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December 21, 2009

Monday with Mike: All about the matchups

In a lot of respects, the Orange Bowl matchup between Georgia Tech and Iowa has been regarded as the least interesting of the BCS bowls.

In one respect, though, it's the best.

The reason? The game has three of the best individual matchups of the postseason.

First, there's Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas against Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey. Second, there's Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt against Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer. Finally, there's Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan against Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga. That's a lot of star talent going against each other.

Georgia Tech has completed just 76 passes, but Thomas has 46 of those catches, for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns. The yardage total leads the ACC, and the touchdown total is tied for second. Thomas is a physical guy with deceptive speed and unbelievably strong hands. Spievey is a big corner with excellent coverage skills who has drawn extensive praise from Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. A big part of Spievey's night is going to be spent in run support. The problem when playing the Yellow Jackets is not to forget about Thomas; if you do, he will make you pay.

Nesbitt is a physical runner who has thrived in Tech's triple-option attack. He's a tough runner between the tackles, but he has deceptive speed. Angerer also has had a great season; he has 135 tackles and is the emotional leader of an active Hawkeyes defense. A big game from Nesbitt basically would ensure a Tech victory. That means Angerer's main priority will be to keep Nesbitt's big plays to a minimum; he also must make Nesbitt feel every one of his tackles.

Finally, there's the Bulaga-Morgan matchup. Injuries have curtailed Bulaga's effectiveness at times, but he knows that if he can keep Morgan neutralized, NFL scouts are going to be impressed. Bulaga has the talent to occasionally handle Morgan one-on-one. Morgan, who is used to double-teams, has not faced a tackle as talented as Bulaga this season. Morgan has good quickness off the edge and also is deceptively strong, which means he use both a speed rush and the bull rush. Morgan has 12.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. Iowa's offense isn't explosive, so keeping Morgan out of the backfield on passing downs is vital for the Hawkeyes.

Here are 10 others individual matchups to watch this postseason. There are no title-game matchups, as we'll get to those a bit closer to game time.

Poinsettia: Utah WR David Reed vs. California CB Syd'Quan Thompson. Reed was the best receiver in the Mountain West this season, with 75 catches for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns. Thompson had a somewhat down season, with one pick and eight pass breakups. But one reason for the relatively low numbers is that most teams threw away from Thompson. Cal needs to make sure it keeps Reed under wraps, and Thompson is Cal's best cover corner.

Meineke Car Care: Pittsburgh OT Jason Pinkston vs. North Carolina DE Robert Quinn. UNC has one of the best pass defenses in the nation, and one reason is that the Tar Heels' defensive line applies consistent pressure. Quinn is the Heels' best pass rusher, with 11 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. Quinn, who was a high school teammate of Florida's Carlos Dunlap, also had 19 tackles for loss. Pinkston is the best player on an underrated Pitt offensive line. Most of the attention is focused on Pitt true freshman RB Dion Lewis, but the Pitt passing attack has been effective because of the time that has been given to QB Bill Stull. Quinn's mission in this game is to make Stull uncomfortable in the pocket.

Independence: Georgia OT Clint Boling vs. Texas A&M DE Von Miller. Miller, a junior, hadn't done much before this season, but he made up for that by leading the nation with 17 sacks this season. Miller plays what A&M calls its "jack" position, which is a hybrid end/outside linebacker. He moves around in an attempt to find the best matchup. Boling is Georgia's best lineman, and there will be times when he goes man-to-man on Miller. Can Boling keep him off Bulldogs QB Joe Cox? A&M's secondary has issues, so if Cox has time, he will have a big game.

EagleBank: Temple RB Bernard Pierce vs. UCLA LB Reggie Carter. Pierce, a true freshman, has had a phenomenal season. The Owls standout has rushed for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns. That production basically came in eight games -- he had just 14 carries in the other four. He has been battling various injuries but should be 100 percent for the bowl game. Carter might have been the best linebacker in the Pac-10 this season. He flows well to the ball and is a hard hitter. He also benefits from playing behind DT Brian Price, who is one of the nation's best at his position. Temple's best chance for a win is a big game from Pierce, but Carter knows that.

Texas: Navy QB Ricky Dobbs vs. Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon. Despite missing all of one game and most of another with an injury, Dobbs still set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 24. Quite simply, he is the key player in the Midshipmen's triple-option attack. He has 113 more carries than any other Navy player. Weatherspoon has been one of the nation's most productive linebackers in each of the past three seasons. He had 104 tackles this season, his third in a row with at least 100. Weatherspoon's main job will be to make sure Dobbs doesn't have a big game.

Sun: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis. The Sun Bowl would've been one of the best bowl games this postseason, but a hand injury to Stanford QB Andrew Luck has removed some of the intrigue. Luck's injury puts an even bigger onus on Gerhart to produce. He leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. He has six consecutive 100-yard games and scored 16 TDs in that span. Lewis, a sophomore, led the Sooners with 100 tackles, his second season in a row with at least that many. As with UCLA's Carter, Lewis benefits from playing behind one of the nation's top defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy. As with every Stanford opponent, OU knows that it must stop Gerhart. But not many have been able to do that.

Chick-fil-A: Tennessee OT Chris Scott vs. Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds. Worilds struggled at times this season; he has 4.5 sacks after coming up with eight last season. But Worilds also has 16 quarterback hurries this season. Scott has done a good job in Tennessee's revamped offense. Vols QB Jonathan Crompton has been extremely effective over the second half of the season, but Crompton still has a tendency to make mistakes when he's under pressure. Worilds will need to make his presence known against the Vols.

Rose: Oregon RB LaMichael James vs. Ohio State LB Ross Homan. James has been excellent as a redshirt freshman this season. He has good speed, can cut on a dime and also is effective running between the tackles. Homan - a senior - became a star for the Buckeyes this season, leading them with 96 tackles. He also has four picks and five pass breakups. The spread offense has given Ohio State trouble, and Homan and his defensive mates will be under the gun to keep James under 100 yards. If James runs for 100, the Buckeyes are going to lose.

Sugar: Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard vs. Florida CB Joe Haden. Two All-Americans will be going against each other in what might be the best individual matchup of the postseason. Gilyard is a Florida native -- from Flagler Palm Coast High in Bunnell -- who wasn't recruited by Florida. He is a physical receiver with excellent speed and hands. Haden generally is matched up with the opponent's best receiver, which means he'll be shadowing Gilyard. This almost certainly will be the final college game for each -- Gilyard is a senior, while Haden is a junior expected to turn pro -- so that adds even more intrigue.

Cotton: Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge vs. Oklahoma State CB Perrish Cox. Hodge had been an effective complementary receiver in the past, but he emerged as the Rebels' go-to receiver this season, leading the SEC with 63 receptions and 1,028 yards and finishing tied for third with eight TD catches. Cox, a senior, had been inconsistent in his career, but the arrival of Bill Young as defensive coordinator transformed Cox into one of the nation's best corners. Cox has four picks and 15 pass breakups, and will be able to run with the speedy Hodge.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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