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 WR-DB matchup
Alabama WR Amari Cooper vs. Ole Miss DB Tony Conner
Credit Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for crafting innovative game plans that have helped Cooper, a 6-foot, 205-pound playmaker, snatch 43 passes for 655 yards and three score in four games. Not that Cooper needed any assistance getting open based on his remarkable combination of speed, quickness and burst, but the savvy offensive architect has found a way to isolate Cooper against overmatched defenders through formation diversity and clever scheming. Thus, the Rebels must be prepared to make checks and adjustments to ensure proper coverage over the Crimson Tide's most dangerous offensive weapon. If Cooper is allowed to run freely through zones without facing harassment, he could carry Alabama to a big win on the road.
Conner is the ultimate hybrid defender in college football. He displays the athleticism and cover skills to align anywhere in the Rebels' secondary, but he could draw the assignment against Cooper as a nickel back. Additionally, he could attack quarterback Blake Sims off the edge on an assortment of slot blitzes designed to disrupt the rhythm of the Crimson Tide passing game. With All-American safety Cody Prewitt protecting him over the top, Connor's aggressiveness could yield a game-changing turnover for the Rebels.
Most intriguing matchup
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson vs. Stanford defense
Golson is beginning to generate some buzz as a Heisman Trophy candidate after getting off to a sizzling start in South Bend. The 6-0, 203-pound senior has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with a sparkling 11:2 touchdown to interception ratio. Golson has shown excellent poise, patience and precision directing the offense, while also mixing in a few athletic runs to keep defenders on their heels. His efficiency and explosiveness have left opponents without answers for defending the emerging playmaker on the perimeter.
Stanford has continued to hang its hat on a rugged defense that punishes opponents at every turn. The unit is holding opponents to just 6.5 points and an FBS-low 198 yards per game. Part of its success is keyed by the play of outstanding cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons. The duo locks down receivers on the perimeter in man coverage, allowing defensive coordinator Lance Anderson to free the rest of his defenders to hunt the ball. With LB Pete Kalambayi blossoming into a superstar along the front, the air-tight coverage on the outside could allow the Cardinal defense to attack Golson with a host of blitzes designed to disrupt his rhythm in the pocket.
Best under-the-radar matchup
LSU offensive line vs. Auburn LBs Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy
The Tigers' offensive line is under the gun to perform at a high level with freshman QB Brandon Harris poised to make his first start. The rookie passer has already shown the ability to pick apart opponents with pinpoint passes, but he will need sufficient time in the pocket to allow Malachi Dupree and Travin Dural to work free on the perimeter. Thus, La'el Collins and Co. must be able to sort out the exotic blitzes Auburn routinely employs to attack quarterbacks in the pocket. If they can keep Harris upright and clean, the freshman could spark an offensive explosion that helps LSU get a hard-fought win on the road.
Frost and McKinzy are the keys to a revamped defensive attack predicated on pressure from the second level. The speedy linebackers are explosive athletes capable of blowing through creases at the point of attack. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will take advantage of those traits by running an assortment of blitzes that allow the duo to wreak havoc off the edges and up the middle. If the crafty play caller can get an accurate read on the Tigers' pass protection early, he could unleash the hounds on LSU's young quarterback on Saturday night.
Best matchup in the trenches
Nebraska DE Randy Gregory vs. Michigan State OTs Jack Conklin and Kodi Kieler
NFL scouts are already clamoring over Gregory's skills as a dynamic edge player. The 6-6, 245-pound defensive end has amassed 25 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in his last 17 games, exhibiting freakish athleticism and burst off the edge. Additionally, Gregory has shown the versatility to move around the line and drop into coverage as a hybrid defender for the Huskers in select sub packages. Thus, the Spartans must be aware of his presence at every moment and find a way to keep multiple bodies on him in pass protection.
Conklin and Kieler have done an outstanding job of keeping QB Connor Cook clean in the pocket. The Spartans have allowed just three sacks this season, but Gregory poses a tremendous challenge with his rare combination of size, speed and strength. He is athletic enough to run around blockers, yet he possesses the explosiveness to use a variety of power maneuvers to run through pass protection. If Conklin and Kieler aren't able to contain the Nebraska star off the edge, it could be a long day in the pocket for Cook.
Best coaching matchup
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel vs. TCU head coach Gary Patterson
The Sooners' high-octane offense features a balanced attack with QB Trevor Knight and RB Samaje Perine headlining the attack. Knight picks apart opponents with a bevy of quick-rhythm throws to the perimeter, while Perine blasts through big holes between the tackles. When the Sooners are at their best, the combination of hard-hitting runs and complementary throws overwhelms defenses in the game's late stages. Thus, TCU must find a way to make the Sooners one-dimensional to have a shot at pulling off the upset.
Patterson, one of the most respected defensive minds in college football, is a master schemer adept at tweaking his 4-2-5 defense to take away an opponent's strengths. He will likely load the box to contain Perine, and force Knight to beat him with contested throws on the perimeter. While Knight has picked apart elite defenses in the past, the Horned Frogs' aggressive approach could disrupt his timing and rhythm in the pocket. If Knight is unable to find his flow, the Sooners could fall prey to a surprising upset on the road.