Skip to main content

College Football's 15 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 1

Image placeholder title

College football is back in our lives and judging by the Week 1 schedule, better than ever. This year’s slate has just about everything you can want, from blue blood matchups to intriguing meetings of schools from vastly different parts of the country. There’s even what some are calling the best opening game ever down in Atlanta between a pair of top-three teams who will be contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

As good as the on-field action might be this week though, the games within the game are just as good — if not better. It’s pretty incredible that for all the big-time matchups taking place across the country, some of the one-on-one battles between players are truly must-see television for every college football fan, coach and NFL scout this week.

With that in mind, here are the 15 best position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side:

1. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Florida State S Derwin James

The season’s biggest game might come in Week 1 when a pair of powerhouse programs and title-winning head coaches meets under the lights at the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. While it’s hard to narrow down the biggest matchups in the game to just a few, the headliner of the bunch is undoubtedly the one pitting James, perhaps the best defensive player in the game right now, against a dual-threat star in Hurts that should be even better as a sophomore leading the Crimson Tide. Chances are the FSU safety will be all over the field making plays and trying to slow down Alabama’s quarterback no matter what he decides to do with the ball.

2. Florida State RBs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers vs. Alabama LBs Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans

The Seminoles return a lot from last year’s Orange Bowl-winning squad but the biggest piece missing on offense is Dalvin Cook at running back. Looking to shoulder the load in his place will be a pair of talented backs who have high hopes of exceeding expectations in 2017. Patrick is a bit of a known quality and figures to get most of the snaps against such a good defense but every Seminoles fan is excited to see what Akers, a five-star freshman, can do with a few carries too. FSU will have to be able to establish the run if they want any chance of beating the Tide but that won’t exactly be a walk in the park given how good Hamilton and Evans are at stuffing tailbacks in the backfield.

3. UCLA QB Josh Rosen vs. Texas A&M S Armani Watts

The return of a healthy Rosen to the starting lineup is one reason many expect a turnaround to take place at UCLA after a disastrous 2016 campaign. The Bruins won’t be able to ease into the year however, not with a talented Texas A&M team coming to the Rose Bowl. It will be interesting to see just how strong Rosen’s arm is after surgery and how he fits into a new offense under coordinator Jedd Fisch. Looking to make life miserable will be Watts, a safety that will line up all over the field and will be looking to start 2017 off with an interception or two off a projected first-round pick.

4. Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster vs. Florida State DBs Tarvarus McFadden and Trey Marshall

Ridley burst onto the scene for Alabama when they won the national title two years ago as a big-play threat and many around the program believe he can return to that kind of form in what is likely his final season in Tuscaloosa. Running mate Foster has all the potential in the world and it’s time for the senior to live up to it as he is expected to shoulder even more of the load in the passing game. What gets tricky in the opener is that each will be going up against the terrific duo of McFadden at corner and Marshall at safety. The latter will sit out the first half on Saturday due to a targeting penalty in the Orange Bowl, putting a little more pressure on the Seminoles’ secondary in this juicy matchup.

5. LSU RB Derrius Guice vs. BYU LBs Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u

BYU figured to be a significant underdog to a talented team like LSU coming into the week and that will likely grow even more as the game is transplanted to New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Harvey. If the Cougars are to stand any chance of pulling off a shocking upset of the Tigers in their backyard, things will likely start and end with slowing down the ground game. Warner and Pau’u are two of the best linebackers out West but they will have their hands full trying to stop a Heisman Trophy candidate in Guice.

247Sports Names Most Irreplaceable College Football Players

6. Florida State QB Deondre Francois and WRs Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray vs. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick, Anthony Averett and Tony Brown

There are not a ton of question marks that Nick Saban has had to answer the past few years about his team but youth in the secondary has occasionally been brought up. Not so this year, as the Crimson Tide have one of the best groups of defensive backs in the country with a ton of experience containing facing some top-notch passing attacks. That will be the challenge facing Francois and his talented corps of receivers on each and every snap as they try to knock off Alabama.

7. Florida offensive line vs. Michigan DL Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst

Jim McElwain has said on several occasions over the past few months that the Gators’ offensive line will be the strength of the team this year. Well, we’ll find out really quickly if that is to be the case as Florida takes on a Michigan defense that is loaded with guys up front who NFL scouts are already drooling over. Leading the way in the trenches are Gary and Hurst, both big guys that also possess athleticism that just jumps off the tape. The Gators’ offense will already be without some key playmakers and will have a redshirt freshman starting at QB. If the offensive line can’t keep the Wolverines out of the backfield, it could be a long day in Arlington for McElwain and company.

8. West Virginia QB Will Grier and WRs Ka’Raun White, Gary Jennings and David Sills vs. Virginia Tech DBs Adonis Alexander, Greg Stroman, Terrell Edmunds and Brandon Facyson

There’s so much intrigue surrounding the two Sunday night games of Week 1 and the East Coast half of the double-header presents a fascinating matchup of Bud Foster’s lockdown secondary against Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid. Grier, a Florida transfer, is taking over at quarterback for the Mountaineers and will be facing a tough return to college football going up against this bunch. White, Jennings and Stills all have plenty of athleticism to make a defender miss in the open field but coming down with the ball in the first place will be the bigger challenge.

Image placeholder title
Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

9. Florida State OL Derrick Kelly II and Alec Eberle vs. Alabama DL Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne

If there has been one flaw that has plagued the Seminoles the past few seasons, it’s been offensive line play. It goes without saying the big guys up front will play a pivotal role in determining whether FSU can live up to expectations and make it to the College Football Playoff like many are predicting. We’ll know quickly if they’re up to the test as the combo of Hand off the edge and Payne in the interior is one of the best in college football and a defensive line that will give anybody issues. If Kelly and Eberle can hold their ground against Alabama, FSU will certainly have a shot in Atlanta and beyond.

10. Michigan OLs Mason Cole, Ben Bredeson and Patrick Kugler vs. Florida DLs CeCe Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga and Taven Bryan

Michigan lost several nail bitters at the end of last year and the play of the offensive line in keeping pressure out of the backfield was one area many saw room for improvement in. The opener presents a big-time challenge that the team likely won’t see again until the Ohio State game as Jefferson and Zuniga are trouble coming off the edge and Bryan is expected to be a load to handle in the middle of the defense. Cole will lead a relatively unexperienced group for the Wolverines but the unit is certainly not without talent.

11. Alabama RBs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris plus Alabama OL Bradley Bozeman and Ross Pierschbacher vs. Florida State DL Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nandi plus LB Ro’Derrick Hoskins

It would be a pretty easy argument to say Alabama has the best backfield in the country and depth is one reason why. Even after Scarbrough and Harris, a number of Tide players can rack up yards behind a mammoth offensive line up front that is led by Bozeman and company. As good as they are though, so too is the defense they’re facing off against in Atlanta. The group running up the spine of FSU’s unit is stout to say the least and will be able to limit just about every running lane to make yards hard to come by.

12. Western Michigan RBs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan vs. USB LB Cam Smith

USC QB Sam Darnold is everybody’s preseason darling but his opposite number on defense for the Trojans isn’t too shabby either. Smith will have his hands full against the the defending MAC champions, and will need to shut down the Broncos’ talented backfield duo in order to prevent an upset at the Coliseum.

13. Appalachian State QB Taylor Lamb and RB Jalin Moore vs. Georgia DB Dominick Sanders and LB Roquan Smith

Ten years after Appalachian State took down Michigan in one of college football’s biggest upsets, can the Mountaineers do it again between the hedges? Lamb is a talented QB who knows what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with SEC defenses and Moore is a terrific back who rushed for 1,400 yards despite splitting time. The Bulldogs’ defense is loaded but it will come down to Sanders and Smith making plays in the opener for UGA to secure a win.

Image placeholder title

14. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk vs. UCLA DBs Nate Meadors and Jaleel Wadood

Kirk might be the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award this year and has a chance to take the ball to the house on just about every snap. Trying to slow him down at the Rose Bowl will be a two-man job at a minimum so look for a veteran like Wadood to provide cover over the top when Meadors gets locked onto the Aggies’ star.

15. BYU QB Tanner Mangum vs. LSU S John Battle

Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White are off to the NFL and that means Battle is expected to take over as the leader of the Tigers’ fearsome secondary. He will be the experienced hand of a young LSU unit that will be tested by the strong-armed Mangum, who can beat you deep and extend plays to find time for his wideouts to get open.

Best of the rest:

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Purdue defense

Rutgers WR/KR Janarion Grant vs. Washington DB Taylor Rapp

South Carolina QB Jake Bentley vs. NC State DL Bradley Chubb

Ohio State RB Mike Weber vs. Indiana LB Tegray Scales

Maryland OL Damian Prince vs. Texas DT Poona Ford

— 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.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)