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 Joe Quinn and Nick Handley of AM 590 ESPN Omaha and Tyler Martin of OmahaSportsInsider.com
With the talent Jim Mora has been able to bring in, UCLA entered the season with pretty high expectations in the Pac 12. Many believed the preseason No. 16 Bruins would challenge for the Pac 12 South championship.
However, after Thursday night’s loss to Colorado, the Bruins are now 3-6 and have dropped three straight games. The Bruins head to Boulder to take on No. 21 Colorado this weekend. What do you make of UCLA’s struggles this season? Is Jim Mora in any kind of trouble or can he turn things around and get his program to a bowl game?
JOE: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has led to UCLA’s troubles, but an injury to QB Josh Rosen won’t help things. Mora has built up more than enough good will over the years by turning down other jobs that I don’t think he’s in trouble, and the Bruins are far from the only team in the Pac-12 that is struggling this season.
NICK: UCLA continues to be hampered with key injuries and now with QB Josh Rosen officially lost for the season and a tough loss to Colorado, the Bruins must win out to become bowl eligible. The past 2 years the Bruins have had some bad luck on the injury front and has slowed down the momentum. Jim Mora is respected and recruits well but things will need to drastically improve in 2017 to keep things calm in LA. Making a bowl game will be a challenge but would show the team is still buying in.?
TYLER: The injury to Josh Rosen really hurt the Bruins shot at a Pac 12 championship, and I personally did not understand the amount of hype surrounding the UCLA team even with Rosen. Jim Mora has done plenty to build the UCLA program over the years, and an injury to your starting quarterback will almost always grant you a pass.
The talk of the Big Ten this season has been Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, Penn State and Minnesota are two teams that are very quietly (and very slightly) still in the race for division championships.
At 4-1 in Big Ten play, Penn State will need to win out and see Michigan drop two games. The rest of the Wolverine’s schedule isn’t exactly easy, either. In the West, Minnesota will also need to win out and hope for Iowa to drop another game. Do you think either of these two teams can make it to Indianapolis to play for the Conference Championship on Dec. 3?
JOE: I think both Penn State and Minnesota come up short of reaching Indianapolis, but still turn in respectable seasons. I can’t see Michigan dropping two games between now and the end of the season, and there’s a decent chance Penn State falls this weekend to a rested and rejuvenated Iowa team. As for Minnesota, they still have a couple of tough games in front of them against Wisconsin and Nebraska, and I think it proves to be too much.
NICK: I would be more of a believer in Minnesota than Penn State. Minnesota still has Nebraska and Wisconsin on the schedule and it doesn't seem completely out of the question that they could win those games as opposed to Michigan dropping two games. Penn State is playing very good but already having a loss to the Wolverines just looks like the bigger challenge to me.?
TYLER: Minnesota and Penn State are in a similar situation in the Big Ten race as Nebraska has been in the College Football Playoff landscape all season. Each team is still "in the race", but each would have to win a number of improbable games and count on a few improbable losses from other teams. I don't think either team will challenge for a spot in the Big Ten Championship, but it is nice to have a little parity in the conference.
Nebraska dropped a heart-breaker Saturday night in Madison. Even with major injuries to the offensive line, Nebraska was able to find success against one of the country’s best defenses.
Now, Nebraska needs to get ready for a bigger test this weekend against Ohio State in Columbus. What is the biggest area of concern on this Cornhusker team heading into Saturday’s primetime matchup with Ohio State and can Nebraska get the win?
JOE: Yes, Nebraska is certainly capable of beating the Buckeyes, but they’ll likely have to dominate all areas of what Mike Riley calls “The Big Three:” turnovers, penalties, and big plays. If the Huskers manage to go +2 or so in the turnover battle, limit the number of penalties they commit and hit on some explosive plays in the game they’ll have a shot. I don’t think this is the kind of a game Nebraska can try and grind out and expect to win.
The biggest concern in the game is the opponent. Player-for-player, position-by-position, Ohio State is the more talented team in this football game. That’s why Nebraska will have to win in all three of the areas above in order to collect a victory.
NICK: Injuries up front. Huskers are getting alarmingly thin on the line. A healthy Cethan Carter would go a long way but what Nebraska needs to establish is stability around Tommy Armstrong. The offense will need consistent production both in the running game and passing game. A comfortable Armstrong tends to get the favorable results and the line, when healthy, has allowed Armstrong to play smart effective football.?
TYLER: Tommy Armstrong's consistency is the biggest area of concern, along with injuries to the offensive line. These things go somewhat hand-in-hand, but Tommy has missed some throws even without pressure in his face. Getting Cethan Carter back will help by not only giving Tommy a safety blanket in the pass game, but would be another healthy blocker for a struggling offensive line. Carter's ability to seal the edge on outside runs has been greatly missed by the Husker offense.
One of the bigger games is No. 1 Alabama heading to No. 15 LSU. Iowa heads to Happy Valley to take on No. 20 Penn State. And No. 4 Washington has a late night matchup with Cal. So, as always, outside of Nebraska vs. Ohio State, what is your biggest game of the weekend?
JOE: Easy answer this week – Bama vs. LSU is the big one this weekend. The Tide are a deserving favorite on the road, but LSU is one of the few teams in the SEC that has the individual talent to match what Alabama puts on the field. If the Tigers can get their run game going (no easy task against the Tide), they’ll have a shot to pull the upset.
NICK: Alabama @ LSU is very interesting. A rested and confident Tiger squad hosting the Tide might be more competitive than some expect. If Bama were to get upset, it would open up several avenues for teams trying to factor in the CFB playoff conversation.?
TYLER: I'll go outside of popular opinion and say Iowa at Penn State. Iowa has had its fair share of struggles this season, but I'm not fully sold on Penn State. I think this game will be a great measuring stick to see what both teams are made of. Husker fans, tune in to this one. Many seem to have forgotten that Iowa still looms at the end of the schedule, and the Hawkeyes might still have some left in the tank.