By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
J.T. Barrett was big-time in prime time last week and has two more showcase games in the next three weeks to boost his Heisman Trophy hopes.
The Ohio State quarterback still has a long way to go to be a threat to Louisville’s Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson, but if he is going to make a move now is the time. Barrett and the No. 2 Buckeyes are in the Saturday night slot on ABC again this week when they visit Penn State.
Ohio State moves off the main stage the next week when it plays Northwestern at home before another prime-time game against No. 8 Nebraska, which could be a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Against Wisconsin last week, Barrett ran for two touchdowns and threw what turned out to be the game-winner in overtime. Heisman voters like clutch and Barrett was at his best leading the Buckeyes from behind in the second half and to the win in OT.
At a time when fans can watch a football game on their phones while pretending to pay attention to a kid’s soccer match, you might think playing nationally televised night games is not so important for a Heisman Trophy contender. But performing well in the spotlight still helps a lot.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (21 points)
Last week: Jackson had an off night passing against Duke (13 for 26 for 181 yards) but his 144 yards and a touchdown on the ground made up for it. Even in a spotty performance Jackson has spectacular moments.
This week: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack just lost to Clemson in overtime last week so Jackson can make a counter-point to Deshaun Watson’s performance.
2 (tie). Jake Browning, QB, Washington (8 points)
Last week: Off.
This week: Oregon State, which has the fifth-best defense in the Pac-12 at 5.27 yards allowed per play.
2 (tie). Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (8 points)
Last week: Watson threw for a season-high 378 yards and the winning touchdown in overtime against North Carolina State. If not for a missed chip-shot field goal by the Wolfpack, the lasting memory of this game for Watson probably would have been the first pick-six of his career.
This week: Off.
3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (4 points)
Last week: Barrett passed for 226 yards and ran for 92 and two touchdowns against Wisconsin. He was 4 for 4 for 40 yards in overtime.
This week: at Penn State, which has the eighth-best defense in the Big Ten at 5.34 yards allowed per play.
4. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston (1 point)
Last week: Ward had his best rushing game of the season in a wild win against Tulsa with 147 yards.
This week: at SMU, which has the ninth-best defense in the American Athletic Conference at 5.48 yards allowed per play.
FIVE MORE TO WATCH
— Jabil Peppers, LB/QB/PR, Michigan. Peppers needs to follow up that eye-catching performance against Rutgers two weeks ago to keep momentum going. Good time to play Illinois.
— Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Of all those high-profile running backs that were getting Heisman hype in the preseason (Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb), only Cook is still in the race.
— Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State. The senior has 1,111 yards rushing in six games and needs 1,014 more to break Wisconsin Heisman winner Ron Dayne’s NCAA career record of 6,397 yards.
— Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Two early losses bumped Mayfield to the back of the Heisman line, but he is the third-highest rated passer in the nation (180.36).
— Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama. The freshman’s numbers aren’t gaudy, but he has accounted for 17 touchdowns (nine passing, eight rushing) and being the quarterback of the best team in the country is worth something.
AP Heisman watch panel: National Writer Paul Newberry, Georgia; Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins, Texas; Sports Writer John Marshall, Arizona; Sports Writer Joedy McCreary, North Carolina; Sports Writer Eric Olson, Nebraska; Sports Writer Steve Megargee, Tennessee; College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo, New York.