College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 10 are headlined by a must-win battle for LSU QB Danny Etling against the Alabama secondary.
There are games, and then there are games-within-the-games, those needle-moving head-to-head clashes that put a thumb on the scale for the more dominant side.
Who’ll be the big winners and who’ll be heading back to the drawing board at the close of Week 10? Plenty hinges on which side prevails in these crucial unit and player battles.
10. Syracuse WR Amba Etta-Tawo vs. Clemson CB Cordrea Tankersley
Etta-Tawo did his homework when looking for a new school after leaving Maryland. Dino Babers and the Orange have afforded him an opportunity to showcase his skills, while catching 66 balls for 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns. And he and QB Eric Dungey will need to be prolific to keep pace with Clemson in Death Valley. Doing so means breaking through against Tankersley and a Tiger secondary that ranks in the top 10 nationally in nearly every statistical category, including touchdown passes and yards per attempt allowed.
9. Colorado RB Phillip Lindsay vs. UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley and DT Eddie Vanderdoes
In all likelihood, Sefo Liufau will have a tough time with the Bruin secondary, which ranks No. 7 nationally in pass efficiency defense. So, it’ll be up to Lindsay, who’s had two of his four career 100-yard games in the last two weeks, to keep the chains moving on a talented UCLA D. The junior’s biggest concern will be sprinting past the first level of defense, where next-level linemen McKinley and Vanderdoes have been winning one-on-one battles all season long.
8. Maryland RBs Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson vs. Jabrill Peppers and the Michigan Front Seven
Any hopes of putting a scare into the Wolverines hinge on Harrison and Johnson continuing to snap off big plays in the running game. The underclassmen have combined to average a remarkable 8.5 yards on 139 carries, which has absorbed pressure from QB Perry Hills. But the Wolverines are the toughest defense the Terps will face all year. It’s difficult getting to the edge on a defense that leads the country in fewest yards per play, especially since Peppers and linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray read and react in a flash.
7. Cal QB Davis Webb vs. Washington CB Sidney Jones and S Budda Baker
Webb makes Cal very dangerous, especially as he gets deeper into his first season with the program. And with leading receiver Chad Hansen expected back after a two-game absence, the Huskies could have their hands full with a pass-happy team that’s already outgunned Texas, Utah and Oregon. Washington will counter with one of the most talented defensive backfields in the country. Jones and Baker could be NFL-bound after their junior years, and so too might senior CB Kevin King, who often gets overlooked on the Husky D.
6. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley vs. Iowa LB Josey Jewell
No one has been more instrumental to Penn State’s October rise than Barkley, who’s rushed for at least 200 yards in two of the last three games. He’ll be the focal point again this week, particularly if Hawkeye CB Desmond King can neutralize Trace McSorley’s favorite target, Chris Godwin. Locking in on Barkley will be Jewell, Iowa’s enforcer from the middle. The Hawkeyes’ top run defender leads the team with 77 tackles, including 3.5 behind the line.
5. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson and WR Austin Carr vs. SS D’Cota Dixon and the Wisconsin Secondary
Dixon delivered a game-saving deflection last week to beat Nebraska in overtime. He’ll be influential again this Saturday, as Wisconsin looks to snap a two-game losing streak to Northwestern and remain in the Big Ten West race. Thorson has developed into a really nice quarterback as a sophomore, with a lot of help from Carr, a breakout senior out of the slot. In order to create daylight for RB Justin Jackson, the Wildcats must crack the code of a Badger secondary that’s tied with LSU for the nation’s lead in fewest touchdown passes allowed.
4. Arkansas QB Austin Allen vs. Florida CBs Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson
The Gator D is nasty once more, a particular concern for Allen when he’s dealing with a balky right knee. Florida flies to the ball, deploys the opposition’s airbags and shuts down passing lanes with Tabor and Wilson. An opponent has scored more than 14 points on the Gators just once in seven games. Allen will have to channel Tennessee, which got Tabor to bite in coverage back on Sept. 24. To deliver the upset, it’s incumbent upon Allen to not only work TE Jeremy Sprinkle on intermediate routs, but also click with receivers Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius on occasional field-stretchers.
3. Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
Pettway has been this year’s Tre Mason on the Plains, a back who began the year anonymously before erupting into a force on the ground. Pettway moves like a vending machine down the side of a mountain, decimating everything in his path. He’ll be challenged, though, this weekend by Cunningham, one of the premier linebackers in the country. The junior leads the Commodores with 85 tackles and 13.5 stops for loss, but it’s his instincts and fundamentals that have caught the attention of NFL scouts.
2. Ohio State RB Curtis Samuel vs. Nebraska S Nathan Gerry
Samuel and Gerry are two of the most versatile players on their respective teams. And they’ll be counted on to this week to flash that versatility in Columbus. Samuel has been the Buckeyes’ most dynamic all-around weapon, rushing for 558 yards, catching a team-high 44 balls and scoring eight times. Ohio State might need to increase his workload to ignite an offense that played poorly in October. Gerry is the emotional and productive leader of the underrated Nebraska D, contributing against the run and the pass to match Samuel’s unique skill set.
1. LSU QB Danny Etling vs. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey
To beat Bama, Etling will have to edge out Jalen Hurts in the battle of the quarterbacks. No small chore, considering how well the Tide defense is playing again this season. Etling won’t have to be prolific in getting the ball in the hands of receivers Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre and DJ Chark, but he’ll have to be a threat to take pressure off backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. If Etling fails to keep Bama honest, it’ll be an open invitation to stack the box with everyone from LB Reuben Foster to safeties Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones.