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College Football’s 20 Best Position Battles to Watch in December Bowl Games

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It’s bowl season and college football fans can celebrate (or is it mourn?) the end of the year with 41 games that have a little bit of everything. While most of the attention is paid toward the two semifinal games and some of the other major bowls, there’s a lot to enjoy among the dozens of intersectional matchups on tap this month. 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 20 of the best position vs. position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side heading into December’s bowl games. This doesn’t include the New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff games but that still leaves plenty of other matchups on the docket to consider for this exercise:

1. Citrus Bowl: LSU DLs Davon Godchaux and Lewis Neal, LB Arden Key, DBs Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

A late-season slide didn’t prevent Jackson from taking home the Heisman Trophy and all eyes will be on the young quarterback as he takes the field for the first time as the nation’s most outstanding player in 2016. In one of the most anticipated non-New Year’s Six games, he’ll have a tough task at hand trying to get past scheming defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his loaded Tigers unit, which will need playmakers at all three levels to step up if they want to stop — or at least slow down — the Heisman winner.

2. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, WRs James Washington, Jalen McClesky and Jhajuan Seales vs. Colorado DBs Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson, Afolabi Laguda and Ahkello Witherspoon

Aside from the Heisman winner in action against LSU, this is easily the best battle of the bowl season pitting one of the best offenses in the Big 12 against one of the stingiest secondaries in the country. Three-quarters of Colorado’s back four made an All-Pac-12 team this season and the fourth still held his own by being second on the team in tackles. They’ll be matched up against Rudolph, who throws a beautiful deep ball, and his speedy wideouts that all average better than 11 yards a catch.

3. Las Vegas Bowl: San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey vs. Houston DL Ed Oliver and LB Steven Taylor

Pumphrey needs just 108 rushing yards to break former Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne’s FBS career record. Standing in his way? Freshman All-American Oliver, who nearly single-handedly stopped the Heisman Trophy winner earlier this season and is backed up by one of the best linebackers in the country in the do-everything Taylor.

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4. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M OLs Avery Gennesy and Colton Prater vs. Kansas State DLs Jordan Willis and Reggie Walker

A pair of old Big 12 rivals get reacquainted in Houston for what should be a fascinating Texas Bowl. Gennesy was an All-SEC selection this year and looks to be the latest in a long line of premier left tackles to emerge in College Station. His running mate Prater is just a freshman and will have his hands full against the Wildcats’ terrific tandem coming off the edge. Willis was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year while his opposite number in Walker was the conference’s defensive freshman of the year.

5. Sun Bowl: North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, RB Elijah Hood and WR Ryan Switzer vs. Stanford DL Solomon Thomas, LB Peter Kalambayi and DB Quenton Meeks

Everybody will focus on the Sun Bowl being Christian McCaffrey’s final game but there’s some pretty good talent that could leave for the NFL Draft on both sides that also will also be on display. Trubisky has blossomed into one of the best signal-callers along the East Coast and has a handful of weapons to find in the run and pass game with the productive Hood and dangerous Switzer. They’ll be tested by a tough Cardinal defense that includes the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman, an athletic linebacker who went to high school in North Carolina and one of the best cornerbacks out West.

6. Belk Bowl: Arkansas OL Dan Skipper and RB Rawleigh Williams III vs. Virginia Tech DE Ken Ekanem and LBs Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds         

This year sported a bit of a different look on offense for Arkansas given how pass-happy the team was but there were still two mainstays in the ground game with the mammoth Skipper manning the tackle spot and Williams finding lanes to lead the SEC in rushing. Both will have their challenges in the Belk Bowl in trying to get past Ekanem (6.5 sacks) or the two tough linebackers in the middle of Bud Foster’s defense.

7. Independence Bowl: NC State RB Matthew Dayes vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham

The Wolfpack snuck into a bowl game this season thanks to a few upsets along the way and when the offense was humming, their senior tailback was usually at the forefront. Dayes was a second-team All-ACC pick this season and could do just about everything out of the backfield as his numbers would attest to. He’ll have a hard time trying to get past Vanderbilt’s defense in this game however since Cunningham is a tackling machine and recently became a unanimous All-American at linebacker.

8. Outback Bowl: Florida WR Antonio Callaway vs. Iowa DB Desmond King

Let’s face it, there may not be a ton of scoring in this Outback Bowl season given the two offenses involved but if there are touchdowns or big plays to be had, they’ll likely involve these two players. Callaway has been one of the few reliable threats in the passing game for the Gators and he’ll need his best to go against a potential first-rounder in King. Don’t overlook special teams either, as each returns kicks and knows exactly how to take it to the house.

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9. Las Vegas Bowl: Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. vs. San Diego State DB Damontae Kazee

Ward has been a part of several huge upsets and more than his fair share of incredible moments during his time at Houston. Now it’s time for him to close out his career with a trip to Las Vegas and see what he can do against a very good defense that sports the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in Kazee. Ward has been beat up this season but should be fairly healthy when he and his wideouts try to go over the top on one of the best corners in the country.

10. Arizona Bowl: South Alabama TE Gerald Everett vs. Air Force DB Weston Steelhammer

Few college football fans may know who Everett is but you can bet that a lot of NFL scouts from the South are very familiar with the Jaguars’ stud tight end. He has solid numbers at better than 14 yards a catch and 12 touchdowns the past two season on his way to first-team All-Sun Belt honors. He’ll be challenged by Steelhammer, a first-team All-Name Team pick who is one of the biggest ball hawks in all of college football and a hard hitter.

11. Citrus Bowl: Louisville DLs DeAngelo Brown and Devonte Fields, LB Keith Kelsey, DB’s Jaire Alexander, Chucky Williams and Josh Harvey-Clemons vs. LSU OLs Ethan Pocic and K.J. Malone, RB Derrius Guice, and WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural

As juicy as the LSU defense trying to contain the Heisman winner is in the Citrus Bowl, the flip side of that game also is a very interesting matchup. The Tigers offense’ wasn’t anything to write home about many times this season but there’s still plenty of talent, including a terrific tailback in Guice and a pair of wideouts who have more talent than production. They’ll be tested by a very good front seven for the Cardinals and one of the best young corners in the game in Alexander.

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12. Liberty Bowl: Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel vs. TCU DL Josh Carraway and LB Travin Howard

There haven’t been a ton of things that have gone right for Georgia this season but through thick and thin, the Bulldogs still have one of the better running back tandems in the country with Chubb and Michel. TCU head coach Gary Patterson is no doubt using the entire month to come up with some schemes to slow them down and sure-tacklers like Carraway and Howard will likely play a key role.

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13. Outback Bowl: Iowa RB Akrum Wadley vs. Florida DL Caleb Brantley and LB Jarrad Davis

Despite a bit of a slow start to the season, Wadley has really come on as of late and played a big role in upsets over Michigan and Nebraska down the stretch. He received third-team All-Big Ten honors in a league full of good backs and will need to have a big game for the Hawkeyes to get a win in the bowl. Both Davis and Brantley have been banged up the past month but, if healthy, will be tough to run past.

14. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia WRs Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts vs. Miami DBs Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine

The Mountaineers’ offense has leaned heavily on their run game this season but they still have some dangerous wideouts in this duo of second-team All-Big 12 selections. Whether it’s stretching the field or catching something over the middle of the field, you can expect the terrific Elder and his understudy Redwine to shadow each receiver very closely.

15. Poinsettia Bowl: BYU LBs Butch Pau’u and Fred Warner vs. Wyoming RB Brian Hill

This position battle would probably be a little higher on the list if Pau’u was going to be 100 percent healthy for the bowl game but he’s been banged up over the latter half of the season. Warner has picked up the slack and had a terrific season as a true freshman but will face a dangerous runner in Hill. He was overshadowed by Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols and San Diego State’s Pumphrey in the Mountain West, but the Wyoming runner is still a great tailback in his own right and finished fourth in the country in rushing.

16. Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney vs. West Virginia RBs Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell III

At the beginning of the season, a lot of folks were worried about Miami’s linebacker corps as injuries hit the unit hard but it turned out to allow the Hurricanes to turn to a pair of terrific young freshmen. Pinckney earned several freshman All-American honors and Quarterman earned significant consideration as the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year. Each will be tested by the Mountaineers’ solid running back combo.

17. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota RBs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks vs. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Peyton Pelluer

The Holiday Bowl is a contrast in styles in the extreme and if the Gophers stand any chance of keeping the Cougars’ Air Raid in check, they’ll need their strong ground game to put up some big numbers and grind the clock. Pelluer, who led the team in tackles, will play a big role in slowing down that run game behind the playmaking lineman with a great name.

18. Dollar General Bowl: Ohio DE Tarell Basham vs. Troy OL Antonio Garcia and QB Brandon Silvers

This bowl won’t be on many must-see lists but you should certainly tune in for this matchup of Sun Belt’s co-champion and MAC runner-up. Basham led the MAC with 10 sacks this season and was named the conference’s defensive player of the year to cap off a stellar season for the Bobcats. Garcia was solid at tackle for the Trojans and helped protect Silvers, who had a terrific season with plenty of big numbers but didn’t handle pressure as well as he could have.

19. Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami WR Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards vs. WVU DBs Rasul Douglas and Kyzir White

Richards was the big-play threat for the Hurricanes and can blow the top off a defense while Coley was Brad Kaaya’s favorite target and led the team in touchdown catches. Douglas was named an All-Big 12 first-teamer at cornerback and teams up with White, who should be roving all over the field trying to slow the Miami pass attack.

20. Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana QB Richard Lagow vs. Utah DBs Dominique Hatfield, Marcus Williams Jr. and Chase Hansen

Lagow has had a solid season leading the Hoosiers' pass-happy attack but it will be interesting to see how he deals with the loss of head coach Kevin Wilson for the bowl game. He's already thrown 16 interceptions this year and will have a tough task not adding to that number against the ball hawks of the Utah secondary.

Best of the rest:

Boise State DBs Jonathan Moxey and Chanceller James vs. Baylor WR K.D. Cannon (Cactus Bowl)

Northwestern DL Ifeadi Odenigbo and LB Anthony Walker Jr. vs. Pitt OL Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson and RB James Conner (Pinstripe Bowl)

Toledo QB Logan Woodside and RB Kareem Hunt vs. Appalachian State LB Eric Boggs and DB’s Clifton Duck and Mondo Williams (Camellia Bowl)

Arkansas State OL Jemar Clark vs. UCF LB Shaquem Griffin (Cure Bowl)

South Carolina LB T.J. Holloman vs. USF RB Marlon Mack (Birmingham 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.