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Mariota vs. Winston leads bowl season's individual matchups

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As part of a recent series, we're taking power rankings from macro to micro. Instead of looking at the best teams that are dominating the college football landscape, we're focusing on something more specific in this series.


» Predictions for every CFB bowl game


With bowl season upon us, we're taking a look at some of the top individual matchups of the 38 postseason games. Given the intrigue of certain battles, we're including players that play the same position, even though they won't be going against each other head to head on the field.

These rankings aren't based on draft projections, but as talented as these players are, you're bound to hear their names called very soon by some franchise. Without further ado, on to the rankings.

1. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota vs. FSU QB Jameis Winston

Bowl game: Rose Bowl, Jan. 1
Heisman Trophy winners have met in a bowl game just two other times before (when Tim Tebow beat Sam Bradford in 2008 and when Matt Leinart beat Jason White in 2005), and the third battle might be the juiciest of the trio. Winston has seen his numbers fall sharply this season, but he is undefeated as a starting quarterback and has led a number of remarkable second-half comeback to get the Seminoles in the playoff. Mariota faces the tougher defense in this game and has the weight of recently being anointed as the Heisman winner. NFL scouts will be out in force in Pasadena to see these two. Plus, there's the bonus of watching Oregon center Hroniss Grasu take on Noles DT Eddie Goldman and Ducks defensive lineman Arik Armstead battle interior offensive linemen Tre Jackson and Cam Erving.

2. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory vs. USC DL Leonard Williams

Bowl game: Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27.
Two of the best defensive-line prospects in college football the past couple of years will battle to shine brighter in the Holiday Bowl. Gregory dealt with some injuries early in the season, but the athletic specimen gets to come off the edge against a young Trojans offensive line. Williams has often drawn double- or triple-teams this season but has still managed to create a push and find a way to nail the quarterback. Each has a draft-declaration decision to make after the game. The side note to these two going against each other is Doak Walker finalist and star Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah trying to get around USC's dependable linebacker, Hayes Pullard.

3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III vs. Boise State RB Jay Ajayi

Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 31.
Wright won just about every defensive award you can win in college football this season after a stat line that was unparalleled in leading the Wildcats to a surprising Pac-12 South title. Ajayi, one of the most underrated running backs in the country, was the workhorse that was able to guide a struggling offense to the non-Power Five major bowl bid. Wright will have to fly around like he usually does and wrap up, or Ajayi could lead the Broncos to another Fiesta Bowl upset.

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4. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa vs. Alabama OT Cam Robinson

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1
Robinson, Alabama's true freshman left tackle, has had a remarkable season protecting Blake Sims against a number of talented pass rushers out of the SEC. He's been banged up, but will still probably start against the Buckeyes and will only have one of the best defensive players in the country to block in Bosa. The OSU defensive end has a variety of pass-rush moves and can run a blocker over. There's a bonus matchup in the Sugar Bowl, too, if you count Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins trying to prevent deep balls from getting to speedy wideout Devin Smith.

5. ECU WR Justin Hardy vs. Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Bowl game: Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3
Hargreaves is one of the top cornerbacks in college football, and he'll have his hands full with savvy Pirates veteran Hardy, the all-time FBS leader in receptions. There are not many reasons to watch this game between a pair of programs that faltered in the face of high expectations this season, but a top corner vs. a stud receiver is one of them.


» LSU's Dural among bowl season's biggest X-factors


6. LSU RB Leonard Fournette vs. Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith

Bowl game: Music City Bowl, Dec. 30
Notre Dame and LSU hooking up in a bowl game is big on name appeal but less enticing when you consider how the Irish slumped to end the year. Still, there's some juicy matchups in this one, led by Fournette, a stud tailback, attempting to run away from Smith, one of the best young linebackers in the country. Fournette runs more between the tackles, but Smith will be counted on to help contain the Tigers RB with a banged-up front seven trying to withstand the physicality of LSU. Keep an eye on Notre Dame receivers Will Fuller and Corey Robinson going up against LSU's stingy secondary as well as defensive end Danielle Hunter rushing against Irish left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

7. South Carolina RBs Mike Davis/Brandon Wilds vs. Miami LB Denzel Perryman

Bowl game: Independence Bowl, Dec. 27
Perryman is one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in college football and has been a machine in the middle of the Miami defense this season. The senior is hoping to go out in style with a bowl win but will have to slow down the Gamecocks' pair of talented tailbacks.

In a weekly series, draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah polls five NFL personnel executives about college football's top prospects.

8. TCU QB Trevone Boykin/WR Josh Doctson vs. Ole Miss CB Senquez Golson/S Cody Prewitt

Bowl game: Peach Bowl, Dec. 31
The first of the "New Year's Six" bowl games might be the most interesting. In the case of the Horned Frogs, Boykin and Doctson have been torching defenses deep for big plays all year. They'll be tested by the Landshark Defense, though. Going against a secondary that features two of the best senior prospects at their positions in Golson and Prewitt, who have given up just three passes of more than 50 yards all year long, will be a challenge.

9. Michigan State CB Trae Waynes vs. Baylor WR Antwan Goodley

Bowl game: Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1
The Bears' wideouts will try to find holes in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone" secondary, helping to make this a juicy Cotton Bowl game between the Big 12 champions and a Big Ten power. On a smaller scale, Goodley's matchup against a physical corner like Waynes will be something to keep an eye on. You can bet NFL scouts will have their binoculars trained on the two when they lineup against each other. Don't sleep on Baylor tackle Spencer Drango trying to contain MSU pass rusher Shilique Calhoun, either.

10. Colorado State OT Ty Sambrailo vs. Utah DE Nate Orchard

Bowl game: Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 20
Naturally, a lot of the big-time one-on-one matchups take place in the major bowl games, but if you're looking for one in a lower-tier bowl, settle on going to Vegas (which is never a bad idea). Sambrailo should be available in the second or third round of the draft, per NFL Media's Albert Breer. The Rams tackle will have his hands full Saturday, however, as Orchard leads the nation in sacks per game (1.46) and is a blur off the edge.
UPDATE: Orchard gets better of Sambrailo in Vegas Bowl rout

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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