If Michigan wants to upset Wisconsin, Wolverines linebacker Devin Bush and company must stop the Badgers' punishing running game
Let’s go ahead and get it out of the way: the Week 12 slate is one of the worst of the college football season and the number of games between good teams can probably be counted on one hand. That said, there are still the games within a game — between players on either side of the ball — that are vastly more interesting than some of the actual matchups between teams.
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. Utah P Mitch Wishnowsky vs. Washington PR Dante Pettis
It’s not often we look to the special teams ranks to find a truly top-tier matchup worthy of a spot in the top 10 but this is a very special exception. Wishnowsky is the reigning Ray Guy Award winner and can absolutely boom the ball when needed, leading the Pac-12 in punting once again despite being able to direct his kicks with ease into the coffin corner. That will come in handy against the Huskies, who feature the NCAA record holder for career punt returns for touchdowns (nine). The two also have a history too, considering one of those nine scores was the game-winner as Washington beat Utah last season in Salt Lake City after Pettis (above, right) took it 58 yards to the house in the fourth quarter.
2. Michigan DL Maurice Hurst, LBs Mike McCray and Devin Bush vs. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor, OL Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards
The biggest game of the weekend comes with some serious College Football Playoff implications and a fairly straightforward game plan for Don Brown’s top-notch Wolverines defense – stop the run. Easier said than done given the terrific offensive line the Badgers have up front and their stud tailback in Taylor, who has only run for 1,525 yards and 12 scores this year as a freshman.
3. Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown vs. Texas A&M DB Armani Watts
Brown leads the SEC in receiving yardage by a fairly significant margin and has been one of the biggest bright spots in the Rebels’ 2017 campaign. He’s coming off yet another 100-yard receiving game last week but Saturday’s challenge will be much different as he tries to avoid one of the conference’s best safeties in Watts. While the Aggies star is a ball hawk who can make you pay with a bad route, he’ll also lay you out if you catch something in front of him too.
4. UCLA LBs Kenny Young and Keisean Lucier-South vs. USC RBs Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr
It’s been a fairly nondescript and miserable season in Westwood but the one thing that would brighten the mood of everybody in powder blues is if they can pull off the upset of their crosstown rival USC. If Jim Mora’s team even wants a chance at doing that, it will almost certainly come down to whether or not UCLA can stop the run. Young and his teammates on a banged-up unit will try but Jones (right) has been borderline unstoppable the past three weeks and his now healthy backup can take it to the house when he finds a seam too.
5. Virginia LB Micah Kiser vs. Miami RB Travis Homer
Kiser is quite literally a tackling machine, leading the conference and placing in the top 10 nationally in tackles per game. The Lott IMPACT Trophy semifinalist has played a huge role in Virginia’s resurgence this season and shocking everybody down in Miami would be the perfect way to secure a heck of a year. That won’t be easy at all though as Homer has proven to be a shifty home-run hitter who doesn’t usually go down against one defender.
6. Wisconsin LBs T.J. Edwards, Garrett Dooley and Ryan Connelly vs. Michigan RBs Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Henry Poggi
A playoff spot is there for the taking if the Badgers can run the table and their biggest test to date of this dream season will come at home on Saturday afternoon as they take on Jim Harbaugh’s improving Michigan offense. Given the inexperience at quarterback for the Wolverines, the biggest priority in the game will be stopping the run and luckily UW has one of the best (and deepest) linebacking corps in the country.
7. Texas DBs DeShon Elliott and Kris Boyd vs. West Virginia QB Will Grier and WR David Sills
Few players have taken a more meandering road to star at their school than Grier (right) and Sills have but the duo have been one of the best combos in all of FBS throwing and catching the football. They haven’t quite faced a secondary like the one the Longhorns can trot out however, which includes Thorpe Award favorite and the nation’s leader in interceptions in Elliott. Both sides should have quite the fun back-and-forth and whoever wins this one likely will take home a victory in the end.
8. Texas Tech QB Nic Shimonek, WRs Dylan Cantrell, Keke Coutee, Derrick Willies and Cameron Batson vs. TCU DBs Nick Orr, Ridwan Issahaku, Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney
With few exceptions, these two old SWC rivals have combined for some incredible shootouts over the years as the Air Raid offenses have hummed with deadly efficiency. That could be the case once again as the Red Raiders’ attack has failed to produce fewer than 35 points only twice in the past two months. They’re filled with big-play potential from just about every receiver spot but Shimonek and company will face a stiff test in the most experienced secondary in the country and the best in the Big 12.
9. USC DL Rasheem Green and LB Uchenna Nwosu vs. UCLA QB Josh Rosen
The Bruins will head crosstown as a significant underdog but that doesn’t mean they aren’t really, really dangerous because of their star quarterback’s arm. Rosen hasn’t been protected all that well during his tenure in Westwood and if the Trojans want to shut him down, it will come down to their pass-rushing combo off the edge to make life miserable for Rosen at the Coliseum.
10. Kansas DL Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong Jr. vs. Oklahoma OL Orlando Brown and Dru Samia
It’s pretty rare to see Kansas pop up on this list but the Jayhawks’ duo of Wise (5.5 sacks) and Armstrong Jr. (preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, right) are a bright spot for the team even as basketball has rolled around in Lawrence. How well they do in their one-on-ones with the Sooners’ terrific offensive linemen will be the difference in Baker Mayfield having hours or days to throw.
Best of the Rest
*Virginia DB Quin Blanding vs. Miami WRs Braxton Berrios and Ahmmon Richards
*Pitt DB Jordan Whitehead vs. Virginia Tech WR Cam Phillips
*Pitt WRs Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson vs. Virginia Tech DBs Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson
*Duke LBs Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris vs. Georgia Tech QB TaQuon Marshall and RB KirVonte Benson
*Louisville DBs Jaire Alexander and Chucky Williams vs. Syracuse WRs Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips
*Virginia QB Kurt Benkert and WR Donovan Dowling vs. Miami DBs Sheldrick Redwine and Jaquan Johnson
*Wake Forest DL Duke Ejiofor vs. NC State QB Ryan Finley
*Wake Forest OL Ryan Anderson vs. NC State DL B.J. Hill
*Penn State DBs Marcus Allen and Christian Campbell vs. Nebraska WRs JD Spielman and De’Mornay Pierson-El
*Michigan QB Brandon Peters and WR Grant Perry vs. Wisconsin DBs Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon
*Rutgers RB Gus Edwards vs. Indiana LB Tegray Scales
*Nebraska DB Chris Jones vs. Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
*Michigan State LBs Joe Bachie and Chris Frey vs. Maryland RB Ty Johnson
*Michigan OL Mason Cole vs. Wisconsin DL Alec James
*Northwestern OL Brad North vs. Minnesota DL Steven Richardson
*Minnesota OL Garrison Wright vs. Northwestern DL Tyler Lancaster
*Texas Tech LBs Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen vs. TCU RB Kyle Hicks
*Texas LB Malik Jefferson vs. West Virginia RB Justin Crawford
*Baylor LB Taylor Young vs. Iowa State RB David Montgomery
*West Virginia WR Byron Pringle vs. Oklahoma State DB Tre Flowers
*West Virginia OL Kyle Bosch and Matt Jones vs. Texas DL Poona Ford
*Baylor RBs Terence Williams and JaMychal Hasty vs. Iowa State LB Joel Lanning
*Oregon LB Troy Dye vs. Arizona QB Khalil Tate
*Arizona State LBs Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun vs. Oregon State RB Ryan Nall
*Oregon State LB Manase Hungalu vs. Arizona State RBs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard
*UCLA RBs Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo vs. USC LBs Cam Smith and John Houston
*Stanford DL Harrison Philips and LB Bobby Okereke vs. Cal RBs Patrick Laird and Vic Enwere
*Washington OL Coleman Shelton vs. Utah DL Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei
*USC OL Toa Lobendahn vs. UCLA DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
*USC DL Josh Fatu vs. UCLA OL Scott Quessenberry
*Kentucky LBs Courtney Love and Jordan Jones vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
*Arkansas DL McTelvin Agim vs. Mississippi State OL Martinas Rankin
*Tennessee DB Emmanuel Moseley vs. LSU WR D.J. Chark
*Kentucky RB Benny Snell Jr. vs. Georgia LBs Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith
*Vanderbilt DBs Ryan White and Tre Tarpley vs. Missouri WR J’Mon Moore
*Ole Miss OL Greg Little and Rod Taylor vs. Texas A&M DL Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson
*Arkansas DB Josh Liddell vs. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald
*Mississippi State LB Leo Lewis vs. Arkansas RB Devwah Whaley
*Vanderbilt LB Oren Burks vs. Missouri RB Ish Witter
*Texas A&M DB Priest Willis vs. Ole Miss WR DaMarkus Lodge
*Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson and WR Garrett Johnson vs. Georgia DBs Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders
Group of 5
*Temple DBs Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall vs. UCF QB McKenzie Milton and WR Tre’Quan Smith
*Navy LBs D.J. Palmore and Micah Thomas vs. Notre Dame RB Josh Adams
*FIU LBs Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams vs. FAU RB Devin Singletary
*Tulsa RB D’Angelo Brewer vs. USF LB Auggie Sanchez
*USF DB Deatrick Nichols vs. Tulsa WR Justin Hobbs
*Temple QB Frank Nutile vs. UCF LB Shaquem Griffin
*Nevada DL Malik Reed and LB Gabe Sewell vs. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
*SMU DL Justin Lawler vs. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson
*Hawaii DB Trayvon Henderson vs. Utah State QB Kent Myers
*BYU DB Micah Hannemann vs. UMass TE Adam Breneman
*Houston DT Ed Oliver and LB Matthew Adams vs. Tulane QB Jonathan Banks and RB Dontrell Hilliard
*New Mexico DL Garrett Hughes vs. UNLV QB Johnny Stanton
*Memphis DB Jonathan Cook vs. SMU WRs Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn
*Tulsa OL Chandler Miller and Tyler Bowling vs. USF DL Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector
— 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.