There are worse things than losing to Illinois. You could lose to Kansas, for example.
This isn’t to say anything positive about No. 6 Wisconsin’s 24-23 upset at Illinois, which maims the Badgers’ hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff, puts a dent in the perception of the Big Ten and removes every ounce of excitement surrounding that matchup with No. 4 Ohio State to end October.
That the Badgers are going to plunge in the next Amway Coaches Poll, issued on Sunday, is a justified reaction to what just occurred: they lost to Illinois. Wisconsin was a 30.5-point favorite. Illinois hadn’t beaten a ranked Big Ten team since 2007, a 28-game stretch that stood as the second-longest such streak in the Bowl Subdivision. (Behind Kansas, of course.)
Since opening the season with a win at home against Akron, which remains winless, Illinois had dropped games at Memorial Stadium to Eastern Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had pitched four shutouts in the year’s first six games, the first time the program had done so since 1930, and had allowed just 29 points, the fewest by any team through six games since Florida State gave up 29 points in 1993.
The Badgers hadn’t trailed all season — and didn’t trail Illinois until kicker James McCourt made a 39-yard field goal as time expired. (From the perspective of timing, if the game-winning attempt came with zeroes on the clock, did Wisconsin technically lead for the entire game? If so, the Badgers still haven’t trailed through seven games despite holding a loss.)
DESERVED LOSS:No. 6 Wisconsin didn’t play well and Illinois beat them
SCARY SCENE:Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner crashes on field
The loss has the secondary effect of hurting the reputation of the Big Ten, which before this weekend could tout overall depth — there were six Big Ten teams in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll — along with three teams still in contention for the national semifinals, with the Badgers joined by the Buckeyes and Penn State. Not that it would matter in the end: Ohio State won’t be held out of the playoff because Wisconsin lost to Illinois.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Badgers’ only path demands not one but two wins against Ohio State, one in October and the other for the conference championship in early December, along with the predictable sort of chaos that ensues across the Power Five during the year’s second half. It sounds doable, sort of, except that the team that lost to Illinois would have no chance against the Buckeyes.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
The 35-31 win at No. 23 Washington keeps the No. 12 Ducks very much alive in the playoff hunt: Oregon is now 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play, with the one loss coming on a neutral site against No. 11 Auburn. While he struggled against pressure, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert completed 24 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 21 touchdowns against one interception on the season, and showed why he’s viewed as one of top NFL prospects in the country.
Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers bounced back against Duke and made a case for returning to the Top 25. After dropping consecutive games to Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.), Virginia led 17-0 at halftime and 41-7 at the end of the third quarter in a 48-14 win. It helps to force turnovers: Duke turned it over five times while Virginia had five scoring drives of 40 or fewer yards. It still counts.
The Cavaliers’ Commonwealth Cup rival pulled of a 43-41 win against North Carolina in six overtimes, the longest game since the FBS enacted new overtime rules designed to shorten games that go into extra frames. Beginning this season, teams will begin attempting two-point conversions beginning in the fifth overtime. Exciting! Virginia Tech won on backup quarterback Quincy Patterson’s short scoring run in the sixth to move to a surprisingly positive 5-2 after losing early to Boston College and Duke. Painfully, UNC is 3-4 with the four losses coming by a combined 12 points: 24-18 to Wake Forest, 34-31 to Appalachian State, 21-20 to Clemson and 43-41 to the Hokies.
Matt Rhule is moving to the front of the line for some end-of-year coaching accolades. Even after losing senior linebacker Clay Johnston, the heart of an improved defense and an All-America candidate, Baylor pulled off a 45-27 win at Oklahoma State to move to 7-0 heading into winnable games against West Virginia and TCU. After winning just one game in his 2017 debut, Rhule has the Bears in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl.
Since losing by a nose to Baylor on Sept. 28, Iowa State has rolled off three convincing Big 12 wins in a row against TCU, West Virginia and, on Saturday, Texas Tech. In doing so, the Cyclones have painted themselves as perhaps the second-best team in the conference, trailing only Oklahoma. The three-game streak, capped by Saturday’s 34-24 win at the Red Raiders, also helps to erase the sour taste of narrow losses to the Bears and rival Iowa.
Michigan didn’t play poorly at all, especially with a ball-control offense that was successful in achieving its primary purpose: keeping Penn State’s offense on the sideline. In that respect, running 82 plays was a major win for Michigan, even if those plays averaged about a pretty pedestrian 5.1 yards per snap. Without knowing the result, you’d look at the box score and see the Wolverines with 130 more yards of offense and possession for almost 38 minutes (along with one turnover to Penn State’s none) and assume Jim Harbaugh’s team won, if narrowly.
Instead, the Nittany Lions packed four touchdown drives into just 54 plays and about 22 minutes of possession. It’s easy to imagine the offense scoring 40-plus with more time. Quarterback Sean Clifford threw for three touchdowns, two to terrific wide receiver KJ Hamler, while the running game drew one big play from back Ricky Slade. In all, the defense allowed a season-high 21 points but delivered another win that will boost the Nittany Lions’ postseason stock.
Here’s a fun one: Miami lost 28-21 in overtime to Georgia Tech, which earlier this season lost to The Citadel and hadn’t come within 16 points of each of its first three opponents in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets aren’t very good, you see, even if the team’s struggles were expected under first-year coach Geoff Collins. The Hurricanes’ new coach, Manny Diaz, now heads into the home stretch at 3-4 with five games left. Of that group, four come on the road: Pittsburgh, Florida State, Florida International and Duke.
“This is a rebuild,” Diaz said after the loss, which is laughable. The Hurricanes won 10 games just two years ago and were 49-29 across the previous six seasons — not great, but not rebuild-worthy numbers — while the program had inked top-25 recruiting classes in three of the past four years. To call this a rebuild is a desperate and transparent attempt at spinning a season that has spiraled out of control.
Meanwhile, in the MAC … Toledo has careened off the tracks in back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and Ball State, quickly transforming the Rockets from conference favorite to one of the more mystifying teams in the FBS. The loss to Bowling Green came as a heavy favorite. Saturday’s loss at Ball State might’ve been worse: Toledo gave up 374 yards rushing on 7.5 yards per carry, allowed 12.1 yards per pass attempt and had just 309 yards of offense in a 52-14 loss.
Missouri lost 21-14 to Vanderbilt, which one week ago lost 34-10 at home to UNLV. College football is not supposed to make sense — and it rarely does — but this is particularly strange, given that Missouri had made a quiet case for the Top 25 while the Commodores were supposedly circling the drain under embattled coach Derek Mason.
Blessed with soft schedule and fresh off 21 wins across the past two seasons, Army was cited in the preseason as a team capable of climbing from unranked into the Top 25. Instead, the Black Knights are now a disappointing 3-4 after a 28-21 loss to Georgia State. The three wins: Rice (0-7), Texas-San Antonio (3-4) and Morgan State (1-6 in the Football Championship Subdivision). On the other hand, each of the four teams to beat Army have five wins.
The Longhorns didn’t lose to Kansas, though there’s something generally negative about allowing 569 yards of offense and needing to escape via a last-second field goal to pull out a 50-48 win. I mean, the Jayhawks averaged 6.6 yards per carry. (And boldly went for and converted the two-point conversion to take a 48-47 lead with little over a minute left.) The defense is an obvious issue for Texas, which has given up at least 30 points in each of the past four games and five of the past six.
The takeaway isn’t that Wake Forest beat Florida State — it’s that Wake beat the Seminoles and nobody’s surprised. It’s a statement about the direction of each program, with Wake angling to become the second ranked team in the ACC and FSU again staring at the possibility of missing the postseason. The Demon Deacons’ 22-20 win made me wonder: Scoring 22 points is weird, right? Well, 24 teams, counting Wake, have won by scoring 22 points in a game since 2004. But the Demon Deacons are the only one of that group to get to 22 points the old-fashioned way: with one touchdown and five field goals.
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