Will Gaffney be able to prosper through adversity once again this weekend?
With plenty of grueling matchups on tap for college football action this weekend, there are several head-to-head battles that will stand out.
Week 12 pits two of the nation’s best running backs against each other in one game and two of the top passers duke it out in another. Also, look for a Heisman Trophy candidate to face adversity while trying to bounce back from his first disappointing performance of the season.
All in all, there are plenty of juicy matchups that will keep college football fans on the edge of their seats.
Here are 10 specific matchups to keep a close eye on.
Sims (center) and the Yellow Jackets rushing attack will face a tough test on Saturday.
Week 12 Matchup: Georgia Tech (6-3) at No. 8 Clemson (8-1), Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
If there’s one thing the Yellow Jackets are known for this season, it’s running the ball.
Through nine games, the team ranks No. 4 in rushing (311.2 YPG). David Sims, Robert Godhigh, Zach Laskey and Vad Lee have combined for 24 touchdowns and a majority of Georgia Tech’s 2,801 yards on the ground.
Against the Tigers this weekend, that success will be put to the test.
Thus far, Clemson is ranked No. 32 against the run (140.8 YPG). Furthermore, the team has allowed just 13 scores on the ground while conceding a meager 3.69 yards per carry.
In fact, the Tigers haven’t allowed an opposing running back to top the century mark in five games. That includes limiting Boston College’s heralded running back Andre Williams to just 70 yards on 24 carries (2.9 YPC).
Needless to say, the Yellow Jackets are going to have to bring their A-game if they plan on having success running the ball.
Barr (right) has been trouble in the backfield all year.
Week 12 Matchup: Washington (6-3) at No. 13 UCLA (7-2), Nov. 15, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
It was just a little over a month ago that we were talking about Bishop Sankey as if he was the best running back in the nation. Three losses by the Huskies have all but silenced those talks.
However, that doesn’t mean that the junior hasn’t been lighting up the stat sheets since then.
Through nine games, Sankey has rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns on 222 carries. Furthermore, he has rushed for at least 120 yards and a score in all but two games this season.
Sankey has also brought in 20 passes for 225 yards and a score.
This weekend, linebacker Anthony Barr will look to quiet Sankey’s production.
Thus far, the senior has recorded 44 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and forced five fumbles. He’s been a force in the backfield, and he makes offenses second-guess themselves.
Barr is also the leader of a defense that has allowed just 13 touchdowns on the ground this season.
It will be interesting to see which one of these stars gets the upper hand on Saturday.
Smith (top) has been a quarterback's worst nightmare this season.
Week 12 Matchup: Houston (7-2) at No. 20 Louisville (8-1), Nov. 16, 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
The play of quarterback John O’Korn has been one of the biggest highlights of the Cougars' season.
Through nine games, the freshman has thrown for 2,352 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions on 63.1 percent passing. That includes throwing for at least three touchdowns in all but three games on the year.
This weekend, O’Korn will be facing his toughest test against the Cardinals' defense.
Don’t expect defensive end Marcus Smith to make matters any easier.
Thus far, the senior has recorded 31 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles. He leads the nation in sacks and ranks eighth in tackles for loss.
Needless to say, Smith is a quarterback’s worst nightmare.
Behind his stellar play, Louisville’s defense has ranked No. 2 against the pass, allowing just 165.7 yards per game. The unit has allowed only 6.1 yards per attempt while conceding just seven touchdowns through the air.
Can the freshman step up to the challenge on Saturday?
Can Mannion regain his footing to help halt the Beavers' skid?
Week 12 Matchup: Oregon State (6-3) at No. 19 Arizona State (7-2), Nov. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network
This is one of those games where whoever has the ball last is likely to win.
For the Beavers, the team is led by quarterback Sean Mannion. The junior has thrown for 3,540 yards, 31 touchdowns and six interceptions on 67.9 percent passing.
Despite his struggles over the last two games, Mannion still leads the nation in yards per game and ranks second in touchdowns.
On the other hand, the Sun Devils are quarterbacked by Taylor Kelly. The junior has thrown for 2,655 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 62.8 percent passing. Unlike Mannion, Kelly is also very successful with his legs, adding another 306 yards and seven scores on the ground.
The game will be somewhat of redemption for both of these guys. In last year’s meeting between these two teams, Kelly struggled—22-of-41, 153 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT—while Mannion was benched after throwing four picks in the previous game.
This time around, it would be foolish to expect anything less than 300 yards and three touchdowns through the air from both of these guys.
The Spartans' run defense has been nothing to mess with.
Week 12 Matchup: No. 16 Michigan State (8-1) at Nebraska (7-2), Nov. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The Cornhuskers have flown under the radar with one of the nation’s better rushing attacks.
Through nine games, the team ranks No. 15, averaging 246.8 yards per game. Running back Ameer Abdullah has been a key component to that attack, racking up 1,213 yards and seven touchdowns on 184 carries.
Furthermore, the junior has rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game this season.
Unfortunately, the Spartans just so happen to boast the nation’s top-ranked rush defense.
Thus far, the unit has allowed just 43.4 yards per game. Michigan State has given up only four touchdowns on the ground all year while conceding a minute 1.62 yards per carry.
If you recall, this is the same team that held Michigan to its lowest rushing total in school history, back on Nov. 2 (minus-48 yards).
With the fate of the Legends Division on the line, who will grab the upper hand?
McCoy has led Texas on a surprising win streak.
Week 12 Matchup: No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1) at No. 24 Texas (7-2), Nov. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox
Surprisingly, the Longhorns have won six in a row. Even more surprising is the fact that preseason backup quarterback Case McCoy is the reason for the success.
Through nine games, the senior has thrown for 1,471 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions on 59.5 percent passing. That includes quality performances in key wins over Oklahoma (190 yards, two touchdowns) and just last weekend against West Virginia in overtime (283 yards, three touchdowns).
Now, he has another tough test against the Cowboys this weekend.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert is likely to make a difference. The senior has recorded four interceptions on the year, one for a touchdown, along with 26 tackles and four passes broken up.
Expect Gilbert to make McCoy second-guess himself through the air.
It's hard to believe that Hargreaves, III is just a freshman.
Week 12 Matchup: Florida (4-5) at No. 10 South Carolina (7-2), Nov. 16, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Just when the Gamecocks looked to be down and out, quarterback Connor Shaw reached down and picked them back up.
On the year, the senior has thrown for 1,655 yards, 18 touchdowns and just one interception on 62.9 percent passing. He has also added another 375 yards and three scores on the ground.
Furthermore, Shaw has been dynamite as of late, throwing for three touchdowns in three of his last four games.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, III should make things difficult on Saturday.
Thus far, the freshman has picked off three passes, recorded 30 tackles and broken up eight passes. He’s been a thorn in the side of opposing wide receivers all year.
Although the Gators may be on a four-game slide, behind strong play from Hargreaves, III the secondary still ranks No. 5 against the pass (169.1 YPG), only conceding five touchdowns through the air all year.
Can Shaw break through this weekend?
Mason has been tremendous for the Tigers this season.
Week 12 Matchup: No. 25 Georgia (6-3) at No. 7 Auburn (9-1), Nov. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Two of the nation’s top running backs will go head-to-head at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
For the Bulldogs, running back Todd Gurley is sure to make some noise. The sophomore has racked up 625 yards and six touchdowns in just six games. He’s also caught 11 passes for 141 yards and two scores.
With quarterback Aaron Murray dealing with significant losses in the passing game, expect Georgia to turn to Gurley to keep the ball on the ground and away from the Tigers offense.
On the other hand, Tre Mason has been on an absolute tear as of late.
The junior has topped the century mark in four of the last five games while accounting for 11 touchdowns during that span. On the year, he has racked up 1,038 yards and 16 scores on the ground.
Behind Mason’s play, Auburn boasts one of the nation’s most prolific rushing attacks, ranking No. 3 in the nation (320.0 YPG).
Something’s got to give.
Can Reilly (left) help the Utes pull off another big upset this weekend?
Week 12 Matchup: Utah (4-5) at No. 6 Oregon (8-1), Nov. 16, 4 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Even after his setback against Stanford last weekend, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is still one of the best players in all of college football.
Through nine games, the sophomore has thrown for 2,531 yards, 22 touchdowns and no interceptions on 63.3 percent passing. He has also racked up another 495 yards and nine scores on the ground. Furthermore, Mariota has accounted for at least three touchdowns in all but two games.
There’s a reason he’s considered one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders.
But don’t expect Utes defensive end Trevor Reilly to be too amused.
Thus far, the senior has registered team highs in tackles (78), tackles for loss (14.0) and sacks (7.5). He has also broken up two passes and forced a fumble.
Lately, Reilly has been at his best, picking up 34 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks over the last three games.
It will be interesting to see if he can help keep Mariota’s slump going.
Can Gaffney (left) continue his high level of play?
Week 12 Matchup: No. 4 Stanford (8-1) at USC (7-3), Nov. 16, 8 p.m. ET on ABC
The Cardinal don’t beat Oregon and propel themselves back into the BCS title picture without running back Tyler Gaffney.
Last weekend, the senior was instrumental in the upset of the Ducks, rushing for 157 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 45 carries. On the year, he has rushed for 1,043 yards and 13 scores.
If Stanford hopes to keep its dream alive, it’s vital for Gaffney to keep up his production.
Look for Trojans outside linebacker Devon Kennard to have a say in that matter.
On the season, the senior has registered 47 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and eight quarterback hurries. He has wreaked havoc in the backfield time and time again.
Behind Kennard's leadership, USC ranks No. 17 against the run (112.5 YPG) and has allowed just six rushing touchdowns all year.
It will be a battle this Saturday.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.