football season with a ton of games between ranked teams and three huge matchups that should significantly shape the College Football Playoff race. As great as some of the 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. Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
There’s no rest for the weary as Jewell goes from shutting down Ohio State to facing off against the Big Ten’s leading rusher in the terrific freshman Taylor. The Badgers are the lone conference playoff threat and will need a big game out of their 1,300-yard (and counting) tailback but it won’t be easy against a tackling machine like the Hawkeyes’ star linebacker.
2. TCU DBs Ranthony Texada, Ridwan Issahaku, Niko Small and Nick Orr vs. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
If anybody can stop — or rather slow down — the Heisman Trophy front-runner, it’s going to be the TCU secondary. The Horned Frogs are loaded with experience given all the multi-year starters in the group and they’re allowing opposing QBs to complete just 49 percent of their passes, good for fourth best in the country. Mayfield and his speedy receiving corps will present the biggest challenge yet for Gary Patterson and crew though.
3. Georgia LBs Natrez Patrick, Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter vs. Auburn RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway
If the Bulldogs want to stay No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, they’ll have to take home a victory on the road in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Leaving the Plains with a win won’t be easy but the key will very likely come in that terrific defense Kirby Smart has stopping the Auburn run game. UGA has only allowed four rushing TDs all season, a stat that will be tested against the SEC’s leading rusher.
4. Clemson QB Kelly Bryant vs. Florida State DB Derwin James
The past several seasons, the game of the year in the ACC has undoubtedly been Florida State against Clemson. That’s certainly not the case in 2017 but there’s still a huge reason to tune in with these two dynamic athletes facing off against each other. James (right) and his team have their backs against the wall to get to a bowl game and will need a big outing from the safety against Bryant’s arm as well as his legs in order to make things interesting.
5. Washington DL Vita Vea, LBs Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven vs. Stanford RB Bryce Love
The Huskies’ offense isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders but their defense sure is, leading the Pac-12 in just about every category and ranking highly nationally too. Those lofty numbers don’t mean much heading to the Farm for a massive North division battle with Stanford and its star running back. The Heisman contender rips off 50-yard runs like they’re nothing so it will be very important for UW’s big defenders to play smart and disciplined on Friday night.
6. Auburn LBs Tre’ Williams, Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
The defensive game plan against Georgia starts and ends with stopping that two-headed monster in the backfield. The Tigers’ linebackers are as good at containing the run as they are filling gaps but they’ll need to be extra careful when it comes to wrapping up because a missed tackle can turn into six the other way given how good Michel and Chubb are when bursting through the line.
7. Virginia LB Micah Kiser, DL Chris Peace and DB Quin Blanding vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
The Cardinals may not be having the season anybody envisioned but they still have the one-man highlight reel running the offense in Jackson. He’ll face a stiff test on Saturday afternoon as Peace is third in the ACC in sacks and Kiser is sixth in the country in tackles. Even if he’s able to avoid those two on the way to the end zone, the reigning Heisman winner will have his hands full trying to avoid Blanding, a safety that will be all over the field no matter if Jackson is throwing the ball or running it.
8. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald vs. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison
The Crimson Tide’s biggest SEC test prior to the Iron Bowl might come this Saturday night as they travel to Starkvegas. If the Bulldogs want to entertain any hope of pulling an upset, they’ll need the biggest game of Fitzgerald’s life to do it given the opponent. The quarterback is one of the best dual threats in the country and he’ll pose numerous problems for both of Alabama’s safeties, especially Fitzpatrick (right) with that balky hamstring issue.
9. Miami LBs Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pickney and Zach McCloud vs. Notre Dame RB Josh Adams and QB Brandon Wimbush
Nobody has come close to slowing down the Irish offense the past two months and that’s especially true when it comes to stopping that “33 Trucking” unit. The Hurricanes are a different beast though as their linebacking corps is athletic and experienced beyond their years for a trio of sophomores. It will take a team effort to shut down those running lanes and keep Adams and Wimbush in check but Miami is well equipped for the task.
10. Michigan State LBs Chris Frey and Joe Bachie vs. Ohio State RBs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber
As surprising as it seems to some, the Spartans control their own destiny when it comes to the Big Ten title and they can capitalize on that massive victory over Penn State by following it up with a win in Columbus. Frey and Bachie helped limit Saquon Barkley last Saturday in the rain but will need a similar performance against the Buckeyes’ tailbacks, each of whom brings a little something different between the tackles.
Best of the Rest
*Miami DL Chad Thomas and Kendrick Norton vs. Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson
*Virginia Tech LBs Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds vs. Georgia Tech QB TaQuon Marshall and RB KirVonte Benson
*Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan vs. Miami RB Travis Homer
*Florida State DBs Tavarus McFadden and Trey Marshall vs. Clemson WRs Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow
*Miami OL K.C. McDermott and Trevor Darling vs. Notre Dame DL Daelin Hayes and Jerry Tillery
*Miami DBs Dee Delaney and Sheldrick Redwine vs. Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown and TE Durham Smythe
*Boston College RBs AJ Dillon and Jon Hilliman vs. NC State DL Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street
*Clemson OL Tyrone Crowder and Mitch Hyatt vs. Florida State DL Demarcus Christmas, Brian Burns and Josh Sweat
*Florida State LBs Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins vs. Clemson RBs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne
*Wake Forest DL Duke Ejiofor vs. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey and OL Jamar McGloster
*Pitt WRs Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah vs. North Carolina DBs M.J. Stewart, Myles Dorn and Donnie Miles
*Virginia DL Andrew Brown vs. Louisville OL Geron Christian
*Duke LB Ben Humphreys vs. Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw
*Wisconsin LBs Garrett Dooley, T.J. Edwards and Leon Jacobs vs. Iowa RBs Akrum Wadley and James Butler
*Penn State DB Marcus Allen vs. Rutgers WR Janarion Grant
*Ohio State LBs Jerome Baker and Chris Worley vs. Michigan State RBs L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London
*Iowa QB Nate Stanley and WR Matt VandeBerg vs. Wisconsin DBs Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon
*Michigan State OL Brian Allen and David Beedle vs. Ohio State DL Dre’Mont Jones and Tracy Sprinkle
*Indiana DB Rashard Fant vs. Illinois WR Malik Turner
*Maryland LB Jermaine Carter vs. Michigan RBs Chris Evans and Karan Higdon
*Purdue LB Ja’Whaun Bentley vs. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
*Purdue QB Elijah Sindelar vs. Northwestern DB Godwin Igwebuike
*Iowa State LB Joel Lanning vs. Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill
*Oklahoma LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. TCU QB Kenny Hill
*West Virginia DBs Kyzir White and Dravon Askew-Henry vs. Kansas State WRs Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber
*Iowa State DB Kamari Cotton-Moya vs. Oklahoma State WR James Washington
*Oklahoma DBs Steven Parker and Jordan Thomas vs. TCU WRs John Diarse and KaVontae Turpin
*Texas Tech LBs Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen vs. Baylor RB Terence Williams
*West Virginia OL Kyle Bosch vs. Kansas State DL Will Geary
*Stanford DB Quenton Meeks vs. Washington QB Jake Browning and WR Dante Pettis
*Washington State OL Cody O’Connell and Cole Madison vs. Utah DL Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts
*Washington OL Coleman Shelton, RBs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman vs. Stanford DL Harrison Phillips, LBs Peter Kalambayi and Bobby Okereke
*Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Utah DB Chase Hansen
*Colorado RBs Phillip Lindsay and Michael Adkins vs. USC LBs Cam Smith and John Houston
*Utah QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zach Moss vs. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Isaac Dotson
*Colorado LBs Derek McCartney and Rick Gamboa vs. USC RBs Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr
*Oregon State LB Manase Hungalu vs. Arizona QB Khalil Tate
*USC DL Rasheem Green vs. Colorado OL Jeromy Irwin
*Colorado DB Afolabi Laguda vs. USC WR Deontay Burnett
*UCLA DBs Adarius Pickett and Nate Meadors vs. Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry
*UCLA LBs Kenny Young and Lokeni Toailoa vs. Arizona State RBs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard
*Arizona State DL Tashon Smallwood vs. UCLA OL Scott Quessenberry
*Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham vs. Georgia DBs Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders
*Georgia QB Jake Fromm and WR Terry Godwin vs. Auburn DBs Carlton Davis, Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts
*Arkansas QB Cole Kelley and RB Devwah Whaley vs. LSU LBs Arden Key and Donnie Alexander
*Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons and LB Leo Lewis vs. Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman and QB Jalen Hurts
*South Carolina OL Alan Knott and Zach Bailey vs. Florida DL Khairi Clark and CeCe Jefferson
*Mississippi State OL Martinas Rankin vs. Alabama DL Da’Shawn Hand
*Alabama LBs Anfernee Jennings and Rashaan Evans vs. Mississippi State RB Aeris Williams
*Tennessee DBs Emmanuel Moseley and Justin Martin vs. Missouri QB Drew Lock and J’Mon Moore
*Kentucky LB Courtney Love vs. Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb
*Florida OL Martez Ivey vs. South Carolina DL Dante Sawyer
Group of 5
*Boise State DL David Moa vs. Colorado Stae OL Jake Bennett
*Appalachian State LB Eric Boggs vs. Georgia Southern RBs Wesley Fields and L.A. Ramsby
*UNLV DL Mike Hughes vs. BYU OL Tejan Koroma
*Cincinnati WRs Devin Gray and Khalil Lewis vs. Temple DBs Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall
*UNLV WR Devonte Boyd vs. BYU DB Micah Hannemann
*UConn DB Jamar Summers vs. UCF QB McKenzie Milton
*SMU DL Justin Lawler vs. Navy QB Zach Abey^
*Wyoming DL Carl Granderson vs. Air Force QB Arion Worthman
^Navy QB Zach Abey may not play
— 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.