There’s only one chance left this season to see a matchup of projected top-10 NFL draft picks, and it won’t come in a playoff game.
No, that honor goes to the Fiesta Bowl – which includes Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley – although how much the pair will see of each other remains unclear.
While Stanley will line up at left tackle for every single one of Notre Dame’s offensive snaps, Bosa often lines up in front of the right tackle and has even seen some defensive tackle snaps on third down. Bosa roams around enough that the two stars will face off for a number of snaps, but it won’t be play after play of the two All-Americans taking each other on.
“You can't get tied up into a matchup,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “It's not the NBA. Let's clear them out, let them go one-on-one. There's not going to be a stoppage in action. There will be matchups here and there. The reality is, whichever guy is best for his team, does the best things for his team, will help his team be victorious.”
When they do meet, though, you can believe NFL scouts will be watching. And contrary to the typical cliché-riddled answers produced before such situations, Stanley spoke openly about the challenge of facing Bosa and the potential NFL Draft implications that it could have down the road.
“It’s an opportunity for me to really set myself apart from all the other offensive linemen out there,” Stanley said. “That’s how I look at in my head and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
Bosa echoed those thoughts, saying, “I always love going against the best in the country… definitely will this week.”
The Buckeyes have occasionally had immediate success when moving Bosa around, and Stanley said he and his fellow offensive linemen will be keeping tabs on No. 97 on every snap.
“You have to account for players who make plays,” he said. “You have to watch him a little closer.”
In addition to the linemen he faces, Bosa also forces opposing quarterbacks to account for him at all times. His production this season has dropped in part because opposing signal callers almost never leave him out of sight. The blindside sacks have gone to his teammates, and would-be sacks from Bosa instead become incompletions because opponents watch him every step of his path to the backfield.
“We understand the ball's got to get out,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “We understand that we can't sit there and read the Declaration of Independence back there in the pocket. We have to make decisions. Certainly (Bosa) forces your hand in that area.”
How much he gets into the backfield will depend in part on the handful of times he’ll go up against a fellow elite talent. Kizer will have him in the corner of his eye, but the rest of the football world will also be watching.
“I think it's going to be an incredible battle,” Sanford said. “Those guys are as good of players as there are in college football. The film speaks to it, measurements speak to it. Draft day, both their names are going to be called really early. Those are the kind of battles you look forward to.”