College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 13 include Ohio State’s offensive line vs. Michigan’s defensive line.
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 rivalry week winners and who’ll be demoralized at the close of Week 13? Plenty hinges on which side prevails in these crucial unit and player battles.
10. South Carolina DE Darius English vs. Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt
The Gamecocks won’t tally enough points in the traditional manner to upset the Tigers, so they’ll need takeaways and non-offensive touchdowns to unravel their rival. The South Carolina secondary, led by corners Chris Lammons, Rashad Fenton and Jamarcus King, could cause fits for the inconsistent Deshaun Watson, especially if no one contains English. English is an ideally long and quick pass rusher, with 52 tackles and a team-high nine sacks. And he’ll be fun to watch when lined up opposite Hyatt, Clemson’s most skilled pass rusher.
9. Iowa DT Jaleel Johnson vs. Nebraska RG Tanner Farmer
One of the secrets of the Huskers’ success in Mike Riley’s second season? The resiliency of an O-line that’s overcome injuries and a lack of star power to open holes for Terrell Newby and allow a Big Ten-low 10 sacks. Farmer has been one of the group leaders, and should be for the next two years. His task this week will be to protect QB Tommy Armstrong, who’s battling a hamstring injury, from a Hawkeye D that’s peaking. Johnson is a 310-pound gap-buster who’ll either blow up the backfield or force Nebraska to commit two linemen to stopping him.
8. USC NT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu vs. Notre Dame C Sam Mustipher
For the Irish, who want to run Josh Adams to set up QB DeShone Kizer in the passing game, this is going to be an extremely challenging matchup. Tu’ikolovatu has been an unheralded star of the Trojan D since transferring from Utah, anchoring the middle so that the playmakers endure less traffic. Troy has held six opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground, including the last three. And based on his play through the first 11 games, Mustipher is not a guy capable of neutralizing the power and strong base of Tu’ikolovatu.
7. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement vs. Minnesota LB Jonathan Celestin
Without a lot of fanfare, the Gopher D has been stout all season, holding opponents to 22 points per game and just 3.3 yards per carry. The Badgers are not a prolific passing team, so Clement will be running headlong into Celestin, fellow LB Jack Lynn and playmaking DT Steven Richardson. Minnesota gets to the ball quickly and wraps up in space to prevent yards after contact. If the Gophers can frustrate Clement, it’s going to put immense pressure on quarterbacks Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston to convert on third downs.
6. Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett vs. LSU tackles K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby
The Tigers have been assertive on the interior, opening massive holes for Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. On the flanks, not so much. And that’s a particular problem as the team heads to College Station for a Thursday game with the Aggies. Garrett is healthy again, or at least as healthy as he’s been in a long time. UTSA had the misfortune of witnessing it firsthand last Saturday, allowing 4.5 sacks to the nation’s premier defensive end. If Garrett is Garrett, he’ll spend Thanksgiving night feasting on lumbering QB Danny Etling.
5. Colorado QB Sefo Liufau and RB Phillip Lindsay vs. DT Lowell Lotulelei
The Buffs have employed an old-school mentality to get to within a victory of a Pac-12 South title. This week, it’ll be strength against strength with Utah headed to Boulder. The Utes are every bit as physical on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense. There’ll be a lot of congestion on the interior, where Liufau and Lindsay like to navigate between the tackles. However, Lotulelei is a rock on the inside, and linemates Hunter Dimick, Filipo Mokofisi and Pita Taumoepenu fill out one of the nation’s most disruptive pass rushing D-lines.
4. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
Cook has owned the Gator defense in his two meetings, rushing for well over 100 yards both times. Making it three in a row, though, will require getting past Brantley on the first line of defense. Florida has been solid all year against the run, even after injuries struck linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. The constant has been Brantley in the middle. He has a knack for making opposing backs travel sideways, collecting three tackles behind the line in last week’s SEC East-clinching upset of LSU.
3. Washington WRs John Ross and Dante Pettis vs. Washington State CBs Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins
Yeah, coordinator Alex Grinch has done a solid job with the Wazzu defense, but his team still yields too many big plays, particularly in the secondary. Last Saturday against Colorado, the Cougars allowed 603 yards, including 345 through the air. And the Buffs aren’t nearly as dangerous on the outside as the Huskies. Ross and Pettis are bona fide field-stretchers, combining for 27 of Jake Browning’s touchdown strikes. And if too many resources are committed to the receivers, RB Myles Gaskin will gash the Cougs on the ground.
2. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Auburn SS Tray Matthews
If Auburn has any shot of ending Alabama’s perfect season in the Iron Bowl, it’ll be driven by the defense. The Tigers will have all kinds of problems scoring on the Tide, just like everyone other than Ole Miss does. Kevin Steele’s D, though, has been outstanding, allowing just 14 points per game. The key will be containing Hurts, both as a runner and a passer. The true freshman hurts defenses in myriad ways, so it’s incumbent on Matthews to help cover WR Calvin Ridley and TE O.J. Howard and punish Hurts when he exits the pocket.
1. C Pat Elflein and the Ohio State O-line vs. NT Ryan Glasgow and the Michigan D-line
In terms of trench warfare, it doesn’t get much better than this matchup when the Buckeyes have the ball. Elflein is a star at the pivot, but the Ohio State blockers have hit occasional speed bumps, like the second half of the Penn State loss. The Wolverines are an immovable object up front, led by Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Matthew Godin, allowing three yards a carry. The Buckeyes will need to get Curtis Samuel in space, where he could be paired with Jabrill Peppers in a head-to-head matchup of two of the most versatile athletes in all of college football.