College football is back and this is shaping up to be another incredible season for teams across the country. While Week 1 does not have quite the number of blockbuster matchups we’ve seen recently, there are still plenty of huge games on tap from noon until the early morning hours with some significant College Football Playoff implications across the board. As great as some of the contests are this weekend though, they might not hold a candle to the games within a game — between players on either side of the ball that will
Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 10 games with the best position vs. position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts that will go a long ways in determining who wins and who loses this weekend:
Washington vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
Key battle: Tigers LB Deshaun Davis vs. Huskies RB Myles Gaskin
Davis leads one of the best defenses in the SEC (and the country) as a tackling machine that can not only limit opposing tailbacks but also break into the backfield when needed. He’ll have a huge task in making Washington a little more one dimensional given that Gaskin has averaged more than 1,300 rushing yards and 15 scores the past three seasons.
Don’t discount: Huskies DB Taylor Rapp vs. Tigers QB Jarrett Stidham
Stidham’s Heisman campaign can begin or end depending on how well he fares against Rapp, who is not only a hard-hitter controlling the middle of the field but one of the best of the best in coverage.
Michigan at Notre Dame
Key battle: Irish QB Brandon Wimbush vs. Wolverines DE Rashan Gary, LB Devin Bush and CB Lavert Hill
Wimbush (right) is a true dual threat but we’ll see just how much his passing has improved in 2018 when he goes up against a stingy Michigan defense that makes you earn every yard. Gary and Bush will be responsible for containing the Irish signal-caller when he takes off running while Hill will need to play sound to control Wimbush’s arm and force him into bad decisions.
Don’t discount: Irish DBs Alohi Gilman and Julian Love vs. Wolverines QB Shea Patterson and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
Gilman and Love will patrol the back end for the Irish defense, which will be hoping to contain a Wolverines offense led by Patterson that is looking to be much more explosive down the field this season.
Miami vs. LSU (Arlington, Texas)
Key battle: Tigers QB Joe Burrow and WR Jonathan Giles vs. Hurricanes DBs Michael Jackson and Jaquan Johnson
The Tigers’ offensive struggles have been concentrated in the passing game the past few years and there’s hope in Baton Rouge that a pair of transfers will be able to help boost them in that department in Burrow (Ohio State) and Giles (Texas Tech). They won’t have an easy time trying to hook up at AT&T Stadium however with Jackson and Johnson both looking to put on the Turnover Chain and limit opportunities through the air.
Don’t discount: Hurricanes WR Ahmmon Richards vs. Tigers DB Greedy Williams
This might just be the best matchup of the entire opening week of the season as both guys have a case to be eventual first-round picks. When healthy, Richards is a true playmaker who can stretch the field and is easily the Canes' top threat in the passing game. He’ll likely line up against the Tigers' young All-American corner in Williams, who has the size and speed to cover anybody in the game.
Louisville vs. Alabama (Orlando, Fla.)
Key battle: Crimson Tide DBs Trevon Diggs, Deionte Thompson and Patrick Surtain II vs. Cardinals WRs Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick
The biggest concern for the defending champs this season undoubtedly lies in the secondary, where they are replacing nearly every starter from last year’s title run. The addition of a five-star prospect like Surtain helps but veterans like Diggs and Thompson will still need to step up and turn into the players that Nick Saban has long developed in the back end. They’ll have their work cut out for them against the Cardinals, who may not have Lamar Jackson but do sport one of the best receiving corps in the ACC.
Don’t discount: Cardinals LB Dorian Etheridge vs. Tide RB Damien Harris
Stopping the Alabama run game is pretty much impossible but slowing it down will be huge if Louisville wants any chance to win on Saturday night. A lot of that task will come down to Etheridge shadowing Harris on every snap.
Virginia Tech at Florida State
Key battle: Hokies DL Ricky Walker and LB Mook Reynolds vs. Seminoles RBs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick
The Noles might have gone through a rough 2017 but it was still abundantly clear that they have some studs at running back to lean on in both Akers and Patrick. Each is capable of busting big plays as well as controlling the game between the tackles and don’t discount them in the screen game either. The Hokies' defense is in a bit of a rebuild mode so it will come down to veterans like Walker and Reynolds (right) making plays and limiting the ground game on Labor Day.
Don’t discount: Hokes QB Josh Jackson vs. Seminoles DB Levonta Taylor
Jackson was a pleasant surprise under center last season in leading the Hokies and even more is expected of him going into his second year as a starter for the team. He may look to avoid Taylor when dropping back though, as the Noles’ star is about as good as they come at corner.
Best of the Rest
San Diego State at Stanford
Key battle: Aztecs DL Noble Hall and LB Ronley Lakalaka vs. Cardinal RB Bryce Love
Don’t discount: Cardinal LB Bobby Okereke vs. Aztecs RB Juwan Washington
Boise State at Troy
Key battle: Trojans OL Deontae Crumitie, Tristan Crowder and J.L. Gaston vs. Broncos DL David Moa and Sonatone Lui
Don’t discount: Trojans DB Blace Brown and LB Hunter Reese vs. Broncos QB Brett Rypien and RB Alexander Mattison
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma
Key battle: Sooners LBs Kenneth Murray and Caleb Kelly vs. Owls RB Devin Singletary
Don’t discount: Owls LBs Azeez Al-Shaair and Rashad Smith vs. Sooners QB Kyler Murray and RB Rodney Anderson
Tennessee vs. West Virginia (Charlotte, N.C.)
Key battle: Volunteers DBs Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy vs. Mountaineers QB Will Grier and WR David Sills
Don’t discount: Mountaineers DBs Dravon Askew-Henry and Kenny Robinson vs. Volunteers WRs Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings
Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech (Houston)
Key battle: Red Raiders DBs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Damarcus Fields vs. Rebels WRs A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge
Don’t discount: Red Raiders OL Jack Anderson and Paul Stawarz vs. Rebels DL Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones
— 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.