With the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings, we couldn't stop ourselves from dreaming about some incredible potential matchups. From great team matchups to individual battles, here are some we would love to see.
McShay: Notre Dame run game vs. Georgia front seven
I want a rematch of this Sept. 9 classic, won by Georgia 20-19. Specifically, though, I can't wait to see the improved Notre Dame rushing game take on a terrific Georgia front seven.
I basically want to see a practice version of "inside run" between these two units. No wide receivers or defensive backs necessary. Just Notre Dame lining up with its offensive line, anchored by LT Mike McGlinchey (No. 16 on my Top 32 prospect list) and LG Quenton Nelson (No. 28) trying to pound away at UGA's tough front with the one-two punch of QB Brandon Wimbush and RB Josh Adams.
Wimbush is improving as a passer, but the Irish's success hinges on their ability to control the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame ranks fifth in the FBS with 325 rush yards per game, while Georgia's defense is No. 5 in the country, allowing just 89 yards per game on the ground. Hammer, meet steel.
Trenton Thompson and John Atkins are the anchors up front for Georgia, who keep athletic LBs Roquan Smith (No. 25) and Lorenzo Carter clean to work sideline to sideline. Carter is a darn good football player, and Smith, who is leading the Dawgs in tackles for the second straight year, has emerged as a star. This would be a fun one to watch.
Kiper: Notre Dame offensive line and running backs vs. Alabama front seven
I still think Alabama is far and away the best team in the country, so I'll pick Notre Dame vs. Bama in a battle of strength vs. strength, although the Crimson Tide's entire defense can be considered a strength. It's the No. 5 rushing offense vs. the No. 2 rushing defense (75.8 yards per game). The Fighting Irish have come a long way since struggling to run -- only 55 yards on 37 rushes -- in that home loss to Georgia early this season. They might be the hottest team in the country. Notre Dame has two potential first-round picks on the left side of its line in McGlinchey at tackle and Nelson at guard, while Alabama has my top-rated inside linebacker in Rashaan Evans and my No. 2-ranked defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne, plus some more talented big men. The Crimson Tide will have to replace Shaun Dion Hamilton, their other really good inside linebacker, who is likely out for the season. Notre Dame was blown out the last time it played Alabama, in the 2013 BCS national title game. Could Brian Kelly get some payback against Nick Saban if the teams meet again?
McShay: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. Alabama defense
The Alabama defense is a measuring stick for anyone, and I'd love to see Mayfield get his shot. He's playing at a ridiculously high level right now. He thrives on conflict and times when things break down in the pocket. Receiver Marquise Brown has speed, and the light seems to be coming on, and I think wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is a future star (on the level of Sterling Shepard or Dede Westbrook). I'd be interested in seeing how they would react to Saban's physical secondary.
Alabama has two potential first-round picks in Ronnie Harrison (No. 23) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (No. 4) on the back end, and they can flat-out play. Fitzpatrick is a true shutdown corner with 5.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 passes broken up and an interception on the season. Harrison can do it all as well (3 INTs, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks and 2 PBU).
The Crimson Tide are stout up front, but it's not the overwhelming four-man pass-rushing group that we've seen in recent years. Plus, Oklahoma's offensive line, anchored by monster LT Orlando Brown (No. 19), is doing an above-average job in pass protection, so Mayfield would likely have some time to operate in the pocket on most designed pocket passes. Mel, I know you have interest in seeing Brown against a different player ...
Kiper: Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell vs. Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown
You can see more of my thoughts on Ferrell below, but I just love a matchup between a big-bodied, strong pass-rusher and a mammoth offensive tackle like Brown. Brown (6-foot-8, 345 pounds) just stones defenders at the line of scrimmage. Ferrell (6-5, 260 pounds) doesn't have elaborate pass-rushing moves, but he's always in the backfield. I have Ferrell and Brown ranked No. 2 at their respective positions for the 2018 draft. A big part of Mayfield's game is being able to stand in the pocket and pick out throws, but Ferrell could disrupt the signal-caller's rhythm. Mayfield has faced Clemson before, too, a loss in the 2015 Orange Bowl, which was a College Football Playoff semifinal. He threw for 311 yards but had two costly interceptions.
Prospect on the rise
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Kiper: There are signs that Ferrell is starting to put all his talent together. He had five tackles for loss in the win over NC State on Saturday, the second time in three games that he has had at least that many tackles for loss. He constantly harassed quarterback Ryan Finley, an NFL prospect who's no longer under the radar. Ferrell isn't just a pass-rusher, though he has 6.5 sacks this season -- he's solid against the run and disruptive in the backfield, and he makes hustle plays. He was credited with 12 tackles against the Wolfpack, which doesn't happen often for defensive ends. Ferrell also has long arms and strong hands. He needs to work on developing consistent pass-rushing moves, but the third-year sophomore is a first-round prospect. He's likely a prototypical 4-3 end in the NFL.
Iowa CB Josh Jackson
McShay: When you make a highlight-reel interception in a big-time game like Jackson did on Saturday against Ohio State, you tend to make these lists. And when you get three INTs in one game, you definitely do. Jackson is long with natural cover skills and attacks the ball like a wide receiver. He's still developing consistency with his footwork and eyes, but he should be a Day 1 or Day 2 pick when he enters the draft in 2018 or 2019.
Steve Ishmael, WR, Syracuse
Kiper Ishmael has improved every season. He has 78 catches so far after having only 48 last season. He had 12 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Florida State on Saturday, and several of those catches were when he was matched up with potential first-round pick Tarvarus McFadden. Ishmael has a big frame (6-2, 215 pounds) and is a good route runner. He can separate late on routes. He has also played some in the slot, so he can be versatile, and he's not afraid to go over the middle and make contested catches. Ishmael is just a smart, polished receiver. I see him as a likely Day 3 pick at this point, but he could move up if he runs well at the scouting combine. One more note: His brother is Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael, who was picked in the seventh round in 2013.
Patrick Smith, WR, Tennessee State
McShay: Smith had some buzz in scouting circles entering the season as a small-school Day 3 prospect. He's a converted high school QB with a below-average height-weight-speed combo at 5-10, 194 with a 4.55 40-yard dash. However, he caught four passes for 118 yards and three TDs in a 60-0 blowout over Virginia University Lynchburg, and had seven for 170 and 2 TDs against Vandy last season. He has good hands and short-area quickness, and he frequently makes the first defender miss. He's working his way to be drafted earlier on Day 3.