|(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)(AP Photo/Dave Weaver)|
|Brandon Scherff and Randy Gregory will face off in what could be one of the season's best individual matchups.|
Forget team matchups for a minute.
Yes, it's difficult not to already be looking forward to Michigan State-Oregon on Sept. 6 and Baylor-Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and Alabama-Auburn on Nov. 29.
But individual matchups frequently are just as enticing, like when a stud wide receiver goes against a stud cornerback or a star offensive tackle tries to block a star defensive end.
To that end, here are 12 individual matchups we can't wait to see this fall. (There were a lot more to choose from, but we especially liked these.)
Sept. 6: Oregon OT Tyler Johnstone vs. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun. Two guys who don't get enough acclaim will be squaring off. In a way, this epitomizes the finesse-vs.-brawn storyline that will accompany the biggest non-conference game of the season. Johnstone, who is 6-foot-6, is light, as far as tackles go, weighing in at 289 pounds. Calhoun isn't all that big himself (6-5, 256), but he is a physical guy who can rush the passer and also hold up against the run.
Sept. 6: Stanford OT Andrus Peat vs. USC DE Leonard Williams. Just call this the "Grown Man Showdown." These dudes are huge -- Peat is a physical 6-foot-7, 316-pound junior, while Williams is a physical 6-5, 300-pound junior. Williams also is likely to see time at defensive tackle, so he won't be matched up the whole game against Peat. But when they do mix it up, don't be surprised if the ground shakes and the earth moves. This might be the best power-vs.-power matchup of the entire season.
Sept. 13: East Carolina WR Justin Hardy vs. Virginia Tech CB Kendall Fuller. Hardy (6-0, 188), a senior who began his career as a walk-on, has 266 career receptions, putting him within relatively easy reach of the NCAA career receptions record. He has averaged 101 receptions over the past two seasons, and he needs 84 to own the mark. Hardy is athletic, and has good speed and quickness, but he had his lowest yardage total of the season against Virginia Tech in 2013. Fuller (5-11, 195) is the second-best sophomore cornerback in the nation (more on the top sophomore corner in a minute), and he has the attributes of a top-flight shutdown corner: He is strong, physical and possesses good ball skills. If Fuller and fellow sophomore CB Brandon Facyson (who also is pretty darned good himself) can stifle Hardy, ECU won't win.
Sept. 20: Florida State OT Cameron Erving vs. Clemson DE Vic Beasley. Erving (6-6, 308), a senior, dominated their one-on-one matchup in FSU's demolition of Clemson in 2013, and Beasley acknowledged at the ACC Media Day event in July that Erving was the best tackle he played against last season. Beasley (6-2, 235), a senior, is one of the best pass rushers in the nation; he has excellent speed off the edge but also can be effective as a bull rusher. But Erving definitely got the best of him last season, limiting him to two tackles and keeping him away from QB Jameis Winston. Clemson has to get a pass rush this season, which puts the onus on Beasley to produce -- and a ton of NFL scouts will be watching.
Sept. 20: Alabama WR Amari Cooper vs. Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III. Cooper (6-1, 210), a junior, is Alabama's best wide receiver -- and might be the Tide's most talented player. He has excellent speed, runs precise routes and is a big-time athlete who knows how to use his body to keep defenders shielded. Hargreaves (5-11, 194) is the best sophomore cornerback in the nation -- and might be the best corner in the nation, period. He is technically sound, with excellent footwork, and has good speed and ball skills. It would behoove Florida coaches to have him shadow Cooper all over the field. Alabama has a nice group of receivers, but Gators coaches likely will feel confident that if they can keep Cooper somewhat under wraps, that bodes well for Florida's defense as a whole.
Oct. 4: Baylor WR Antwan Goodley vs. Texas CB Quandre Diggs. Goodley (5-10, 225), a senior, is a blazer who is the best wide receiver in the Big 12, a league not exactly filled with top-notch corners. Diggs (5-10, 198), a senior, might be the best cornerback in the conference. Goodley had a big game against the Longhorns last season, with eight catches for 114 yards and a TD in a 30-10 rout. Texas' defense has undergone some changes this season, so look for Diggs and Texas' other defensive backs to play more aggressively this fall. But know this: If Goodley has another big game, Texas' chances for a win decrease greatly.
Oct. 11: LSU OT La'El Collins vs. Florida DE Dante Fowler. Collins (6-5, 315) is considered one of the top five senior tackles in the nation. He is athletic and can be a road-grader as a run blocker. He also has top-notch protection skills because of his adroit footwork. Florida coaches are expecting big things from Fowler (6-3, 261), a junior who also will line up as an outside linebacker because of his pass-rush skills. While he has a high ceiling as a pass rusher, Fowler also is effective against the run, and a big season from him is vital if Florida's defense is going to live up to expectations.
Oct. 18: Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi vs. Alabama DE A'Shawn Robinson. Ogbuehi (6-5, 305), a senior, seems likely to be one of the first two offensive tackles off the board in the 2015 draft. He started at guard in 2011 and '12, moved to right tackle last season and now is on the move again; he will take over as the Aggies' left tackle for Jake Matthews, who was a first-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2014 draft. Matthews made the same move -- from right tackle to the left side -- before the 2013 season. Ogbuehi has all the skills necessary to be a franchise left tackle. Robinson (6-4, 320), a true sophomore, might be the Tide's most talented defender; at the least, he is the most talented in the front seven. He is a large man with excellent strength and startling quickness. Robinson, a native Texan, led the Tide with 5.5 sacks last season as a true freshman. When he becomes comfortable with the nuances of the position, watch out.
Oct. 30: Louisville WR DeVante Parker vs. Florida State CB P.J. Williams. Parker (6-3, 208), a senior, might be the nation's most athletic player. He is big and physical, and can run and jump. But he didn't see any cornerbacks like Williams (6-0, 196), a junior, in the AAC last season. (Truth be told, he won't see many -- if any -- as good as Williams in the ACC, either.) Louisville's passing attack is going to give them a puncher's chance against the Seminoles, but if Parker -- Louisville's best target -- is shut down, the Cardinals might never be able to deliver a big blow.
Nov. 15: Maryland WR Stefon Diggs vs. Michigan State CB Trae Waynes. Diggs (6-0, 190), a junior, missed the final six games with a broken leg last season, but when he is healthy, he is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. He remains a bit raw as a route runner, but he is ultra-dangerous with the ball in his hands as a receiver, return man and on jet sweeps. Waynes (6-1, 182), a junior, didn't receive much notice last season because he was the Spartans' other corner to Darqueze Dennard. But with Dennard now with the Cincinnati Bengals, Waynes will be in the spotlight this fall -- and he is more than equipped to handle it. He is faster and more athletic than Dennard, if not quite as polished. Well, he isn't as polished yet, anyway. Maryland has to throw the ball effectively if they're to have any shot at pulling what would be a huge upset, but if Diggs is shut down, the Terps have no shot.
Nov. 15: Florida State G Tre Jackson vs. Miami ILB Denzel Perryman. Jackson (6-4, 330), a senior, is the best guard in the nation. Perryman (6-0, 240), a senior, might be the best inside linebacker in the nation. Both are extremely physical players. Perryman might lack height, but he is a fierce hitter (No. 2 on the linked list). Jackson is a big man who can move, and he frequently blows up linebackers and defensive backs. Perryman has to have a huge game if UM has any hope of an upset. UM must make FSU one-dimensional because if the Seminoles can run effectively, Winston will torch the Hurricanes' questionable secondary.
Nov. 28: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff vs. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory. A culture clash, of sorts. Scherff (6-5, 320) a senior, is a throwback to the days when strength ruled everything, while Gregory (6-6, 248), a junior, is the type of fast-moving athlete that every coach wants at end. Scherff is a brute as a run-blocker; once he gets locked in, the defender is doomed. He also has surprisingly quick feet and is a solid pass protector, as well. Gregory's pass-rush skills are what stands out; he is quick off the edge and has a nice inside move, too. His work against the run needs work, though. Still, this should be one of the premier one-on-one matchups of the entire season.
A bonus: There are two quarterback-linebacker "matchups" on Oct. 11 that deserve at least passing notice. There's Oregon QB Marcus Mariota vs. UCLA LB Myles Jack and Auburn QB Nick Marshall vs. Mississippi State LB Bernardrick McKinney. Both the Ducks and the Tigers (especially the Tigers) need their quarterbacks to make some plays in the running game, but in these matchups, the quarterbacks are going to have to be extra careful against two highly athletic linebackers. Jack already has received a lot of attention because he plays both ways, but McKinney might be the better defender. And there could be some epic collisions between him and Marshall on some read-option runs. Jack's pass-coverage ability will be tested by Mariota. But you also can be sure that Jack will try to make some forays into Oregon's backfield to get up close and personal with Mariota.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.