College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 12 include LSU’s dynamic backfield tandem versus a couple of first-year Florida linebackers.
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 demoralized at the close of Week 12? Plenty hinges on which side prevails in these crucial unit and player battles.
10. LT Trey Adams and the Washington O-line vs. Arizona State ‘devil’ Koron Crump
Arguably most revealing about the Huskies’ loss to USC last Saturday was how badly they got whipped at the line of scrimmage. The blocking unit wasn’t tough enough to seal off the Trojan rushers, a disturbing image that could linger with playoff committee voters. Now, U-Dub is faced with trying to contain Keith Patterson’s attacking front seven, which loves pinning its ears back and making a bee line to the backfield. The catalyst in Tempe is Crump, a 6-3-218-pound hybrid JUCO transfer who has nine sacks and the closing speed to hunt QB Jake Browning down from behind.
9. Wake Forest DE Duke Ejiofor vs. Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt
The Deacons lack the offensive punch to do to Clemson what Pitt did last weekend. So, any shot of handing the Tigers a second straight loss—and Louisville the ACC Atlantic—rests on a defense that’s been solid all year for coordinator Mike Elko. Wake did a good job of containing the Cards last week before the levee broke down the stretch. This week, Elko turns his attention to Clemson. If Ejiofor and LB Marquel Lee can continue getting after it, Tiger QB Deshaun Watson has shown all year that he’s nowhere near the same distributor he was in 2015.
8. Michigan Athlete Jabrill Peppers vs. Indiana LBs Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales
Jim Harbaugh is being Jim Harbaugh, but it’s clear that his quarterback, Wilton Speight, is dealing with an injury that’ll shelve him for some length of time. And some backup, likely John O’Korn, is about to be promoted. While O’Korn is no stranger to live action from his Houston days, the Wolverines might be inclined to spark the offense with an increase in touches for Peppers out of ‘wildcat’ formations. The Heisman candidate will see plenty of Oliver and Scales, the talented front men of a Hoosier defense allowing just 3.7 yards per carry.
7. Ohio State Athlete Curtis Samuel vs. Michigan State SLB Chris Frey
Samuel won’t win the Heisman this year, but he ought to get strong consideration for the Hornung Award, which is given to the nation’s most versatile athlete. The junior averages eight yards a carry, leads the Buckeyes with 57 receptions and has scored a team-high 13 times. Frey, who leads the Spartans with 81 tackles and seven quarterback hurries, has the tall task this Saturday of keeping Samuel from getting to the edge, while making sure he’s properly wrapped up in space.
6. TCU RB Kyle Hicks vs. Oklahoma State DT Vincent Taylor
Hicks has emerged as the star of a Frog attack that hasn’t been the same this fall without the graduated trio of QB Trevone Boykin, RB Aaron Green and WR Josh Doctson. The junior from Arlington, Texas is averaging more than six yards a carry and rushed for a career-high 192 yards in his last outing with Baylor. Provided someone gets a hat on Taylor, Hicks ought to stay hot against a Cowboy front allowing 5.1 yards a carry over the last eight games. The 6-3, 310-pound Taylor has unusual quick-twitch athleticism and gap-busting skills for a player his size.
5. USC QB Sam Darnold vs. S Adarius Pickett and the UCLA secondary
The rise of Darnold has been one of the stories of 2016 in the Pac-12. Yeah, he’s putting up the numbers, ranking No. 8 nationally in passing efficiency, but he has also been instrumental in the Trojans’ rise out of the ashes. After throwing for more yards on Washington than any other quarterback this season, Darnold will now turn his attention to Pickett and a feisty Bruin secondary. UCLA ranks sixth in the country in pass efficiency defense, going the last 17 quarters without allowing a touchdown pass.
4. Houston OLB Tyus Bowser vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Any hope of containing Jackson this season involves keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. Few have succeeded against the explosive Heisman favorite, who leads the country in rushing touchdowns and is No. 6 in rushing yards. However, the Cougars are emboldened by the return of Bowser, who missed five games with a fractured orbital bone suffered in a fight with teammate Matthew Adams. Bowser, whose range and athleticism will be especially useful Thursday, collected 11 tackles and 3.5 sacks in last week’s triumphant return off the IR.
3. Colorado OLB Jimmie Gilbert vs. Washington State tackles Andre Dillard and Cole Madison
Cougar QB Luke Falk versus CB Chidobe Awuzie and the Buff secondary is a terrific matchup in its own right. But before Falk even gets an opportunity to connect with Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin, he’ll need a safe space in the pocket in which to operate. Enter Gilbert, Colorado’s best pass rusher and a microcosm of the Buffs’ defensive ascent this year. He gets off the snap quickly and pursues with excellent instincts. Plus, Falk might be holding the ball a fraction longer now that one of his favorite targets, River Cracraft, has been lost to an ACL tear.
2. LSU RBs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice vs. Florida LBs David Reese and Kylan Jackson
The Tigers boast one of the nation’s premier one-two punches on the ground, even with Fournette playing at less than 100%. Guice has more than picked up the slack when needed, including rushing for 252 yards and two scores on only 21 carries last week against Arkansas. This will be a very tall order for Reese and Johnson, who are playing in their first season with the Gators. To their credit, the rookies combined for 18 tackles in their starting debuts last Saturday versus South Carolina, but Fournette and Guice bring an entirely different challenge to young linebackers looking to fill running lanes.
1. Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook vs. West Virginia CB Rasul Douglas
A week ago, Douglas helped spearhead the Mountaineers’ key win in Austin, making nine stops and a pick. The senior will once again have to make his presence felt on the back end for West Virginia to remain in the Big 12 title hunt. Douglas has the size, 6-2 and 208 pounds, and the physicality to jam Westbrook at the line of scrimmage. But Westbrook has had an uncanny knack for taking the top off opposing defenses, and he’s been held under 20 yards a catch just one time in his last seven games. No other Sooner receiver will frighten the Mountaineers, so it’s up to Douglas to limit Westbrook’s damage.