In the sometimes-wacky, always-unpredictable world of college football, this one ranked right up with the most shocking results in the sport in recent history.

Previously sixth-ranked Wisconsin, arguably the most unflappable team in the first half of the 2019 season with four shutouts in six games, lost as a 30.5-point favorite to Illinois, which is probably the worst non-Rutgers program in the Big Ten. It was the second-biggest upset in the last 40 years in the Big Ten. Illinois, the same team that lost to Eastern Michigan last month, played Wisconsin’s famed “Jump Around” after it turned the B1G on its head.

And yet, it’s something we should have seen coming all along, because this sport almost never makes sense (outside of Clemson and Alabama). These puzzling games happen to almost every contender every year. Sometimes, the contender survives — like Clemson against North Carolina, and Texas against Kansas. Sometimes, the contender falls, like Georgia against South Carolina, and Ohio State against Purdue and Iowa. Wisconsin, perhaps looking ahead to this week against Ohio State, fell in a game no one outside of the Illinois locker room could have predicted. It’s a reminder of why we love college football; anything can happen, and it usually does.

It’s certainly unfortunate that it takes some of the luster out of what could have been a top-six showdown between undefeated teams in Columbus. And perhaps it wouldn’t have been much of a showdown at all if Wisconsin couldn’t fight past an Illinois team that still probably won’t make a bowl game.

The previously No. 6 Badgers went from College Football Playoff contender to now in serious jeopardy of not even winning the Big Ten West Division, with games against Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota remaining. Heck, even winning at Nebraska doesn’t seem like a sure thing anymore. If Wisconsin plays as it did Saturday in Champaign, who knows? It went from a 27 percent chance of making the CFP to just 9 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.

There was always a sense that Wisconsin was greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a reason the Badgers weren’t predicted to win the West. On paper, this wasn’t a team as talented as the 2018 squad, which was ranked No. 4 in the preseason. But Wisconsin was clicking; there’s something to be said to knowing who you are and playing to your strengths. Get the ball to Jonathan Taylor, play great defense. Rinse, repeat. That formula may not have beaten Ohio State, but it probably beats 90 percent of FBS teams.

The problem was that Wisconsin got slightly off script. On third-and-5 with just under three minutes remaining, Jack Coan threw an interception — just his second in 167 pass attempts. On the one hand, Coan has been careful with the ball, so it may seem like an outlier. But how many pressure-packed throws has Coan had to make in his college career? The Badgers have played one close game this season, against Northwestern, and Coan was not good in that one. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but it’s fair to question whether that was the best play call in that situation. The safer play was to run the ball with Taylor, who is arguably the best back in college football.

Maybe Taylor was tired. He had run the ball 28 times already, after all, and he made his own blunder when he fumbled earlier in the fourth quarter while fighting for extra yards. But if you go down while riding Taylor, there are no regrets. He averages over six yards per carry. But going down after your inexperienced quarterback makes an ill-advised throw? That stings.

Perhaps we should have seen this one coming. Remember three weeks ago when Wisconsin got out-gained by offensively-challenged Northwestern 255-243? The difference in that one was that the Badgers mustered two defensive touchdowns in the second half to survive. But turnovers, especially ones that result in touchdowns, are somewhat random. They’re certainly not a reliable way to win. Illinois, with nine turnovers in six games entering Saturday, had only one. Wisconsin, with just five in six games entering Saturday, had three, including those two in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin was firing on all cylinders this season, coming off a 38-0 rout of Michigan State. And maybe that was the problem. How long was that really sustainable? As it turns out, not long enough.


A look around the Big Ten.

KJ Hamler’s big moment

This was supposed to be the big story of the weekend, but Illinois upstaged Penn State’s White Out. I had two thoughts after watching this one:

1. K.J. Hamler is a freak of nature

2. This was Michigan’s best game of the season

I was waiting for Hamler’s true breakout game, and he chose a great night for it. That may not even be the right word for it, since he is up to seven receiving touchdowns already. Let’s call it his coming-out party, where he announces to the country that he is one of college football’s elite receivers. After six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, plus the game-clinching run, mission accomplished.

If you’ve watched Penn State this season, you know how insanely talented this guy is. He has NFL speed, and I keep thinking of Stefon Diggs every time I watch him play. Hamler is just always behind the defense, it seems. He’s just 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, but he flies.

Poor Josh Gattis. He has had a tough season, and then he has to watch his guy torch Michigan’s defense.

But speaking of Michigan, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the Wolverines. I’ve watched at least some of all of their games this season, and I can’t remember them playing as well as what they did in the second half. They dominated. Looking at the box score, you’d think Michigan won. It won in time of possession (37:45-22:15), first downs (26-14), total yards (417-283), third- and fourth-down conversions (9-4), penalty yards (48-58) and sacks (2-1).

And yet, Michigan came up just short. Ronnie Bell dropped a potentially game-tying touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. You had to feel for him, as he was tearing up on the sideline afterward, aware that he just cost his team a shot at a win.

It was too little, too late in terms of saving this season and getting to the College Football Playoff, but it could certainly get them on track and playing with confidence moving forward. I think they have a good chance at beating Notre Dame this weekend. Jim Harbaugh still hasn’t won as an underdog, he is just 1-7 against ranked teams on the road and 1-10 against top-10 teams.

But at the very least, Michigan is a watchable football team. Shea Patterson’s numbers didn’t tell the story, as he played well and put his team in position to win in front of 110,669 roaring fans.

Is it time to watch Ohio State play in a real game?

Let’s hope that is true this Saturday against Wisconsin, because Ohio State has played seven laughers. It could have gotten better run in an inter-squad scrimmage than the 52-3 whooping it put on Northwestern on Friday night.

Ohio State has had one of the most dominant starts to a season in the 21st Century. According to Pro Football Reference, the Buckeyes’ point differential of 292 (an average of 41.7 points per game) is the second-best through a team’s first seven games of the season, behind only Baylor in 2013 (which had a point differential of 336). Ohio State probably won’t wind up with the biggest point differential in the last two decades as it would have to beat its remaining five teams (three of which are in the top 19 in the country) by an average of 44 points to equal 2013 Florida State. But could the Buckeyes beat those three teams, plus Rutgers and Maryland, by an average of 28.8 to slide into second place with 2005 Texas? Perhaps.

Either way, Saturday against Wisconsin will hopefully be a competitive game. Loss to Illinois aside, Wisconsin typically plays Ohio State tough. Take out that 2014 Big Ten Championship when Ohio State won 59-0 (and eventually won the national title), the Badgers keep it close. In the other six times they have met since 2010, Wisconsin has either lost by one score or won.

I’m not sure what’s going to be worse for Wisconsin this week, watching its own film from Illinois or watching Ohio State’s film from Northwestern.

David Bell’s huge day shows Purdue has another star wideout… and Iowa doesn’t

I’ll bet Iowa wishes it could’ve closed the deal. No, I’m not talking about Saturday, when it held off Purdue 26-20. I’m talking about back in December 2018.

David Bell took his final official visit on Dec. 15, 2018, and it was to Iowa. Four days later, he signed with Purdue. About 10 months later, he torched Iowa for 13 catches, 197 yards and a touchdown. It was a reminder about what could’ve been for the Hawkeyes, who could really use another weapon to pair with that standout defense. Bell is seeing an increase in targets with Rondale Moore out, but the latter may return in the next week or two, and these guys are going to form a dynamic duo that will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

Iowa desperately needs another playmaker because it simply isn’t getting into the end zone enough. The Hawkeyes now lead the country in field goals with 17 after making four more on Saturday. Iowa is 104th in the country in plays of 40 yards or more as it has just four this season. Methodically moving the ball is nice, but it puts a ton of pressure on your offense to finish those drives.

Three Up, Three Down

The best and worst of the rest of the Big Ten.


1. Teams that don’t give up

Salute to Illinois and Purdue. Neither has played as well as they would have liked and neither is likely to make a bowl game. But both have continually finished games strong. Illinois broke through (and maybe saved Lovie Smith’s job) with its first win over a ranked team since 2007. Purdue didn’t come away with a victory, but it sure put a scare into No. 23 Iowa. The Boilermakers are without their starting quarterback (Elijah Sindelar) and top wide receiver (Rondale Moore). It certainly makes it more fun when these teams are pushing the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

2. Players that don’t give up

Peyton Ramsey could have checked out a long time ago. Ramsey played decent last season, finishing third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game. But he lost out on the starting job in the preseason to redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. Ramsey, however, has stayed ready and performed well when called upon. Penix has played well but can’t seem to stay healthy.

Ramsey came on in relief during Indiana’s 34-28 win at Maryland, completing 20 of 27 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. He is up to six touchdowns and two interceptions this season in five games, four of which he saw extended action.

3. The other team that doesn’t lose

No one was thinking about the final score in this one. It was all about an emotional moment between head coach P.J. Fleck and one of his players. Casey O’Brien, a four-time cancer survivor, got his first hold in a game. He went up to Fleck afterwards and gave him a hug, and well, you just have to watch it. It’s one of those authentic moments where you really feel the magic of college sports.

As for where Minnesota stands as a team… well, it’s tough to glean anything from a beatdown of Rutgers. The Golden Gophers, who are one of 10 remaining FBS unbeatens, did what they needed to do, and they are almost at their critical final stretch with three ranked teams in their final four games (No. 6 Penn State, No. 20 Iowa, No. 13 Wisconsin). Minnesota’s moment is coming.


1. Northwestern

At least Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is honest. After getting blown out by Ohio State in a rematch of the Big Ten Championship, he said, “In my opinion, the best team in the country. I thought that before just watching film.”

The Wildcats’ bowl streak is in serious jeopardy as it will have to win five of its remaining six games just to be eligible. With No. 20 Iowa and No. 17 Minnesota, plus surging Indiana, still on the schedule, that will be tough.

2. Maryland

What happened to Maryland? It was putting up what felt like 22 points per quarter in those first two games, and now it is averaging just 22.5 points in Big Ten play, which is ninth in the league. It’s going to get worse, too, as the Terrapins upcoming schedule looks like this: at No. 17 Minnesota, vs. No. 19 Michigan, at No. 3 Ohio State, vs. Nebraska and at Michigan State. At the very best, they may go 2-3 in that stretch, but a 1-4 or 0-5 run to finish the season looks much more likely.

3. Rutgers

Poor Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are now last in the country in scoring offense and 123rd in scoring defense. It has been outscored by an average of 34.5 points in its last six games. In the last two decades, Rutgers has the sixth-worst point differential (-207) in games 2-7. That’s kind of cherry-picking, I know, because it excludes the 48-21 win over UMass in the season opener, but that’s the point. Rutgers has been really bad the last six games.

Looking ahead

Week 9 had the potential to be one of the best weeks of the season in the Big Ten, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.

Some of the excitement is clearly gone from Ohio State’s showdown with Wisconsin. It would have been a massive game to have two top-six teams going at it, and great for the Big Ten. Now, it’s just a very big game. For one, it should be Ohio State’s first real battle. Or let’s hope so. Wisconsin’s faint playoff hopes now rest on beating Ohio State in Columbus and then in the Big Ten Championship (or Penn State).

Penn State traveling to Michigan State looked very interesting in the preseason, but the Spartans have been a mess. Michigan’s game against Notre Dame is always enticing, but maybe that’s due to it usually being early in the season when both teams are typically a little overrated.

Anyway, at least these games fill in nicely in terms of time, with Ohio State-Wisconsin at noon ET, Penn State-Michigan State at 3:30 and Notre Dame-Michigan at 7:30. You have a great excuse to not leave the couch all day.