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College Football's 12 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 3

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Week 3 of the 2016 college football season means the we’re on the last legs of the big non-conference games and the slate does not disappoint when it comes to fantastic matchups. As good as the games between the names on the front of the jerseys are on Saturday though; the one-on-one battles between the names on the back of them might be 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 3:

1. Oklahoma RBs Samaje Perine/Joe Mixon vs. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan

When Oklahoma was rolling last season, the Sooners were doing so because of their power run game behind two of the best backs in college football in Perine and Mixon. They’ll need a huge game to come out on top against Ohio State but it won’t be easy against a Butkus Award finalist in McMillan.

2. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham

On a weekend full of great games, this one is going to fly under the radar given that it pits two mediocre teams against each other. This position battle doesn’t however, as Thomas tries to lead the triple option against the stingy defense that Cunningham, a tackling machine, is in charge of. This one-on-one is for the old school purists of the game to be sure.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Louisville LB Keith Kelsey

Cook hasn’t gotten going on the ground quite like he did a season ago but he’s become a much more complete back as a big component of the Seminoles’ passing game. It will be up to the underrated Kelsey to slow him down in both phases of Louisville’s big test on Saturday.

4. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley vs. Ole Miss CB Tony Conner

Ridley had a big game against Western Kentucky but things get much tougher in the Crimson Tide’s SEC opener on Saturday. Conner still doesn’t seem 100 percent recovered from a knee injury, but the senior will still present a big challenge if he’s tested in the passing game.

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5. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey vs. USC LB Cameron Smith

The last time McCaffrey played USC, he racked up 461 all-purpose yards. Smith wasn’t involved in that game and was limited earlier in the year when the two met up but he should play a big part in this matchup. If the Trojans have a prayer, they’ll need their top linebacker to shutdown running lanes in the middle of the field and wrap up McCaffrey.

6. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Florida State DE DeMarcus Walker

Had FSU safety Derwin James been healthy and playing in this contest, his chess match with Jackson likely would have been No. 1 on this list. With James out though, the pressure is on Walker to come through big on Saturday by both pressuring Jackson when he drops back in the pocket and also containing him when he takes off running.

7. Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly vs. Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick forced a fumble on a kickoff last week and played a big role in helping limit USC’s dangerous receivers during the Crimson Tide’s opener. The Alabama secondary will be tested by Kelly for the second season in the row, as the quarterback has some very good receivers to target and loves to take shots down the field.

8. Michigan State RB L.J. Scott/Madre London vs. Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan

The run game is the backbone of the Spartans’ offense and both Scott and London will need to be on the top of their games if they want to pull off a win in South Bend. Morgan has been a productive cog in the Fighting Irish defense but will need to be at his best in order to slow down MSU’s backfield combo.

9. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis

The season-opening loss to Houston may have dampened Mayfield’s shine as a star quarterback but he has a chance for redemption on the big stage Saturday. It will be up to Lewis to cause havoc in the passing game as well as limit Mayfield’s ability to scramble in and out of the pocket.

10. Colorado QB Sefo Liufau vs. Michigan ATH Jabrill Peppers

This is the first game of the year where Michigan will play a team with a pulse and the Wolverines are likely to get tested early by an improving Colorado team. Liufau is off to his best start in years and the veteran signal-caller poses problems with his arm and his legs. Peppers will play a variety of roles and line up all over the field as Don Brown’s defense looks to contain the Buffaloes’ Air Raid offense.

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11. Oregon RB Royce Freeman vs. Nebraska LB Josh Banderas

Freeman is one of the best backs in the country and he’ll have plenty of eyes on him for Oregon’s big non-conference test on Saturday. Whether it’s up the middle or in pursuit, Banderas will have his hands full against Freeman and the Ducks’ quick tempo.

12. Texas A&M OT Avery Gennesy vs. Auburn DE Carl Lawson

This battle is going a bit under the radar but it will be quite revealing as to where each team stands in the pecking order of the SEC West. Gennesy is one of the few Aggie linemen with any experience and he’ll have his hands full with a prolific edge rusher in Lawson.

— 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.