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Bucky's Best: Top CFB matchups to watch in Week 9


In his weekly Bucky's Best series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks identifies the must-see matchups of the weekend in college football.

Best matchup in the trenches

Clemson DE/OLB Vic Beasley vs. Syracuse OT Sean Hickey

There is no question in the minds of NFL scouts that Beasley is the most explosive edge rusher in college football. He exhibits remarkable first-step quickness and snap-count anticipation, yet it's his closing speed and burst that makes him nearly impossible to block off the edge. Beasley has proven his point by registering eight sacks in seven games, while adding a host of disruptive plays and pressures that have helped the Tigers' defense carry the load in recent weeks. Although Beasley remains a relative non-factor against the run, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior is a wrecking ball on passing downs and the Orange will need to craft a plan to deal with his explosive athleticism to have a chance at mustering a decent offensive effort.

» Predictions for top 10 games of Week 9

Hickey gets an opportunity to boost his draft stock with a strong performance against a blue-chip prospect. Beasley is as close to an elite NFL speed rusher as Hickey will face at the collegiate level, so snuffing him out will convince scouts that he can successfully hold up at left tackle as a pro. If Hickey can use a variety of techniques (quick jam, short sets and kick-and-slide maneuvers) to thwart Beasley's pass-rushing attempts, he could be the one of the most buzzed about prospects in NFL circles next week.

Best WR-DB matchup

Michigan WR Devin Funchess vs. Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Whenever a Michigan receiver dons No. 1, he must be a special player based on the storied tradition of the number (Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, Braylon Edwards and David Terrell). Thus, the Wolverines were expecting big things from Funchess when he received the number in the spring. The 6-5, 230-pound junior has not disappointed, leading the team in receptions (36), receiving yards (461) and receiving TDs (4) as the top option in the passing game. Funchess excels at winning jump balls on the perimeter, yet has developed into a solid route runner and playmaker as the Wolverines' primary receiver. Although inconsistent quarterback play has prevented him from making a bigger impact, there is no disputing his upside and potential as a hybrid player at the next level.

» Sources Tell Us: Funchess compared to Jimmy Graham

Waynes has played well as the "boundary corner" in the Spartans' suffocating defense. He dominates one-on-one matchups on the outside, exhibiting outstanding footwork, hands and technical skill in press coverage. Additionally, Waynes shows excellent recovery quickness and burst tracking down receivers on vertical routes. With Waynes possessing the size (6-1, 183) and length to match up with Funchess on the perimeter, scouts will pay close attention to this rivalry game to see if the Spartans' star has the goods to be an elite cover corner at the next level.

Most favorable defensive matchup

Ole Miss defense vs. LSU QB Anthony Jennings

The Rebels' stifling defense has sparked their ascension to the top of the defensive world. The impressive assemblage of athletic talent along the defensive line and secondary makes it nearly impossible to move the ball down the field against the Rebels with the run or pass. This is especially true when an opponent has a suspect quarterback with questionable judgment and flawed throwing mechanics. Thus, Rebels defenders should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing Jennings in the pocket. With Robert Nkemdiche wreaking havoc at the point of attack and the rest of the "Landsharks," including Cody Prewitt, Tony Conner and Senquez Golson, could feast on Jennings' errant throws.

» Playoff scenarios: How Week 9 will impact race

The Tigers will need a monster effort from Jennings to pull off an upset in Death Valley. The 6-2, 216-pound sophomore is completing just 50 percent of his passes heading into this huge SEC showdown. While the Tigers have been able to mask Jennings' inefficiency by leaning on Leonard Fournette and a powerful running game, the Rebels will make a concerted effort to put the game on Jennings' shoulders. If the young quarterback is unable to make any plays in the passing game, it could be a long night for the Tigers in front of their home fans.

Most favorable offensive matchup

West Virginia WR Kevin White vs. Oklahoma State secondary

White is quietly emerging as a Heisman Trophy candidate after posting seven straight 100-yard games for the Mountaineers. The big-bodied pass-catcher is an exceptional athlete on the perimeter who excels at coming down with 50-50 catches. Additionally, he is an explosive runner with the speed, quickness and power to turn short passes into big gains in the open field. With Clint Trickett prone to feeding him early and often to get the Mountaineers' offense into a rhythm, White could have a big day against a secondary that struggled containing TCU's Josh Doctson (7 catches, 225 yards and 2 TDs) a week ago.

» Davis: White leads list of CFB's most underrated playmakers

For the Cowboys, the challenge of defending the Mountaineers' fast-paced spread offense comes down to winning individual matchups on the perimeter. The Cowboys' defensive backs, namely Kevin Peterson and Ramon Richards, must be able to hold up in one-on-one coverage vs. White and Co. on the perimeter. If the Cowboys are forced to use cloud coverage (corner pressed over the wide receiver with safety playing deep-half coverage), the Mountaineers will gash them in the running game and control the tempo from beginning to end.

Best under-the-radar matchup

Utah return specialist Kaelin Clay vs. USC special teams

The Utes' surprising rise in the Pac-12 has been fueled by the play of the most dangerous returner in college football. Clay has scored four return touchdowns (three punt returns and a kick return) in just 18 return chances, while exhibiting the speed, quickness and burst that scouts covet in return specialists at the next level. He is fearless in shagging punts and his willingness to field a kick off the bounce makes directional punting a dangerous proposition. If Clay is able to flip the field for the Utes with a couple of big returns, Utah will be able to cash in on some scoring opportunities without having to lean on a scattershot offense that has struggled to move the ball against quality defenses.

» FBS conference rankings: SEC edges Pac-12

For the Trojans, the containment of Clay should be a top priority. The Utes lack the explosiveness on offense to move the ball against a talented squad, so they will need to generate yards in the return game to shorten the field and create scoring chances. If the Trojans can limit Clay's effectiveness by using an assortment of tricks (squib kicks, pooch punts and directional kicks) and sound coverage, USC should be able to walk out of Rice-Eccles Stadium with a huge road win.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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