This weekend's college football slate is loaded with outstanding matchups. The marquee game of the weekend features two top-five teams (No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 5 Florida State), each led by top-tier quarterbacks. There is also a showdown of top-15 teams taking place in the Pac-12, as No. 9 UCLA travels up the coast to take on No. 13 Stanford.
The key to those games could come down to the performance of two players on this week's watch list. Here are the five players I'll be focused on this weekend:
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd vs. Florida State
Boyd loves to play in big games and he'll have center stage on Saturday as Clemson plays host to Florida State. Boyd torched LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year and he put on a show against Georgia in the opener this season. I'm expecting another outstanding big-game performance from the senior quarterback on Saturday night. Through six games, he has already thrown 15 touchdowns and rushed for another five. He's been intercepted just twice this season.
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles vs. Louisville
Bortles is one of the most underrated players in college football. The strong-armed junior quarterback rarely hears his name mentioned among the top guys at the position, but he is playing very well this season. He'll have a chance on Friday to get everyone's attention, as the Knights go on the road to take on eighth-ranked Louisville and its star passer, Teddy Bridgewater. So far this season, Bortles has thrown nine touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He has outstanding size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), a strong arm, and enough athletic ability to extend plays. (Update: Bortles was effective in leading UCF to an upset victory over Louisville.)
Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson vs. South Carolina
Richardson made a name for himself in last year's game against South Carolina. He held up well against All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for most of the contest before allowing a crucial sack-forced fumble in the fourth quarter. He'll get another crack at Clowney this weekend as Tennessee plays host to the Gamecocks. Richardson has an excellent combination of size, length and quickness. However, he does struggle at times to redirect vs. inside counter moves. That could be a major problem against Clowney.
UCLA LB Anthony Barr vs. Stanford
A freakish athlete, Barr continues to improve as a football player. This season, the Bruins' senior linebacker has already notched 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles. He is a dynamic blitzer off the edge, but I've been even more impressed with his improvement as a run defender. He uses his length to stack blocks on the front side, and he uses his speed to chase down plays from the backside. His ability to dominate against both the run and pass should be a huge factor on Saturday, as the Bruins take on a very physical Stanford squad.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel vs. Auburn
Last week, Manziel's late-game heroics helped the Aggies avoid an upset against Ole Miss. He hasn't skipped a beat since his stat-stuffing performance against Alabama, and he'll look to stay on course as the Aggies welcome 24th-ranked Auburn to College Station. Manziel has already accounted for 19 touchdowns this season (14 passing, 5 rushing), and he's completing 73.2 percent of his passes. He has improved his footwork dramatically from last season and it has helped him become more consistent with his ball placement.