Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:
Duke Johnson, RB vs. Telvin Smith, LB (Miami vs. Florida St.)
The only chance Miami has to win is to use the power running game to keep the ball away from Jameis Winston. Johnson and backfield mate Dallas Crawford have saved the day the last two weekends for the Canes by pounding the rock in the fourth quarter. Smith and Christian Jones have been excellent at linebacker for Florida State this year. Smith (7.0) and Jones (5.5) are No. 1 and 3 in tackles for the Seminoles this year.
Justin Gilbert, CB vs. Davis Webb, QB (Oklahoma St. vs. Texas Tech)
The Red Raiders quarterback will need to be mindful of Gilbert, who has an interception in each of the last two games and four picks this season. Webb has been strong under center, throwing for at least 385 yards in each of the last three games. However, he also has thrown three interceptions during that span. Webb will have to be aware of where No. 4 is on the field.
Todd Gurley, RB vs. Antonio Morrison, LB (Georgia vs. Florida)
The Bulldogs expect to have their All-American back in the lineup after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas did a nice job in relief, but Gurley is a true difference-maker who, when healthy, is one of the top two or three running backs in the nation. He will be running against a Florida defense that hasn’t been nearly as formidable since defensive tackle Dominique Easley went down with a season-ending injury. Linebackers Morrison and Michael Taylor are the top two tacklers for the Gators and will be charged with stopping the powerful running back. In the last three games, all without Easley, Florida has allowed 163.7 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.
Devin Gardner, QB vs. Max Bullough, LB (Michigan at Michigan St.)
It is cliché to point to quarterback play as the deciding factor in any game, but this in-state battle hinges on both signal-callers. Gardner is the Big Ten leader in total offense (328.4 ypg) by a wide margin over Braxton Miller (247.7) but he also has turned the ball over 14 times — a Big Ten-leading 10 interceptions and four lost fumbles. Bullough is the leader of the Spartans defense and will be in charge of getting his unit into position. If Gardner plays well against the nation’s best defense, Michigan can win. If he turns the ball over, they have no chance.
Josh Shaw, CB vs. Brandin Cooks, WR (USC at Oregon St.)
Like every other position on the field, the Trojans' secondary is seriously talented. Shaw, Su’a Cravens, Dion Bailey and Demetrius Wright are as gifted a starting group as there is in the nation. But they have dealt with nagging injuries and will be faced with stopping the nation’s No. 1 QB-WR duo in Sean Mannion and Cooks. On the road, this group will decide the Trojans' fate this weekend.
Josh Dobbs, QB vs. Andrew Wilson, LB (Tennessee at Missouri)
The true freshman from Georgia will make his first start on Saturday night at Missouri. Dobbs, who originally committed to Arizona State, was hand-picked by the new staff after its arrival in Knoxville last December. He is one of three freshman quarterbacks on the roster — two true and one redshirt — but most around the program believe Dobbs is the best fit for the offense. He’ll have an opportunity to display his skills in prime time on Saturday night against one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the game. Wilson is the Tigers' top tackler and will be in charge of slowing the Vols' dual-threat quarterback.
Derrick Hopkins, DT vs. Andre Williams, RB (Virginia Tech at Boston College)
Even with Boston College’s passing offense struggling to get on track last week, Williams still managed 172 yards in a 34-10 loss against North Carolina. The senior leads the ACC with an average of 144.3 yards per game, but Virginia Tech’s defensive line will be the toughest Boston College has faced this year. The Hokies have allowed just five rushing scores and opponents are managing only 2.6 yards per carry. Virginia Tech’s interior line is deep with tackles Hopkins and Luther Maddy, while ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins have combined for eight sacks. In order for the Eagles to have a shot at winning on Saturday, Williams has to get over 100 yards.