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:
Ka’Deem Carey, RB vs. Chris Young, LB
Arizona at Arizona State
The Sun Devils' defense gave up some yards last week but the front seven saved the day by pressuring Brett Hundley all game. Young was the star with 13 tackles, 3.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss. Now, with a home game in the Pac-12 championship game on the line, Young and company are faced with stopping arguably the nation’s top running back in Ka’Deem Carey. Carey just carried 48 times for 206 yards and four scores in the upset win over Oregon. The Wildcats running back averaged 6.9 yards per carry (172 yards) and scored in the Territorial Cup last season.
C.J. Mosley, LB vs. Nick Marshall, QB
Alabama at Auburn
Marshall has been terrific in his first season at Auburn. He’s completed just under 60 percent of his passes, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and only thrown five interceptions. Not bad for a guy who does his best work on the ground. This week, Marshall will have to be productive both on the ground and through the air to beat Alabama, the best team in the nation. He’s done it before, but the stage will be bigger and the opponent more difficult this time around. At some point, he will need to make some plays down the field in the passing game against the Tide's best defender C.J. Mosley. The linebacker is fifth in the SEC in tackles and might be a frontrunner for National Defensive Player of the Year. Mosley will be charged with deciphering Gus Malzahn's extremely productive Marshall-Tre Mason zone-read option.
Braxton Miller, QB vs. Frank Clark, DE
Ohio State at Michigan
The Wolverines have a strong rush defense but will be pushed to the brink this weekend by the Buckeyes powerful rushing attack. Carlos Hyde (133.0 ypg, 13 TD) and Braxton Miller (82.0 ypg, 5 TD) are surging at exactly the right time on the ground as the duo has combined for 691 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two weeks. The freakish defensive end is coming off an excellent performance against Iowa with 5.0 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Clark has to be the tip of the Michigan defensive spear this weekend.
Johnny Manziel, QB vs. Michael Sam, DE
Texas A&M at Missouri
We learned last week that it’s not a given that Manziel will throw for 300 or 400 yards and the Aggies will roll up 40 or 50 points. A good defense, with a great plan of attack, can actually slow down the Texas A&M offense. This week, Manziel & Co. will be facing what many consider to be the best defensive line in the SEC, led by defensive end Michael Sam. The Mizzou star defender is leading the SEC in sacks (10.0) and tackles for loss (17.0). And while Manziel would never admit it publicly, he is well aware that a huge game — against a top-five opponent — can vault him back into the Heisman Trophy race. Meanwhile, the Tigers are playing for an SEC East championship.
Tajh Boyd, QB vs. Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Clemson at South Carolina
There will be pressure on Clowney, a preseason All-American, to finish off what has been a relatively disappointing junior season with a big game against the archrival Clemson Tigers and their star quarterback Tajh Boyd. Clowney, who has been slowed by injuries, only has two sacks this season — down from 13 during his breakout sophomore season. Oh, and we can’t forget that Clowney said back in July that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is “scared” of him. Boyd completed only 45-percent of his passes in a loss last year and only 37-percent of his passes in a loss in 2011. Boyd has two touchdowns and three picks in three games — all losses — to the rival Gamecocks. Should be a fun night in Columbia.
Ryan Shazier, LB vs. Devin Gardner, QB
Ohio State at Michigan
Few players are playing as well as Shazier nationally right now. He is leading the Big Ten in tackles (109), tackles for loss (20.5) and is third in the league in sacks (6.5). Simply put, the hard-hitting linebacker makes big plays all over the field. If Devin Gardner cannot escape his grasp this weekend, it could be a long day for Michigan’s offense. Gardner had 171 yards passing, two total touchdowns, one interception and was held to minus-28 yards rushing. Another line like that from Gardner and Shazier’s Buckeyes will be 12-0 with relative ease.
Anthony Barr, LB vs. Cody Kessler, QB
UCLA at USC
It is difficult to get recognized at quarterback in a league as talented as the Pac-12. But Kessler needs to get some credit for his improved play over the final few months. He has just six interceptions all season and has thrown just one pick during the Trojans five-game winning streak. He completed over 80-percent of his passes against both Oregon State and Cal, and star outside backer Anthony Barr will be charged with pressuring the passing game. Barr has 14 tackles, 4.0 for loss and 2.0 sacks in his last two games.