The non-conference slate for most teams concludes this week while conference play begins for several others, giving us an interesting mix of college football games across the country. While none of the matchups are quite to the level of last week’s bonanza, the number of teams to tune in and watch is still lengthy.
As good as the on-field action might be this week though, the games within the game are just as good — if not better. It’s pretty incredible that for all the big-time matchups taking place, some of the one-on-one battles between players are truly must-see television for every college football fan, coach and NFL scout this week.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side:
1. Clemson defense vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson recorded 457 yards and three touchdowns against a Tigers defense that won the national title last season. The Heisman Trophy winner is back and even better than ever so it’s going to be all hands on deck for Brent Venables’ unit once again. That means defensive linemen like Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence need to not only beat a Cardinals offensive lineman but also then worry about keeping contain on the quarterback. Linebackers like Dorian O’Daniel have to not only cover the field in zone coverage situations but also bring down the QB in the open field. Finally, guys in the back end like Trayvon Mullen and Tanner Muse need to not only worry about the wideouts getting open to catch a pass, but also staying on top of them as Jackson buys extra time with his legs. This will be fun.
2. Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey vs. Boston College DE Harold Landry
While college football fans are pumped for the No. 1 matchup on this list, NFL scouts are way more excited for this one. McGlinchey handled the Georgia front seven well last week and this Saturday gets a chance to further enhance his credentials as the potential top tackle in the draft by going up against Landry, maybe the best individual pass rusher in the sport.
3. Texas DT Poona Ford and LB Malik Jefferson vs. USC RBs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr
Texas is hoping for a repeat of that memorable Rose Bowl win a decade ago this Saturday but if the Longhorns are to pull the upset off this time around, they’ll need an equally impressive defensive performance in stopping USC’s latest version of Thunder and Lightning. There’s already been a little bit of trash talk going on between Jefferson and Jones, two highly recruited Lone Star State products, so this has plenty of potential to get a little chippy.
4. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald and OT Martinas Rankin vs. LSU EDGE Arden Key and DE Christian LaCouture
Fitzgerald is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the SEC and his left tackle could be a potential first-rounder in the spring. They’ll need to bring their A-Games against an LSU defense that has been one of the statistical best in the country early in the year. The biggest obstacle for the Bulldogs? The best pass rusher in the league, Key, is finally healthy and ready to take his first snaps of 2017.
5. BYU LBs Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u and DB Micah Hannemann vs. Wisconsin RBs Bradrick Shaw, Jonathan Taylor and TE Troy Fumagalli
The Cougars have limped to a 1-2 start to begin the year but their defense is still playing very solid. That group will be tested when the Badgers roll in to town however as they once again has a quality ground game behind their young tailbacks. BYU also must deal with top receiving threat Fumagalli over the middle as well.
6. Michigan DL Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary vs. Air Force QB Arion Worthman and RB Tim McVey
Wolverines’ defensive coordinator Don Brown is one of the best around but even he might be sweating the fact that he has to get his team ready for the Falcons’ unique option offense in just a week. Worthman has never lost as a starter at Air Force and is the triggerman teaming up with an equally impressive downhill runner in McVey. While Hurst and Gary are two of the top defensive linemen in all of college football, they’ll have to know their assignments and maintain their gaps to slow down their opponents at the Big House.
7. Colorado State QB Nick Stevens and WR Michael Gallup vs. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tony Brown
Stevens and Gallup are both potential first-team All-Mountain West picks this year for a Rams team that can put up points in a hurry no matter the opponent. Things might be a little bit different this week with the trip to Tuscaloosa and going up against the best secondary in the SEC (if not the nation) but it will be fascinating to see what they can do against the big boys of Nick Saban’s secondary.
8. Pitt WR Quadree Henderson vs. Oklahoma State DBs Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards
Everybody is focusing on how Pitt can stop the Oklahoma State receiving corps but an equally pressing issue in this great non-conference matchup is how well the Cowboys can slow down the electric Henderson, who can quickly make a man miss. The Panthers’ passing game hasn’t looked stellar so far this season but that doesn’t mean that their star wideout isn’t extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands.
9. Texas RB Chris Warren vs. USC LB Cameron Smith
It goes without saying that the running game will be extremely important when the Trojans and Longhorns face off and Texas head coach Tom Herman figures to lean heavily on his top tailback Saturday night as the team potentially starts a true freshman on the road at quarterback. Warren is one of the bigger players at his position (while still being fast enough to out-run defenders) but he’ll have his work cut out for him in trying to get past Smith, an All-American candidate who is one of the best at blowing up running lanes.
10. Stanford LB Peter Kalambayi and DL Harrison Phillips vs. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
The Cardinal allowed more than 300 yards rushing in their last game but things don’t get much easier this week when they return to Southern California to face the Aztecs. All Penny did against Arizona State’s normally solid run defense was rush for 216 yards on just 18 carries (he totaled 353 all-purpose yards after a 99-yard kick return for good measure). While Phillips will need to worry about stopping the tailback at the line, Kalambayi will need to keep track of Penny when he goes out for a pass as well.
Best of the rest:
Kansas State LB Trent Tanking and DL Reggie Walker vs. Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb
Oregon LB Troy Dye and DB Arrion Springs vs. Wyoming QB Josh Allen
UCLA DBs Nate Meadors and Jaleel Wadood vs. Memphis WR Anthony Miller
Florida DBs Duke Dawson and Nick Washington vs. Tennessee WR Marquez Callaway
BYU RB Squally Canada vs. Wisconsin LBs T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly
Texas OT Connor Williams vs. USC LB Uchenna Nwosu and DL Rasheem Green
Kentucky DB Mike Edwards vs. South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel
BYU DL Sione Takitaki and Corbin Kaufusi vs. Wisconsin OL Michael Deiter and David Edwards
— 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.