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:
Marcus Mariota, QB vs. Shayne Skov, LB (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
There is no doubt the best player in the nation will be on full display against Stanford. Mariota’s Heisman hopes and BCS national title hopes hang in the balance as he seeks revenge for the only loss in his career. His offense was held to regular-season lows in yards (405) and points (14) in the 2012 home loss while he was held to a career-low one total touchdown. He must be better than 21-of-37 passing (207 yards, TD, INT) to win on The Farm. Charged with stopping the Ducks' complex and diverse offense is the leader of the Cardinal defense. The team’s leading tackler (7.8 per game) posted 10 tackles and 1.0 TFL in the upset win in Eugene last year but Skov means so much more to this team than just stats. His recognition skills will be tested the most by the zone-read-pass-run option Mariota brings to the table. One bad read and Oregon will make you pay in a big way. The pressure is on the Cardinal linebackers and Skov in particular this week.
Avery Patterson, CB vs. Ty Montgomery, WR (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
Offensively, David Shaw wants to run the football and keep Oregon’s offense off the field. Everyone including Mark Helfrich knows this. Fans can bet that Nick Aliotti will scheme to stop Tyler Gaffney and the Cardinal O-line, forcing Kevin Hogan to make plays down the field. It falls to star wideout and big-play specialist Montgomery to stretch the defense. He has posted at least one catch of 30 yards in six of eight games and has two kickoff return touchdowns of at least 99 yards.
LSU's "other" WR vs. Alabama’s “other” CB (LSU at Alabama)
Senior Deion Belue is an established veteran at one cornerback spot in the Alabama secondary. The other starter will be either sophomore Bradley Sylve or true freshman Eddie Jackson. These young corners will be facing an LSU offense that features two elite wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. There will be times when Sylve and/or Jackson will be matched up with an All-America-caliber receiver — no matter which wide receiver Belue is charged with checking.
Anthony Johnson, DT vs. Ryan Kelly, C (LSU at Alabama)
LSU’s great players will have to play great on Saturday night. Johnson is the best player on a defense that has given up 400-plus yards in four of its last five SEC games. The Tigers need their big man to be disruptive on the interior of the defensive line. Kelly has missed time this season due to injury but is back in the lineup. He has never taken a snap against LSU in his career, so how he performs early against Johnson will be key for Alabama.
Frank Shannon, LB vs. Lache Seastrunk, RB (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Kansas State held Seastrunk to 59 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, both season lows. Not coincidentally, Baylor was held to nearly 20 points off its scoring average for the year. Oklahoma’s run defense has been gouged at times this season, most notably against Texas. Seastrunk isn’t Baylor’s only weapon in the Bears’ prolific offense, but he does set the tone. Shannon has been banged up the last few weeks but the Sooners' leading tackler is back to full strength to face the explosive running back. This is a critical matchup for Oklahoma as only Kansas State has slowed the Bears' running game — and it nearly led to an upset.
Aaron Colvin, CB vs. Tevin Reese, WR (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Even if Oklahoma contains running back Lache Seastrunk, Baylor can still sneak its speedy receivers behind opposing defensive backs. Reese and Antwan Goodley both average better than 23 yards per catch with eight touchdowns apiece. Colvin is the savvy veteran while redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez has been a revelation this season as an intimidating hitter in the secondary.
Kyle Fuller, CB vs. Stephen Morris, QB (Virginia Tech at Miami)
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury, the Hurricanes will probably ask Morris to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The senior completed 16 of 28 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State last week but also threw two interceptions. After struggling with an ankle injury earlier in the year, Morris looked closer to 100 percent in last week’s game. However, Morris has another tough assignment ahead this week, as Virginia Tech’s secondary ranks as one of the best in the nation. The Hokies are led by seniors Fuller and Antone Exum at cornerback, but freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have combined for nine picks this year. With wide receiver Phillip Dorsett sidelined, Morris and Allen Hurns should be the go-to combination against Virginia Tech’s suffocating secondary.
Taysom Hill, QB vs. Chris Borland, LB (BYU at Wisconsin)
Marcus Trotter played very well in place of Borland last weekend in Iowa City, but there is no replacement for one of the best players in school history. And with an explosive, dual-threat quarterback coming to town, Badgers fans better hope Borland’s hamstring is fully healthy. BYU’s Taysom Hill is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, has 953 yards of total offense in his last two games and is coming off a bye week. This will be a difficult challenge for the stingy Badgers defense.