There have been some stellar matchups throughout the college football season but we’re entering the home stretch for many conference title races around the country so this week’s action might mean just a little bit more between the lines. While there are a ton of interesting games from coast-to-coast between the names on the front of the jerseys, it’s the one-on-ones between the names on the back of the jerseys that are even juicier.
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 Week 12:
1. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey vs. Wyoming RB Brian Hill
These two won’t face off against each other at the same time but it’s hard to overlook the rare opportunity to catch the No. 1 and No. 3 rushers in all of FBS in the same game. Add in likely Group of Five bid implications and this Mountain West showdown is certainly worth tuning in to see what these terrific tailbacks can do.
2. USC OT Zach Banner vs. UCLA DL Takkarist McKinley
UCLA is one of the most disappointing teams in the country but the team’s defense has still played remarkably well up front in part because McKinley — No. 2 in the nation in sacks — has been just about everywhere when you flip on the film. It should be fun to see him square off against USC and a mammoth offensive tackle like Banner, who is hoping to give young quarterback Sam Darnold plenty of time to pick apart the Trojans’ crosstown rival.
3. Florida WR Antonio Callaway vs. LSU CB Tre’Davious White
This week’s LSU/Florida matchup also features two ex-Purdue quarterbacks and multiple first-round defensive backs — probably not a great combination. Still, Callaway is the top threat in the passing game for the Gators and a game-breaker as a returner. He’ll have his hands full trying to get past White, who also can take a punt to the house.
4. Houston LBs Matthew Adams and Steven Taylor vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (Thurs.)
Lamar Jackson is about as close as you can get to being a lock for the Heisman Trophy but he has one last test left in a mid-week classic at Houston. Trying to prevent him from putting up big numbers and getting a win that could impress the CFP Selection Committee is the Cougars’ linebacker duo of Adams and Taylor.
5. Colorado DBs Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson vs. Washington State QB Luke Falk and WR Gabe Marks
If you’re looking for why Colorado has suddenly ascended into the top 10 and is a Pac-12 title contender, look no further than the Buffaloes’ huge jump up on defense, led in part by their secondary. This group will have its hands full though as Falk and Marks are one of the best QB-WR tandems in the Pac-12.
6. Virginia Tech DE Ken Ekanem vs. Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey
There’s not a ton left for Notre Dame to play for but you can bet the Irish want to extend their hopes at getting to a bowl game by closing out the home schedule with a win against Virginia Tech. McGlinchey returned to South Bend in part for battles like this one against Ekanem, who is tied for the team lead in sacks and is a terror off the edge.
7. West Virginia DB Rasul Douglas vs. Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook
Westbrook has led an all-out assault on Big 12 defenses the past two months and turned himself into the Biletnikoff Award favorite as a result. He’ll have more trouble than usual against the Mountaineers’ stingy pass defense however, who will have Douglas looking to prevent any sort of big play.
8. Washington LB Keishawn Bierria, DBs Budda Baker and Sidney Jones vs. Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage, WRs Tim White and N’Keal Harry
It has not been a great season for Arizona State but the Sun Devils’ offense can still produce points in a hurry with their trio of big-play threats. They’ll be tested against a Washington defense that is the best in the Pac-12 but is looking to regroup after the Huskies’ first loss of the season.
9. Louisville LB Devonte Fields and CB Jaire Alexander vs. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. (Thurs.)
Alexander has five interceptions on the season and really made the jump as one of the ACC’s best cornerbacks this season. He’ll team up with Fields, who has five sacks as the best pass rusher on the team, to try and help contain the Cougars’ dual-threat quarterback looking for another top-five win.
10. Michigan State RB LJ Scott vs. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan
It’s been miserable in East Lansing this season as the Spartans have gone from a College Football Playoff participant to out of the postseason in just one year. Scott has had to grind for yards even more than usual as a result of the team’s offensive struggles and if the Spartans harbor any hope of pulling off an improbable upset for the second season in a row, he’ll need to break off some big plays past the Buckeyes’ tackling machine.
11. Cal WR Chad Hansen vs. Stanford DB Quenton Meeks
Meeks is in the running for one of the best cornerbacks west of the Mississippi but faces one of his biggest tests since returning from injury this week in the annual Big Game against Cal. Hansen also has been slowed by injuries this season but is still one of the best in the Pac-12 at route running and making tough catches in traffic.
12. West Virginia DE Noble Nwachukwu vs. Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown
Nwachukwu missed West Virginia’s game at Texas with a leg injury but should be good to go this week for the team’s big showdown with Oklahoma. The Mountaineers’ defense doesn’t get a ton of pressure via the blitz so they’ll need for their star end to find a way around Oklahoma’s stone wall of a tackle in Brown.
— 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.