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 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.)
The loss has the secondary effect of hurting the reputation of the Big Ten's, 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 pflayoff 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.
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. (We'll find out for sure when the Cyclones meet Texas.) 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.
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. 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 374 yards rushing on 7.5 yards per carry, allowed 12.1 yards per pass attempt and has 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.