After a thrilling Week 3 brought us half a dozen wild finishes and some big-time upsets, the upcoming weekend in college football promises to be even better for fans across the country as conference play begins in earnest just about everywhere. As great as some of the matchups 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. NC State HB Jaylen Samuels vs. Florida State DB Derwin James
Wolfpack star Samuels is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in college football given his ability to score on the ground and through the air. He’s extremely dangerous on the perimeter and is the one player you have to keep track of on every snap. His foil this week though? Only the most versatile defensive player in the country in James, who will need to provide run support as much as he tries to prevent big plays in the passing game.
2. Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt vs. Boston College DL Harold Landry
Clemson’s left tackle didn’t allow a sack last year. Boston College’s star pass rusher led the nation in that category with 16.5 in 2016. They’ll meet for perhaps the lone reason to tune into the Tigers taking on the Eagles this Saturday. Landry has only one sack on the season and was kept in check by Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey so you know he’ll want to bounce back and prove himself against one of the best.
3. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald and RB Aeris Williams vs. Georgia LBs Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and DB Dominick Sanders
The Bulldogs (MSU edition) might be the most intriguing team in the country after upsetting LSU and we’ll find out if dual-threat star Fitzgerald and his running mate Williams are for real when they travel to Athens. The pair didn’t have much trouble rolling over Dave Aranda’s defense last week but will need their A game against one of the best front sevens in the country and a pretty stingy secondary.
4. Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Jewell (right) is a tackling machine for the Hawkeyes and was a finalist for the Butkus Award a year ago. He’ll face one of the biggest challenges of his career at home on Saturday though as Heisman Trophy candidate Barkley rolls into town. The Nittany Lions’ star isn’t just a threat to break one off on a run between the tackles though, as he’s equally dangerous out of the backfield and in the screen game.
5. TCU DBs Ranthony Texada, Nick Orr, Ridwan Issahaku and Niko Small vs. Oklahoma State WRs James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and Tyron Johnson
OSU has what most consider to be the best group of wide receivers in the country and a Heisman Trophy favorite lobbing them the ball in Mason Rudolph. They’ll face their stiffest test yet though as TCU’s secondary is good, experienced and extremely deep. The Horned Frogs held SMU star Courtland Sutton to just one catch last week but will face a much more difficult challenge in Washington and company.
6. Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb vs. Alabama LB Shaun Dion Hamilton
The Commodores’ defense gets most of the love in talking up their recent run but don’t overlook Webb’s part in this, sometimes carrying his squad to victory with some hard runs every week. As luck would have it, he can move past former Alabama stars Shaun Alexander and Derrick Henry on the SEC’s career rushing list if he can top the century mark against the Crimson Tide. Looking to prevent that though is one of the best linebackers in the league in the run-stuffing Hamilton.
7. Stanford DBs Quenton Meeks, Alijah Holder and Justin Reid vs. UCLA QB Josh Rosen, WRs Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley
It was a rough week for both of these Pac-12 powers after suffering road losses, which means both will be extra motivated to take home a win in their annual intra-California matchup. Rosen (right) and his receivers have been among the best in the country (Andrews’ six TDs are tops in the FBS) but will be going up against one of the best secondaries on the West Coast. Meeks is a potential first-round corner for the Cardinal and his running mates are All-Pac-12 caliber too.
8. Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons and LBs Leo Lewis and Dezmond Harris vs. Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
It’s safe to say that whoever stops the run in the battle of the Bulldogs will be the ones to emerge with a victory this weekend. Key for Mississippi State’s aggressive defense is to get their young stars like Simmons and Lewis ready for UGA’s one-two punch of Chubb and Michel.
9. Arkansas QB Austin Allen vs. Texas A&M DB Armani Watts
Allen might be the best pure passer in the SEC and will need a big-time performance at JerryWorld in order to grab that first conference win of the season. He’ll have to avoid the playmaker in Watts roaming center field however as the safety is an absolute ball hawk and one of the few bright spots in Aggieland.
10. Colorado DL Chris Mulumba vs. Washington OT Trey Adams
Adams is one of the best tackles in the country and could be the first one taken in the draft next spring. He’ll have his hands full though in a championship game rematch with the Buffaloes and one of the most athletic defensive ends in the Pac-12. Mulumba, who arrived in Boulder by way of Finland, is a former wrestler and national judo champion so he definitely knows about fighting a one-on-one battle using leverage and quickness.
Best of the rest:
*Oklahoma State DBs Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards vs. TCU QB Kenny Hill and WR KaVontae Turpin
*Penn State LB Jason Cabinda vs. Iowa RB Akrum Wadley
*Purdue C Kirk Barron vs. Michigan DL Maurice Hurst Jr.
*Notre Dame LBs Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini vs. Michigan State RBs LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London
*Florida State OL Derrick Kelly II, Landon Dickerson, Alec Eberle, Cole Minshew and Rick Leonard vs. NC State DL Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street
*Colorado QB Steven Montez, RB Phillip Lindsay, WRs Bryce Bobo and Shay Fields vs. Washington LBs Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria and DBs Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh
*Oregon LB Troy Dye and DL Scott Pagano vs. Arizona State RBs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard
*Arizona State DL Tashon Smallwood, LBs Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun vs. Oregon RBs Royce Freeman, Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit
*Arizona RBs Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor vs. Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei and LB David Luafatassaga
*Missouri RB Damarea Crockett and WR J’Mon Moore vs. Auburn LB Tre Williams and DB Tray Matthews
*Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson and RB Benny Snell vs. Florida DL Cece Jefferson, Taven Bryan and Jabari Zuniga
— 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.