AP Top 25 Takeaways: Week before showdown, Wisconsin exposed
On Friday night, No. 4 Ohio State went to Northwestern and buried a struggling and outclassed opponent, just the way an elite team is supposed to do.
For those glancing ahead to next week, it was hard not to think: Boy, Wisconsin messed around with Northwestern and only beat the Wildcats by nine. Hmmm.
Transitive properties and scores against common opponents in college football are often unreliable. Still, it felt like a sign.
Then the sixth-ranked Badgers confirmed suspicions that they are indeed below the line when it comes to the elite teams this season, losing to Illinois in a game Wisconsin probably should have won but definitely deserved to lose.
“It was kind of a trap game playing here in Champaign against a team like Illinois,” Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun told reporters. I feel like we didn’t have the fire we had in previous games going into it and had a lot of missed opportunities.”
There will still be fanfare in Columbus next weekend when Wisconsin visits Ohio State. Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” starring Urban Meyer will be at the Horseshoe and maybe even ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Illinois, however, might have done everyone a big favor, saving us a week of hype for a game between the Badgers and Buckeyes that is still interesting but most definitely not a match of equals.
You could say we should have seen it coming with the Badgers, but no. Not against Illinois, a 30-point underdog and the worst team in the Big Ten outside New Jersey.
The Badgers pitched shutouts in four of their first six games. A lot of that was piling on patsies, but in today’s era of high-powered offenses in college football, 29 points allowed in six games is notable no matter the competition.
Wisconsin’s defense was mostly good against Illinois, but without an explosive offense — like those on the likes of Ohio State, No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Oklahoma — the Badgers let Illinois hang around and then got booted from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The larger takeaway is this: The days of defense wins championships in college football are over.
What stung the Badgers is what burned Georgia in last week’s stunning upset against South Carolina. The Bulldogs have the blue-chip talent, but, like Wisconsin, lack a diverse and high-powered offense. Blame it on the rain in Athens, Georgia, maybe, but Georgia followed up its loss with another lackluster offensive performance, beating Kentucky 21-0.
Like Georgia, the Badgers are still in position to do big things. They get the Buckeyes next week and maybe again in the Big Ten championship game. But at this point, Wisconsin beating Ohio State next week will be only a little less surprising than the Badgers getting upset by Illinois.
One of the best things in college football is when a rivalry gets competitive. When the teams are evenly matched conference contenders. The Washington-Oregon series is there.
For the second straight season, the Ducks beat the Huskies in a thoroughly entertaining game. Last year, Oregon needed overtime to beat Washington. This time, in a matchup of two quarterbacks likely to be first-round selections in the NFL draft — Washington’s Jacob Eason is the definition of looks the part — the Ducks rallied from 14 down in the second half.
Justin Herbert and No. 12 Oregon (6-1, 4-0) gave the Pac-12 the result it most definitely needed when it comes to the College Football Playoff picture. The Ducks have a commanding lead in the Pac-12 North and a schedule that makes winning out a very reasonable goal. Oregon will be in chase mode for the playoff, though, hoping some of the other top teams take a loss — or two.
No. 13 Utah (6-1, 3-1) is the other one-loss team in the Pac-12 after dominating Arizona State. The Utes and Ducks don’t play in the regular season and a matchup of 11-1 teams in the Pac-12 title game is possible.
As long as the Ducks keep winning they should be in the playoff discussion, but, oh, what could have been: Think back to that Week 1 loss to Auburn. A dropped TD pass. A fumble near the goal line. A missed short field goal. Some poor clock management while nursing a lead. Eliminate any one or two of these and Oregon would be unbeaten.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: No. 16 Michigan lost another big game, this time at Penn State. At least this one was close. But watching Wolverines receiver Ronnie Bell crying on the sideline after dropping a would-be late touchdown was a good reminder that they’re just kids and watching them fail is no fun. ... Memphis freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell became the first FBS player to have 200 yards receiving and 100 rushing in the same game since Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards of Louisiana Tech did it in 1997. ... Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence threw two more interceptions against Louisville to give him eight on the season, double last year’s total. It’s hard to make too much of the sophomore’s spotty decision making. Clemson is so good and its ACC competition is so outclassed, the Tigers can easily mask Lawrence’s mistakes and hope he fixes whatever is wrong. ... Outside of Clemson, the ACC might as well be random results generator. The chaotic Coastal Division produced two overtime games on Saturday. A week after Miami beat Virginia the ′Canes gave one away to Georgia Tech, which had looked like the one Coastal team too bad to be factor in the division race. In the other OT game, Virginia Tech and North Carolina set an ACC record by playing six extra possessions, the final three in the new 2-point shootout format. Meanwhile, Virginia followed-up losing at Miami by crushing Duke. The Cavaliers, preseason favorites in the Coastal, are in first and looking good to become the seventh team to win the division in seven years. There is still plenty of opportunity for chaos. ... In LSU’s seventh game of the season, Joe Burrow set the school record for touchdown passes in a season. He also showed a side of himself the quarterback would have preferred to keep covered. ... The Pac-12 has some of that ACC unpredictability, too. Oregon State upset Cal in Berkeley, giving the Beavers two conference road wins for the first time since 2013. ... Surprise team that you probably have not noticed: Ball State improved to 3-0 in the MAC by trouncing perennial contender Toledo. ... Missouri will be this week’s one-and-done team in the AP Top 25. The Tigers lost at Vanderbilt , a week after the Commodores were beaten by UNLV. The UNLV game put Derek Mason squarely on the hot seat, but the coach responded . Literally. It was a good day in general for coaches on the hot seat, with Lovie Smith scoring his biggest victory in four years at Illinois and Steve Addazio leading Boston College to blowout of North Carolina State in another ACC result that didn’t make a ton of sense.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25