College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 14 include a riveting battle between Washington QB Jake Browning and Colorado’s lockdown pass defense.
There are games, and then there are games-within-the-games, those needle-moving head-to-head battles that put a thumb on the scale for the more dominant side.
Who’ll be the big championship week winners and who’ll be demoralized at the conclusion of the regular season? Plenty hinges on which side prevails in these crucial unit and player battles.
10. West Virginia RB Justin Crawford vs. Baylor LB Aiavion Edwards
Crawford’s encore after rushing for 331 yards in the Oklahoma loss was cut short by an ankle injury Saturday in Ames. He’s itching to return this week, and who could blame him? Edwards, who leads the Bears with 80 tackles, has been one of the few consistent playmakers on a defense that’s allowed 238 points in the last five games. The Mountaineer O-line is doing a tremendous job of creating daylight for the backs, including fourth-string rookie Martell Pettaway, who came off the bench last week to rush for 181 yards in his first collegiate game.
9. Ohio DE Tarell Basham vs. Western Michigan tackles Chukwuma Okorafor and Taylor Moton
The Bobcats have one shot of slowing down a Bronco offense averaging just under 45 points per game—pressure QB Zach Terrell so relentlessly that he lacks the time to feed WR Corey Davis. Ohio isn’t going to stop Davis, and backs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan are no treats either. It’ll be up to Basham, as well as disruptive linebackers Quentin Poling and Blair Brown, to beat Okorafor and Moton so that offensive plays are blown up before they have a shot to develop. Granted it’s a longshot, but it’s also the best shot the Bobcats will have at Ford Field.
8. Louisiana Tech DE Jaylon Ferguson vs. Western Kentucky OT Forrest Lamp
Neither is a household name, unless the resident of that house is an NFL scout. Ferguson and Lamp are two of Conference USA’s premier linemen, and they’ll be helmet-to-helmet plenty this week. Ferguson is an SEC-caliber edge rusher, who’s been unblockable in the second half. Over the last six games, he’s racked up 11.5 sacks. However, Lamp is one of the country’s cleanest pass protectors, affording Mike White the blindside protection to throw 31 touchdown passes. It’s not the sexiest matchup, but fans of trench warfare need to spy No. 45 in white and No. 76 red.
7. Wyoming QB Josh Allen vs. San Diego State CB Damontae Kazee
Allen has been a microcosm for Wyoming’s surprising ascent, accounting for 30 touchdowns in his first season of action. He’s a bona fide playmaker in Laramie, both inside and out of the pocket. In the Nov. 19 meeting with the Aztecs, he barely completed 50% of his passes, but did throw for 282 yards on only 16 completions. Accuracy has been a nagging issue for Allen. If he sails balls Saturday night, Kazee, who has 15 career interceptions and an impending career on Sundays, is liable to go the distance for a crowd-silencing pick-six.
6. Navy QB Will Worth vs. Temple DE Haason Reddick
Worth is obviously a student of the game, because he hasn’t skipped a beat since being forced off the bench when starter Tago Smith was injured. The senior has been revelatory, rushing for a nation’s-best 25 touchdowns while seamlessly operating the triple-option. In the last two games, the Midshipmen have scored 141 points and rushed for almost 1,000 yards. Temple, though, has the American’s best defense by far. And while Reddick is the Owls’ top pass rusher, he also leads the team in tackles, and will shift his entire focus to stringing out plays and stuffing the run.
5. Mike Williams and the Clemson receivers vs. CB Brandon Facyson and the Virginia Tech Secondary
It’s been like vintage pass defense in Blacksburg this season. The Hokies have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 47.8% of their passes, with Facyson, FS Chuck Clark and corners Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander jumping routes and sticking to receivers. Can the air patrol continue against Deshaun Watson, who’s finding his stride, and his bevy of talented targets? Williams is a 6-3, 225-pound load on pass routes, and Stroman has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Alexander has stepped up, but it’ll be all hands on deck against the Tiger passing game.
4. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Florida LBs David Reese and Kylan Johnson
Gator coordinator Geoff Collins is again doing an outstanding job with the defense, overcoming key injuries to remain one of the country’s stingiest units. Florida is oppressive against the pass, allowing the second fewest touchdowns in the FBS, while yielding just 3.6 yards a carry. Hurts, though, is a tall order because of his run-pass potential. The onus falls on Reese and Johnson, rookies filling in for injured Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, to cut off passing lanes when TE O.J. Howard is targeted and prevent Hurts’ feet from being the offensive stars on the Georgia Dome’s fast track.
3. Oklahoma State WR James Washington vs. Oklahoma CBs Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker
Sure, the aggregate numbers for the Sooners secondary are unflattering, including 28 touchdown passes allowed and only eight picks. But the pass defense, led by Thomas and Parker, is moving in the right direction, with opposing quarterbacks completing just 47.6% of their passes in November. However, no one the caliber of the Cowboy passing attack was on the November slate. Washington will challenge Dede Westbrook as the most explosive receiver in this game, and he continues to receive outstanding support from QB Mason Rudolph and fellow wideout Jalen McCleskey.
2. Penn State QB Trace McSorley vs. SS D’Cota Dixon and the Wisconsin Secondary
After a slow start, McSorley has really come into how own, not coincidentally as Penn State has reeled off eight straight wins to capture the Big Ten East. During the winning streak, the sophomore has thrown 16 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, while also flashing quick feet outside the pocket. McSorley will need to stay hot since RB Saquon Barkley isn’t at full strength and few teams have run on Wisconsin. Actually, throwing on Dixon and his fellow DBs hasn’t been any easier. The Badgers’ ratio of 21 picks to eight TD passes allowed is the best in the country.
1. Washington WRs John Ross and Dante Pettis vs. Colorado DBs Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson
The most enticing matchup of championship weekend will occur when Husky QB Jake Browning drops back to throw. Flanking the Heisman contender is a pair of game-breakers, Ross and Pettis, who’ve been on the receiving end of 30 of his 40 touchdown passes. However, an underrated yet very talented Colorado secondary presents the U-Dub passing game with its biggest challenge of the season. Flush in size and next-level skill, the Buffaloes rank in the top 5 nationally in lowest completion percentage, yards per attempt and pass efficiency D.