This is the time of the year when teams start to show what they are made of and juniors and seniors begin to audition for draft spots in April. Expect individual matchups to start heating up and here is a nice quartet to check out this weekend.
In This Corner ... North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson.
There is probably no quarterback who is cooler and more collected under pressure than Wilson. It seems like no matter the competition, he just rises above it and performs. Wilson has thrown for at least three touchdowns in five of his eight games this season, which includes games against tough defenses from Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. Wilson can extend plays with his legs and has a rifle of an arm to thread the tightest needles. He is the epitome of a game changer and his presence on the field keeps NC State in every game.
And In This Corner ... Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers.
Bowers was a huge recruit for Clemson but never really put all of his size and talent to use on the field until this year. In his first two years at Clemson, Bowers only had four sacks, but so far this season he is leading the nation with 10 sacks. Bowers is a freak athlete with the speed of a rush end in a 6'4, 275 pound package.
And The Winner Is ... Wilson.
Bowers is a handful for any left tackle, but Wilson can extend plays with his legs which makes him nearly impossible to track down. Now Wilson has been sacked 20 times this season but those are mostly coverage sacks. I think that you will see the Wolfpack single out Bowers by chipping him with a running back or putting George Bryan on his side to help block. Against Clemson, look for Wilson to pick on a relatively young secondary and get rid of the ball quickly to avoid the wrath of Mr. Bowers.
In This Corner... Temple RB Bernard Pierce.
Pierce showed up last year and was a freshman workhorse for Al Golden and the Owls, and although he has missed some time due to injuries, he still third in the MAC in rushing with 644 yards and is second with nine rushing touchdowns. Pierce is healthy again and should once again get the bulk of the carries while at time being spelled by diminutive speedster Matt Brown. Pierce is a perfect blend of speed and power as he comes in at 6'0 and 218 pounds but has clocked a 10.8 100 meter dash in high school.
And In This Corner... Kent State LB Cobrani Mixon.
You may be asking yourself who this guy is and why would he even be a match for Saint Bernard. Well Mr. Mixon was originally a Michigan commit and was rated as a four star linebacker by Rivals.com. As the middle linebacker, he is the force that meets opposing tailbacks head on and has done a good job of catching those backs behind the line of scrimmage. On the year, Mixon has 65 tackles with nine for a loss and 4.5 sacks. At 6'1, 230 pounds, Mixon is not the biggest 'backer but he is active and roams from sideline to sideline making plays.
And The Winner Is... Pierce.
Mixon is a good linebacker and will catch Pierce behind the line at least once or twice in this game, but at the end of the day Pierce will get his. He is just too big and fast to not reach the century mark no matter who is on the other side of the line waiting for him.
In This Corner... Alabama WR Julio Jones.
When Jones came out of Foley High and headed to Tuscaloosa, he had the build of an upperclassman and not the usual baby fat that accompanies some true freshman football players. Jones was a tight skinned, full bodied athlete who passed the eyeball test and who a lot of people said was physically NFL ready. Jones stands 6'4 and tips the scales at 222 pounds but can run and leap out of the stadium. To look only at Jones' stats would be missing the big picture as he is in an offense that asks its receivers to block more than getting a bevy of passes thrown their way. However, Jones has been the top receiving threat for the Tide since he arrived as a freshman and has been good enough to handle constant double teams. Jones is the ideal receiver for the Nick Saban-run offense as he works hard, blocks harder, and is a dangerous field stretcher.
And In This Corner... LSU CB Patrick Peterson.
Peterson was in the Heisman talk earlier in the year and anytime a defensive player is in the running for that chunk of bronze, you know he must be someone special. Peterson does a lot of damage on special teams but defensively shuts down half the field making quarterbacks look the other way. Peterson is sized more like a small linebacker at 6'1, 222 pounds but has shown several kick coverage teams that he can certainly run. Peterson has modest stats on the year with just two interceptions but that is because opposing teams have just stopped throwing to his side of the field.
And The Winner Is... Peterson.
I have read before that the only way to slow down Jones was to get your hands on him and chip him at the line of scrimmage. Well if there is any cornerback in the country who can get his hands on Jones and keep running with him afterwards, it is Peterson. Jones will still win some of the battles but Peterson will ultimately win the war as Greg McElroy will just look to Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze as considerably less risky targets to throw to.
In This Corner... Utah QB Jordan Wynn.
Wynn has been a veteran presence as the Utes' field general since starting as a true freshman. Wynn does not have the most imposing stature or the strongest arm but he makes up for it with poise and accuracy. Wynn is currently completing almost 70% of his passes and has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just six interceptions. The Utes rely on their two-headed ground game with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata thus limiting how much Wynn is actually asked to do. Wynn is rarely asked to win the game but rather is assigned the task of making smart decisions and distributing the ball into the hands of the team's playmakers.
And In This Corner... TCU DE Wayne Daniels.
Daniels was supposed to be the next in a line of great defensive ends from Texas Christian, following in the steps of Chase Ortiz, Tommy Blake, and Jerry Hughes. Daniels has not been quite the disruptive force that Hughes was last year but he has been no slouch as he has 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for a loss this season. Regardless of production, Daniels is the type of player that offensive coordinators gameplan around and you can bet that he will continue to see double teams against the Utes.
And The Winner Is... Daniels.
Daniels may not finish the game with gaudy sack statistics but he will pressure and hurry Wynn enough to throw him off and force him into some tough situations. Daniels will force Wynn to keep an eye on him all game and will play a pivotal role in helping the Horned Frogs win at Utah.
Honorable Mention: Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas vs. Texas LB Emmanuel Acho, Hawaii WR Greg Salas vs. Boise State S George Iloka, Alabama RB Mark Ingram vs. LSU DT Drake Nevis, Louisiana Tech QB Ross Jenkins vs. Fresno State DE Chris Carter, Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett vs. Ole Miss DE Devin Taylor.