We heard all summer about the greatest opening week ever in college football but Week 5 might be as good, or better, with a whopping three games involving top 10 teams. As good as the matchups between the names on the front of the jerseys are this week 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 5:
1. QB Deshaun Watson vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Ok, sure these two won’t be on the field at the same time but they are certainly going head-to-head on Saturday night. It’s easy to say this is a Heisman Trophy elimination battle and the winner has to be considered the favorite to be the most outstanding player in the country.
2. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Washington DB Budda Baker
A Pac-12 title and possibly a College Football Playoff berth are on the line as Friday night lights comes to Montlake, Wash., in a big way this week. McCaffrey remains an all-purpose threat to score every time he touches the ball but he’ll have one of the best athletes in the country trying to stop him in Baker.
3. Toledo RB Kareem Hunt vs. BYU LB Butch Pau’u
Friday night isn’t all about a big Pac-12 game out West as BYU hosts a Toledo team that has designs on a Group of Five bid come December. A big part of that Rockets attack is Hunt, one of the best backs in the country and a load to take down with more than 3,500 career rushing yards. Pau’u has the second-most tackles in a game this season (19) and will have his hands full at home.
4. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement vs. Michigan ATH Jabrill Peppers
Wisconsin has two huge wins under its belt before September is even up but the Badgers are doing it without their normally strong run game (3.9 yards per carry as a team). Clement has started to regain his form from two years ago however and has five touchdowns already against some tough defenses. He’ll be up against one of the best all-around defenders in the country this week though, with Peppers really flying all over the field.
5. Clemson DB Cordrea Tankersley vs. Louisville WR James Quick
Tankersley is one of the best corners in the country and the only member of Clemson’s secondary who didn’t move on to the NFL after last year’s national title run. He has the speed and anticipation to shadow any receiver but will be challenged to stay on Quick no matter what happens with Lamar Jackson’s ability to break out of the pocket and find the receiver down the field.
6. Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage vs. USC LB Cameron Smith
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the only player in FBS to have found the end zone more than Ballage so far this season. He makes the most of every touch he receives and is just a load to bring down at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Smith is one of the bright spots for the Trojans this year and will need to do everything he can against Ballage to prevent a 1-4 start to the season for USC.
7. Tennessee LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin vs. Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Reeves-Maybin is still nursing a shoulder injury but is expected to play this week in a game that could all but wrap up the division title for the Volunteers. With Darrin Kirkland out though, he’ll have a ton of pressure on him to help slow down Chubb (who is dealing with an ankle injury) and limit the Bulldogs’ star to only modest gains and no big plays.
8. Michigan TE Jake Butt vs. Wisconsin LBs T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards
Butt is the go-to target in Michigan’s offense when Wilton Speight drops back to pass and for good reason with his ability to create separation and haul in tough catches. Wisconsin’s linebacker corps is one of the best in all of college football but they’ll have to be aware of the prodigious tight end slipping out more than they are rushing the passer this week.
9. Syracuse WR Amba Etta-Tawo vs. Notre Dame CB Cole Luke
Etta-Tawo is the best receiver in the country nobody is really talking about and is averaging nearly 18 yards a catch. The Maryland transfer is really the beneficiary of Dino Babers’ new offense and he’ll be next in line to test a thin Notre Dame secondary. Luke is about the only experienced hand the Irish have on the back end and won’t be able to take a break on Saturday afternoon.
10. Stanford WR Michael Rector vs. Washington CB Kevin King
It’s a homecoming for Cardinal receiver Rector this week, who grew up in the Seattle area. He was once committed to the Huskies before flipping to Stanford and will be looking to make his last trip home in college a memorable one. King looks to put a stop to that however and the 6-foot-2 corner is going to be a great matchup on Friday night for the speedy Rector.
11. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman vs. Louisville LB Keith Kelsey
Gallman isn’t putting up stats quite as gaudy as he did last season but remains one of the more dangerous ball carriers in the sport with his ability to run between the tackles as well as bust a big gain. Kelsey is one of the most underrated players at his position but a fantastic run-stuffer and will need a big game against Gallman if the Cardinals want to remain undefeated.
12. Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown vs. TCU LB Josh Carraway
Brown is the massive tackle helping protect Baker Mayfield’s blindside, a key thing in a game that could turn into a shootout between a pair of Air Raid offenses. Carraway is an experienced veteran on a very good defensive line that loves to get after the quarterback but he’ll need to get around Brown if the Horned Frogs want to capture a massive Big 12 win on Saturday.
— 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.