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The Top Nine Coaching Matchups of Championship Weekend

Usually this column runs down the top 10 coaching matchups of the impending weekend, but we're a day behind this week. But since "Louisville 31, Cincinnati 24" has already happened, we're down to nine this week.

1. Tom Herman vs. Pat Narduzzi - I wrote about this game more extensively yesterday, but we'll boil it down to this: Ohio State ranks in the top 10 nationally in 10 offensive categories. Michigan State ranks in the top 10 nationally each of those same categories. When Ohio State runs the ball, there will be a difference of nearly five yards between what the Buckeyes normally gain and what the Spartans allow. Something's gotta give.

2. The Auburn offensive staff vs. the Missouri defensive staff - Auburn survived the SEC's top rushing defense just fine last week. Fifty-two carries for 296 yards and two touchdowns did the trick against Alabama, and now Auburn faces the SEC's second-ranked defensive front. 

Gus Malzahn's biggest challenge this week, aside from Michael Sam and the rest of Mizzou's awesome defensive front, will be pulling his team's head out of the clouds after last week's once-in-a-lifetime win. There won't be any Kick Sixes to win this one.

3. Mack Brown vs. Art Briles - No one's playing for a national championship here, but I'd wager no two head coaches want a win on Saturday worse than this pair. For Briles, it's a chance to wrap up the best season anyone in green and gold can care to remember, to close out Floyd Casey Stadium the right way, and to beat Texas. For Brown, it's a shot at least a share of the Big 12 title and, most importantly, a shot at extending the Mack Brown era into 2014.

I fully expect this to be a close game in the fourth quarter. 

4. David Shaw vs. Todd Graham - Graham drilled into his players' heads all off-season that they were worthy of playing in the Rose Bowl, now they've got one game on their home field to prove it. Arizona State has won all seven of its home games this year and, save for the Wisconsin squeaker, they've all been decisive. Stanford's last three road games? A 20-17 loss to USC, a 20-12 win over Oregon State and a 27-21 loss to Utah. Kevin Hogan's quarterback rating is nearly 20 points lower on the road, too. How much have these teams changed since Sept. 21, when Stanford built a 39-7 lead on the Sun Devils and en route to a 42-28 final?

5. The Bowling Green defensive staff vs. Jordan Lynch - There's no pretense here. Northern Illinois will ram Lynch into the Falcons' defensive line as many times as it takes until it breaks. Lynch has the third-most rushing yards of any player in college football, owns the highest yards per carry average of any player with at least 200 rushes, and it's his one chance to send his team to the Fiesta Bowl and himself to the Heisman ceremony. 

Lynch will get his yards, but what will Bowling Green's top-ranked red zone defense show near the goal line?

6. The Oklahoma offensive staff vs. the Oklahoma State defensive staff - Old-fashioned style Bedlam is in store Saturday morning with snow on the ground and rumors of single-digit temperatures at kickoff. Oklahoma has finally found a mix that works offensively, rushing for 706 yards and seven touchdowns on 96 attempts (7.35 per carry) in its two games since losing to Baylor. The Sooners can't win if Trevor Knight has to throw the ball. No Big 12 team stops the run better or forces more turnovers than Oklahoma State. How many 3rd-and-8's can the Pokes force Oklahoma to deal with?

7. The Duke defensive staff vs. the Florida State offensive staff - Duke hasn't lost often this year but when it does, the Devils' back seven gets taken to the woodshed. Duke has surrendered 10 passing touchdowns in its two setbacks (compared with eight total in its 10 wins) and a shade over 11 yards per pass attempt. Its challenge Saturday night? The overwhelming favorite for the Heisman Trophy, playing with a clear head for the first time in weeks, with a shot at the national title on the line. Good luck, Cut.

8. The Fresno State offensive staff vs. the Utah State defensive staff - A week after facing its stiffest defensive test of the season - and failing - Tim DeRuyter's team faces the harshest opponent its prolific offense will meet all season. Utah State has surrendered 10, 10, 24, zero and seven points in its last four games (all wins). The Aggies rank seventh on the national scoring defense charts. The rest of Fresno State's schedule? 94th, FCS, 41st, 115th, 125th, 92nd, 97th, 102nd, 110th and 104th. 

9. The Marshall offensive staff vs. the Rice defensive staff - Marshall has won five straight games and scored 53 points per game in its last half-dozen games. Quarterback Rakeem Cato has fired 28 touchdowns against four interceptions (on 8.5 yards per attempt) in the Thundering Herd's nine wins, and only six touchdowns against four picks (on under seven yards per attempt) in its three losses. Against a defense that's allowed the 12th-fewest passing yards in college football, and ranks 22nd nationally in pass efficiency defense and sixth in opponent completion percentage, the Conference USA title game shapes up quite nicely.