We’re hitting the home stretch of the college football bowl season and with 2017 quickly approaching, that means it is almost time for the New Year’s Six games. As good as some of the games look on paper however, some of the one-on-ones between the names on the back of the jerseys are even juicier than the ones on the front.
Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 12 of the best position vs. position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side heading into the four non-semifinal New Year’s Six bowls:
1. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers vs. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook (Orange Bowl)
Two of the best players in all of college football take center stage in the Orange Bowl as this pair of all-conference players clash in a marquee matchup. Cook is not only a dangerous runner but also has turned into a very good receiver this season and will likely be shadowed all over the field by Peppers, who could see action on offense and special teams himself, and will need a big outing to slow down the Seminoles’ star.
2. Wisconsin DB Sojourn Shelton vs. Western Michigan WR Corey Davis (Cotton Bowl)
Davis turned in his best season yet in leading the Broncos to an undefeated record and berth in the Cotton Bowl, earning MAC Offensive Player of the Year and a host of first team All-American honors. He’ll be tested on the big stage by one of the Big Ten’s best corners in Shelton, who wouldn’t mind boosting his own draft stock with a strong showing in an NFL stadium.
3. Florida State WRs Travis Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield vs. Michigan DBs Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling and Delano Hill (Orange Bowl)
Rudolph is FSU’s leading receiver for the second straight season and developed a nice chemistry down the stretch with new quarterback Deondre Francois. He teams up with Whitfield the speedster to pace the Seminoles’ passing game, which will have a tough time getting much done downfield with the Wolverines’ defensive backs all among the best in the country at their position and a true lockdown group.
4. USC LB Cameron Smith and DL Stevie Tu’ikolovatu vs. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley (Rose Bowl)
Smith is a tackling machine in the middle of the USC defense and leads the Trojans in stops as he and Tu’ikolovatu shut down just about every running lane thrown their way in the second half of the season. They’ll be tested by Barkley, a terrific tailback who earned numerous Big Ten honors after powering the Nittany Lions to the conference title.
5. Penn State QB Trace McSorley and WR Chris Godwin vs. USC DB Adoree’ Jackson (Rose Bowl)
The Nittany Lions’ offense underwent an impressive transformation this season and has become one of the most explosive in the country thanks to the potent combination of McSorley and Godwin hitting big plays down the field. They’ll have their work cut out for them trying to get past Jackson, who took home Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and won the Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the country.
6. Michigan OL Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden vs. Florida State DL DeMarcus Walker, Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas (Orange Bowl)
If you’re looking for a great battle in the trenches, look no further than some of the big bodies out of the Midwest taking on the speed and power of the South in the Orange Bowl. Just about every member of the Wolverines’ offensive line won some All-Big Ten recognition but they’ll face the best defensive line they’ve seen in the bowl game with the incredible Seminoles’ pass rush looking to pull off the upset.
7. Oklahoma LB Jordan Evans and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. Auburn RBs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson and QB Sean White (Sugar Bowl)
The Sugar Bowl isn’t getting the attention of the rest of the New Year’s Six due to the records of the two teams involved but don’t sleep on this fantastic matchup. Evans is great against the run and can go sideline-to-sideline while Okoronwko is a terror coming off the edge. They’ll need a top-notch effort in New Orleans if they want to slow down the Tigers’ tough trio in the backfield that can pound you for big yards on the ground or slip out for some big plays in the passing game too.
8. Penn State DL Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan vs. USC OT Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler (Rose Bowl)
The Nittany Lions’ defense hasn’t skipped much of a beat from last year thanks in part to a pair of defensive ends who are quickly becoming a terror for everybody they face. Both Sickels and Schwan have recorded six sacks this year and are the headliners of a quality rotation up front for PSU. Looking to slow them down is the Trojans’ top tackle duo of Banner and Wheeler, who started the year slow but have picked up their play significantly and kept QB Sam Darnold upright in impressive fashion.
9. Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell and RBs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan vs. Wisconsin LBs T.J. Watt, T.J. Edwards and Vince Biegel (Cotton Bowl)
Corey Davis gets all of the attention on the WMU offense but the triggerman in Terrell is one of the best in the country behind center and has a pair of tailbacks who would start just about everywhere else in Franklin and Bogan. The trio has combined for 26 touchdowns on the ground in addition to impressing in the passing game. It should be quite a fun matchup to see them go up against one of the best linebacker corps in the country, headlined by the young Watt brother and a tackling machine like Biegel.
10. Florida State OL Roderick Johnson, Brock Ruble and Kareem Are vs. Michigan DL Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow (Orange Bowl)
Michigan has some of the best defensive numbers in the country and the reason for that all starts up front with their veteran group of linemen. Whether it’s Charlton coming off the edge or Glasgow blowing up a run lane in the middle, Wolverines coordinator Don Brown has plenty of options to shut down a defense. That’s why the offensive line play for FSU will be huge in the Orange Bowl, because this group has been a big reason why the Seminoles have rolled big down the stretch after struggling early.
11. Auburn DL Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and LB Deshaun Davis vs. Oklahoma OL Orlando Brown and Dru Samia, RBs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine (Sugar Bowl)
Lawson and Adams are two of the best defensive linemen in the country and played key roles in Auburn’s defensive resurgence during the 2016 season. Each will need to be at their best in New Orleans because Oklahoma’s stud offensive line has done a fantastic job paving the way for the best tailback tandem in all of the FBS.
12. Florida State DBs Tarvarus McFadden and Marquez White vs. Michigan WRs Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson
McFadden has had an incredible season out on an island at cornerback and has hauled in a whopping eight interceptions to become one of the best defensive backs in the country. The All-American and his secondary partner will need to bring their best down in South Florida as Darboh and Chesson are two of the best receivers at breaking open downfield for big plays.
Best of the rest:
Auburn DBs Joshua Holsey, Tray Matthews and Carlton Davis vs. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and WR Dede Westbrook (Sugar Bowl)
Penn State DB Marcus Allen vs. USC WR Juju Smith-Schuster (Rose Bowl)
Florida State DB Trey Marshall and LB Matthew Thomas vs. Michigan TE Jake Butt (Orange Bowl)
Penn State LB Jason Cabinda vs. USB RB Ronald Jones III (Rose Bowl)
— 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.