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:
Johnny Manziel, QB vs. Lamin Barrow, LB
Texas A&M at LSU
One of the game’s most explosive and entertaining players will make his debut in one of the game’s best venues. LSU’s defense, led by leading tackler Barrow, plays much better at home (283.8 ypg) than it does on the road (423.6 ypg). Manziel played the worst game of his short career in the loss to LSU at home last season, throwing for 276 yards and three interceptions on 29-of-56 passing while rushing for just 27 yards on 17 carries. It is the only career game in which he's failed to reach the end zone in some capacity. Barrow is averaging 7.5 tackles per game and is one of two SEC Butkus Award finalists. He registered 8.0 tackles and 1.0 for a loss in the win over the Aggies last season. This will be an electric showdown between two proud players, teams and coaches.
Marion Grice, RB vs. Anthony Barr, LB
Arizona State at UCLA
Arguably the top defensive prospect in the nation, Barr has quickly become the second-most popular Bruins linebacker. Myles Jack is getting all of the headlines (rightly so) for his play on both sides of the ball, however, Barr will be charged with stopping Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Last season, the Sun Devils' trio combined for 164 yards rushing and were responsible for all five ASU touchdowns (Kelly had four TD passes) in the 45-43 loss to the Bruins. Barr posted five total tackles and a sack in the win. Grice and Foster combine for 238.7 all-purpose yards per game in 2013 and it falls to the talented Bruins backer to make big plays in both the running and passing game.
Levi Norwood, WR vs. Justin Gilbert, CB
Baylor at Oklahoma State
The Cowboys' cornerback is making a bid for All-America consideration with six interceptions this season. His two picks against Texas last week, including an interception for a touchdown, essentially sealed the game for Oklahoma State. On Saturday, he’ll be facing Bryce Petty, one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country, plus a dynamic set of receivers. Norwood, a No. 3 receiver two weeks ago, caught seven passes for 156 yards for two touchdowns against Texas Tech last Saturday.
Michael Sam, DE vs. Laremy Tunsil, OT
Missouri at Ole Miss
Ole Miss has played Texas, Alabama and LSU, but Missouri might have the best defensive line the Rebels will see this season. The Tigers, led by senior end Michael Sam, lead the league in sacks with 34 and rank second in rushing defense (111.9 ypg). The Rebs’ offensive line will need to protect quarterback Bo Wallace, who has done a great job this season limiting his mistakes. Last season — his first as a starter — Wallace threw 17 interceptions in 13 games; this year, he has five in 10 games.
Will Sutton, DL vs. Myles Jack, LB
Arizona State at UCLA
Wait, how could a defensive lineman and a linebacker be going head-to-head? UCLA has been using Jack on offense as a running back, in particular around the goal line and in short yardage situations. Jack is a physical freak of an athlete as his five rushing touchdowns in two games can attest. It falls to Sutton, the leader of the Sun Devils' defensive line, to gear up to stop a bruising linebacker-turned-power runner if Arizona State wants to win the Pac-12 South.
Chris Borland, LB vs. David Cobb, RB
Wisconsin at Minnesota
A quiet hero of the Golden Gophers' storybook second half has been the junior from Killeen, Texas. Cobb has turned into a workhorse during the current four-game winning streak, carrying 26.8 times for 142 yards rushing per game. He has been over 100 yards in four straight games and has scored in back-to-back contests. To keep the Badgers off of the field, Cobb needs to give Philip Nelson and the offense some protection on the ground against a defense giving up just 98.8 yards rushing per game.
Ameer Abdullah, RB vs. Glenn Carson, LB
Nebraska at Penn State
Abdullah has posted seven straight 100-yard efforts and is in a battle with Wiconsin's Melvin Gordon for the Big Ten rushing championship. He was the first player to top 100 yards against Michigan State all season last weekend and will face another strong front this Saturday. Linebacker U has two excellent, experienced tacklers in Glenn Carson and Mike Hull. These two lead the team in tackles with 75 and 62 tackles respectively on the season. Against Nebraska’s star running back, Penn State’s linebackers will need to be disciplined and physical.
Jerron Seymour, RB vs. Daniel McCullers, DT
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
McCullers is a huge — as in 351 pounds — defensive tackle who is capable of being a difference-maker on a Tennessee defense that ranks last in the SEC in stopping the run. Vanderbilt has struggled at times against big run-stuffing tackles. Last week, Kentucky’s Donte Rumph had 10 tackles and was a big reason the Commodores’ two tailbacks (Seymour and Brian Kimbrow) only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. If McCullers can help slow down the rushing attack and make quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels uncomfortable in the pocket, Tennessee will have a great chance to win the game.