Welcome to Four Down Territory, Omaha Sports Insider’s weekly college football round table. We will be joined by members of the Omaha Sports Insider staff to get their thoughts on what is going on in the world of college football. This week we are joined by special guest, Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald as well as Alicia Sala of AM 590 ESPN Omaha and Tyler Martin of OmahaSportsInsider.com
As the season winds down, the contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders in the Heisman race. Lamar Jackson still seems to be the clear favorite this season, but a few other names are starting to make their presence known. As we enter the final four weeks of the season, who else should we keep an eye on in the Heisman race?
DIRK: Jackson was so good in September that he seemed like a runaway winner, especially in a relatively weak year for candidates. But voters focus on big games and unfortunately for Jackson, he won't have any down the stretch. That opens the door for Deshaun Watson and maybe even Jabril Peppers.
ALICIA : I think Jackson is a sure favorite for the Heisman race because he is and has been so dynamite all year long. We can’t let Deshaun Watson out of sight as long as he keeps performing up to par despite what Clemson does. If Watson keeps playing Heisman-like Clemson will keep winning games.
TYLER: Jabrill Peppers has to be up there just for his sheer versatility. He won't have the offensive numbers of Lamar Jackson, but Peppers can play almost every position on the field. In Michigan's game against Michigan State, Peppers played linebacker, cornerback, nickleback, wildcat quarterback, safety, H-back, wide receiver and also returned a kick and a punt. He is the most valuable player on one of the best teams in the nation.
We’ve looked at the teams and players in the Big Ten all season but not the coaches. The season is winding down and while one coach, Darrel Hazel, has already been let go, others are having more success than was expected and could be up for some conference hardware at the end of the season. With only three games left until the conference championship, who is in the lead to win Big Ten Coach of the Year?
DIRK: This would've seemed outrageous in September, but James Franklin is probably the front-runner, especially if Penn State finishes 10-2. Franklin entered the year on the hot seat, but that Ohio State upset changed everything. Paul Chryst deserves consideration for navigating a brutal schedule. And I suppose Jim Harbaugh will get a few votes, too.
ALICIA: I think it will all depend on how the season winds down. While I agree with Dirk that James Franklin would be the winner if season end was this weekend and Penn State finished 10-2 with a huge win over Ohio State, I think you can make an argument for Jim Harbaugh as well. If Michigan can manage to go to the Horseshoe the last game of the season and beat Ohio State, finish 12-0, win the Big Ten Championship game and make it to the College Football Playoff, that’s a good resume.
TYLER: I'm going to have to stick with Jim Harbaugh right now. He has the most upside left in the season, and Michigan has been the most dominant Big Ten team by far. Finishing out the season with a win against Ohio State, and most likely a win against a lesser opponent in the Big Ten Championship should solidify the trophy for Harbaugh.
Ohio State handed Nebraska one of its worst losses in program history Saturday night with a 62-3 thumping. At 4-2 in conference play, Nebraska is now second in the Big Ten West division. There is still plenty to play for in the next three games but things could get interesting down the stretch. How big of a concern should the mental focus of this team be? Can Nebraska rebound from this loss and win out?
DIRK: It's a major emotional test for the Huskers, who really put everything into the past two weeks, knowing they needed to win one of those showdowns to win the West. Tommy Armstrong's health adds another challenge. The defense needs to rebound and play well the next three weeks because Nebraska's offense is running on fumes.
ALICIA: I think mental focus is the No. 1 thing with this program right now. However, I think Coach Riley knows what to do and how to do it. As a former athlete myself, the hardest thing was to forget that huge blowout loss you had last weekend and move on and focus on what’s in front of you. I think this program has a lot of strong leaders on it, and after the first half of Monday’s Press Conference they were already looking onward to Minnesota. Tommy Armstrong’s health will be a big factor in how this team will rebound back. If he is cleared to play by Thursday I think that will be the boost this team needs.
TYLER: Mental focus is definitely a concern, but the amount of diversity this team has faced already this year might have conditioned it for a moment like this. Nebraska still has plenty to play for, so getting focused should not be an issue. The return of Jerald Foster and the improving health of the offensive line as a whole should help the running game open back up. If Tommy can stay healthy, this team should not have an issue with winning out.
We have a few intriguing matchups this weekend. Iowa will try to rebound from a blowout loss to Penn State when they host No. 3 Michigan in a rare night game at Kinnick Stadium. No. 17 Baylor heads to Norman to take on No. 12 Oklahoma in what is sure to be a high scoring affair. And one that could be a sneaky good game, USC heads to No. 4 Washington. So, what game is your key matchup of the week?
DIRK: If we're talking playoff contenders -- and it's getting to be that time of year -- then the answer is USC-Washington. The Huskies have looked so good since their overtime scare at Arizona, but the Trojans are finally rolling with quarterback Sam Darnold. They've won five straight and scored at least 45 points each of the past three games. UW better bring its A game.
ALICIA: Being a huge USC fan, my eyes are all on USC Washington. I’m nervous since the game is in Seattle, but the Trojans are looking better than ever and this game has lots of Playoff implications for the Huskies. Coming off 5 straight wins after Clay Helton made a genius QB change, can the Trojans hand the Huskies their first loss of the season in Seattle? We shall see.
TYLER: For pure entertainment purposes, I'll go with Baylor vs. Oklahoma. The Big 12 does not know how to play defense, so my guess is there will be close to 140 points scored in this game.