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College Football's 10 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 8

Derwin James

Derwin James

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A weekend of upsets has shaken up the college football world and made things very interesting on a number of fronts in Week 8. As great as some of the matchups are this week 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. Florida State DB Derwin James vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

James missed last year’s 63-20 loss against the Cardinals, a romp over a then top-five-ranked Seminoles that contributed heavily to Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy. Both sides are in a much different place from that top-10 matchup but there’s still little question that the two are some of the most dynamic players on either side of the ball and will go head-to-head on Saturday.

2. USC LB Cameron Smith and DL Brandon Pili vs. Notre Dame RB Josh Adams and QB Brandon Wimbush

Adams doesn’t get the press of other Heisman-worthy tailbacks but he could with what he’s done so far this season. Wimbush also is quite the runner and should be itching to get back in action after sitting out with a recent foot injury. Stopping the Irish run game will be priority No. 1 for USC’s defense, which has an All-American in Smith but is going to need young players like Pili to step in the wake of some injuries.

3. Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey vs. USC DL Rasheem Green and LB Uchenna Nwosu

McGlinchey might be the best offensive tackle in the country and he will certainly earn that honor after facing off against some of the pass rushers that are on the Irish’s schedule. This week that includes the pair of Nwosu and Green coming off the edge, who each poses a different problem trying to block.

4. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson vs. Iowa LB Josey Jewell

Jackson gets a little overshadowed with so many great Big Ten backs but he’s still one of the best around and coming off his best game of the year with 171 yards and two scores. Things figure to get a little tougher against the Hawkeyes, as Jewell (right) leads the conference in tackles and knows how to slow down just about every back.

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5. Texas DBs DeShon Elliott, Kris Boyd and Holton Hill vs. Oklahoma State WRs James Washington, Jalen McClesky and Marcell Ateman

The Longhorns don’t get much of a break after facing Baker Mayfield, as they have to turn around and host the other half of Bedlam and OSU’s powerful aerial attack. The Cowboys have the best receiving corps in the country and will pose quite the challenge for the Texas secondary, which may be better posed to than many to play more bump and run.

6. UCF LB Shaquem Griffin, DL Jamiyus Pittman and Tony Guerad vs. Navy QB Zach Abey, RBs Darryl Bonner and Chris High

The Knights are undefeated and primed to secure the Group of 5 bid if they can keep up this impressive early-season run going. They face their most unique challenge this week however, as the Navy option attack is one of the best rushing offenses in all of FBS and extremely tricky to defend. UCF’s defensive leaders are some of the best in the AAC but they will need to make the right decisions on Saturday.

7. Texas LB Malik Jefferson vs. Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill

Everybody focuses on the Cowboys’ passing attack but Hill is one of the best backs in the Big 12 and a threat in all phases of the game. Jefferson is an athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker and he’ll need to keep an eye on Hill on every snap if Texas is to have a chance of grabbing Tom Herman that first big win.

8. Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson and WR A.J. Brown vs. LSU DBs John Battle and Donte Jackson

The Rebels are at or near the top of just about every passing category in the SEC thanks to the deadly combination of Patterson (right) and Brown. If Ole Miss is to pull off a shocker and take down its SEC West rivals though, the Rebels will both need to get past a secondary that shut down Auburn in the second half last week and is very much a “no fly zone” on the back end.

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9. Michigan DL Maurice Hurst, LBs Mike McCray and Devin Bush vs. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

Wolverines’ defensive coordinator Don Brown hopefully has something special saved up in terms of scheme to stop the Heisman Trophy front-runner. No matter what he winds up throwing at the Nittany Lions though, things will very likely come down to the top run defenders on the team making some one-on-one plays and wrapping up the slippery tailback on Saturday night.

10. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, OL Orlando Brown and Ben Powers vs. Kansas State DL Reggie Walker and Will Geary

If you give Mayfield time to make a play, chances are you’re toast as a defense. Looking to make sure that doesn’t happen is the stout combo of Walker and Geary. Both have a terrific arsenal of power rush moves that make them difficult to handle and they will certainly be a load to block for a Sooners line that is searching for consistency.

Best of the Rest


*North Carolina DBs M.J. Stewart, Myles Dorn and Donnie Miles vs. Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson and WR Cam Phillips

*Duke QB Daniel Jones vs. Pitt DB Jordan Whitehead

*Virginia LB Micah Kiser vs. Boston College RB A.J. Dillon

*Miami DBs Dee Delaney and Sheldrick Redwine vs. Syracuse WRs Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips

*Florida State WRs Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray vs. Louisville DBs Jaire Alexander, Trumaine Washington and Chucky Williams

*Louisville RB Reggie Bonnafon vs. Florida State LBs Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matthew Thomas

*Georgia Tech OL Will Bryan vs. Wake Forest DL Duke Ejiofor

*Florida State OL Derrick Kelly and Rick Leonard vs. Louisville DL Trevon Young and James Hearns

*Louisville OL Geron Christian vs. Florida State DL Brian Burns

*Syracuse LB Zaire Franklin vs. Miami RB Travis Homer

Big 12

*Oklahoma DB Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker vs. Kansas State WRs Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber

*Texas Tech DBs Octacious Morgan and Jah’Shawn Johnson vs. Iowa State WR Allen Lazard

*Iowa State RB David Montgomery vs. Texas Tech LBs Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen

*Oklahoma LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. Kansas State QBs Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton

*Iowa State DB Kamari Cotton-Moya vs. Texas Tech QB Nic Shimonek

*Kansas State DBs D.J. Reed and Kendall Adams vs. Oklahoma WRs CeeDee Lamb and Jeff Badet

*Texas WR Collin Johnson vs. Oklahoma State DB Tre Flowers

*Kansas WR Steven Sims vs. TCU DB Ranthony Texada

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Big Ten

*Michigan RBs Chris Evans and Ty Isaac vs. Penn State LB Jason Cabinda

*Wisconsin DBs Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon vs. Maryland WR D.J. Moore

*Indiana LB Tegray Scales vs. Michigan State RBs L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London

*Maryland LB Jermaine Carter vs. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

*Northwestern DL Tyler Lancaster vs. Iowa OL Sean Welsh

*Illinois LB Tre Watson vs. Minnesota RB Rodney Smith


*Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini vs. USC RB Ronald Jones II

*Colorado RB Phillip Lindsay vs. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Isaac Dotson

*USC DBs Iman Marshall and Chris Hawkins vs. Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown and TE Durham Smythe

*USC OL Toa Lobendahn and Nico Falah vs. Notre Dame DL Daelin Hayes and Jerry Tillery

*Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Colorado DBs Isaiah Oliver, Evan Worthington and Afolabi Laguda

*UCLA LB Kenny Young and Lokeni Toailoa vs. Oregon RBs Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit

*Utah DBs Chase Hansen and Marquise Blair vs. Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry and RB Kallen Ballage

*Arizona State LBs D.J. Calhoun and Christian Sam vs. Utah RB Zach Moss

*Oregon DBs Tyree Robinson and Arrion Springs vs. UCLA QB Josh Rosen and WR Darren Andrews

*Utah LBs David Luafatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli vs. Arizona State RB Demario Richard


*Kentucky LB Courtney Love vs. Mississippi State RB Aeris Williams

*Ole Miss OL Greg Little vs. LSU DL Christian LaCouture and LB Arden Key

*Ole Miss DL Marquis Haynes vs. LSU OL K.J. Malone

*Tennessee WR Marquez Callaway and TE Ethan Wolf vs. Alabama DBs Tony Brown, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison

*Kentucky OL Nick Haynes and RB Benny Snell vs. Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons and LB Leo Lewis

*Auburn OL Austin Golson vs. Arkansas DL McTelvin Agim

*Tennessee OL Jashon Robertson and Brett Kendrick vs. Alabama DL Da’Ron Payne

*Arkansas RB Devwah Whaley vs. Auburn LB Tre’ Williams

*Tennessee DBs Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley vs. Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster

Group of 5

*Houston DB Garrett Davis vs. Memphis WR Anthony Miller

*USF DL Deadrin Senat and LB Auggie Sanchez vs. Tulane RB Dontrell Hilliard

*Wyoming DB Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps vs. Boise State TE Jake Roh and WR Cedrick Wilson

*Memphis OL Gabe Kuhn vs. Houston DL Ed Oliver

*Nevada DL Malik Reed and LB Gabe Sewell vs. Air Force QB Arion Worthman and RB Tim McVey

*East Carolina WRs Davon Grayson  and Jimmy Williams vs. BYU DBs Troy Warner and Micah Hannemann

*Colorado State LB Josh Watson vs. New Mexico RBs Tyrone Owens and Richard McQuarley

— 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.