College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 8 features two prospective first-round picks doing battle under the lights in Tiger Stadium.
College football kicks off on Thursday night with the Miami Hurricanes traveling up to Blacksburg to face the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. Justin Fuente and Manny Diaz will be playing chess all night, likely matching up wideout Isaiah Ford and defensive back Corn Elder in what will certainly be one of the week’s best head-to-head battles.
From Blacksburg to Tuscaloosa, over to Pasadena, and back east to Baton Rouge, here are the best individual matchups for Week 8 of the college football season.
10. Hunter Dimick and the Utah D-line vs. UCLA OTs Conor McDermott and Andre James
Is battered Josh Rosen ready to get back to leading the Bruin huddle? Or will career backup Mike Fafaul earn his second start? Either way, UCLA has to improve at protecting the pocket and creating space for the running backs. Over the past two games with Arizona State and Washington State, the Bruins have mustered a meager 42 rushing yards on 48 carries. And now they’ll lock horns with a veteran Utah defense that, while salty in the trenches, has not been impregnable against the run.
9. Colorado OLB Jimmie Gilbert vs. Stanford OTs A.T. Hall and Casey Tucker
For all the chatter about Mike MacIntyre’s terrific work with the Colorado offense, it’s the evolution of Jim Leavitt’s D that’s really propelled this program into Pac-12 contention. And Gilbert has bloomed into the kind of edge rusher that’s attracting attention from NFL scouts in his senior year. He’s long and explosive, with the closing speed to hunt down lumbering quarterbacks, like Stanford’s Ryan Burns. With or without Christian McCaffrey, the Pac-12-worst Cardinal offense keeps deteriorating, beginning with a line that’s failing to uphold the Tunnel Workers Union tradition.
8. Miami CB Corn Elder vs. Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford
Who gets back on track this Thursday night in Blacksburg, the Canes or the Hokies? Plenty will depend on which offense is able to find a new gear, since Miami is slumping and Va Tech was just derailed by a bad Syracuse defense. Justin Fuente would be wise to increase the touches for Ford, who has a team-high 32 receptions for 459 yards and five touchdowns. But the gifted junior must first shake Elder, the Hurricanes’ stickiest pass defender and most influential playmaker out of the secondary.
7. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. DE Bradley Chubb and the NC State Front Wall
When facing Jackson, it’s all about containment, preventing him from exploding into the open field. Easier designed than done. However, the Pack might have a shot of forcing Jackson to stay in the pocket, where he’s a far less effective playmaker. NC State leads the ACC in run defense at three yards a carry and 95 yards per game. And the underrated Chubb-led front that just outplayed the Clemson O-line in Week 7 could wield similar results this weekend at Papa John’s Stadium.
6. C Tyler Orlosky and the West Virginia O-line vs. DE Josh Carraway and the TCU D-line
It’ll be strength versus strength at the point of attack when the Mountaineers have the ball Saturday. From left to right, West Virginia has been a rock at the point of attack, allowing a Big 12-low four sacks and paving the way for more than five yards a carry. But TCU presents a challenge on par with Mizzou and Kansas State, which both held the ‘eers below their usual offensive output. Carraway is the Frogs’ best pass rusher, but DT Aaron Curry and DE James McFarland can also flush Skyler Howard from the pocket.
5. OLB T.J. Watt and the Wisconsin Back Seven vs. OG Sean Welsh and the Iowa O-line
One of the longstanding cornerstones of Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeye teams has been the ability to rebuild up front, regardless of how many blockers head to the NFL. This season, though, has been an exception, a key reason the defending Big Ten West champs are unranked. Iowa has uncharacteristically surrendered 18 sacks, which is impacting the effectiveness of QB C.J. Beathard. While Wisconsin is mediocre up front, Watt spearheads an attacking back seven that’ll be doubly oppressive if OLB Vince Biegel returns after missing the last two games to a foot injury.
4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley vs. Ohio State OLB Jerome Baker
If the Lions have a prayer of upsetting Ohio State, Barkley must deliver the kind of game that catapults him into Heisman contention. Anything less and Penn State is doomed to be the Buckeyes’ seventh straight victim this season. Standing in the way is an outstanding OSU D, with an unlikely emerging star in Baker. He was a backup in the opener, but was promoted after Dante Booker suffered a knee injury. And Baker has made the most of his opportunity—and his range and tackling skills—by notching a team-high 39 stops, including 13 in last week’s Wisconsin win.
3. Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly vs. LSU CBs Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver II
Kelly wasn’t his usual sharpshooting self last week against Arkansas, completing just 18-of-39 passes for 253 yards, a touchdown and a pick in one of his worst efforts as a Rebel. He now faces a menacing secondary against which to script a rebound. White and Toliver are next-level pass defenders, and SS Jamal Adams will likely be cashing NFL paychecks next fall as well. Ole Miss must open up the passing attack, since the ground game is so unpredictable, but LSU is knotted with Baylor for fewest TD passes allowed in 2016.
2. Auburn RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway vs. MLB Brooks Ellis and the Arkansas Run D
The Tigers have battled back from a 1-2 start, almost exclusively on the backs of the defense and an old-school ground game. That rushing attack is hoping to welcome back Johnson, who rolled his ankle two weeks ago and could be a game-day decision. Johnson will have the extra motivation of returning to face a Razorback defense yielding 5.6 yards per carry, which ranks 123rd in the country. Ellis is a plugger with modest range. Plus, Arkansas is also being hurt on the second level by the loss of WLB Dre Greenlaw, who’s out until next month with a foot injury.
1. Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight vs. Alabama WLB Reuben Foster
Beating Bama is one of the toughest things to do in college football. Recent history shows it’s next to impossible without a mobile quarterback. Improvisational QBs have given fits to Nick Saban’s teams from time to time. Think Chad Kelly or Johnny Manziel, for instance. Knight has similar tendencies, rushing for 549 pre-sack yards and nine scores, often on designed runs. He’s an average thrower, so if he and RB Trayveon Williams are unable to elude Foster and the other heat-seeking Tide defenders, A&M’s odds for the upset become even more remote.