Wisconsin steps forward
Even when they’re good, the Wisconsin Badgers rarely blow you away. It’s more of a workmanlike program, built on efficient defense and a traditional offense without much flash.
But Saturday’s 30-6 victory at No. 8 Michigan State is the kind of eye-popping score that might make you think the Big Ten has another contender alongside Ohio State and Michigan.
Of course, the excitement over Wisconsin might be short-lived, as the Badgers play at Michigan and host Ohio State in their next two games. But for now it’s perfectly fine for Wisconsin to dream big after improving to 4-0.
This is a team that now owns two victories against opponents that were in the top 10 when they played. And as ugly as Wisconsin’s 16-14 season-opening victory against LSU might have looked at the time, maybe the Badgers are on an upward trajectory with freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook at the helm.
Hornibrook threw for only 195 yards against the Spartans on 16for-26 completions, but there were big moments in the game where he showed serious moxie and put the ball on the money for his receivers.
If there is any big concern for Wisconsin right now, it’s a running game that produced just 122 yards on 41 carries. Running back Corey Clement, dogged by an ankle injury, was only marginally effective with 54 yards on 23 attempts. There’s no doubt the Badgers will need to be much better up front if they’re going to challenge Michigan next weekend.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers: WINNERS
Tennessee: Down 21-3 after the first half, the No. 12-ranked Vols summoned an incredible comeback to put away No. 16 Florida and end an 11-year losing streak that had practically consumed the program. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs came to life with four touchdown passes against a defense that hadn’t given up a score through the air all year. Florida was too conservative in the second half, and the Vols took advantage. This win positions Tennessee extremely well to finally win the Southeastern Conference East.
Michigan: The Wolverines continue to quietly dominate, beating Penn State 49-10 to open Big Ten play. Apart from the sleepy first quarter last weekend against Colorado in which they yielded 21 points before roaring back, it’s hard to find much fault with anything Michigan has done. This time, Jim Harbaugh wasn’t going to let his team get off to a slow start and it came out with surgical precision, scoring touchdowns on its first three drives.
Virginia Tech: Any Hokies fan with a sense of history dreads playing East Carolina. Ever since a highly ranked Virginia Tech team lost to the Pirates in the 2008 season opener, they’ve played several close games, including two more ECU victories in 2014 and 2015.
But Virginia Tech cruised to a 54-17 win at Lane Stadium and improved to 3-1.
Virginia: It was a rough 0-3 start to the Bronco Mendenhall era, but you could see progress even in losses the last couple weeks. The Cavaliers were underdogs at home to Central Michigan but came away with an impressive 49-35 win in which they racked up 569 yards.
Virginia shot out to a 28-0 lead, then gave it all back by the early stages of the fourth quarter. But instead of succumbing to shattered confidence, the Cavaliers showed some Mendenhall-bred toughness and exploded for three touchdowns in a span of six minutes.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels didn’t lead until two seconds remained when quarterback Mitch Trubisky found Bug Howard for a 2-yard touchdown pass
to win 37-36. The final play ended a frenetic sequence in which North Carolina, without a timeout, ran the ball near the goal line and got stopped with 12 seconds left. The Tar Heels had to quickly reorganize and get a play off, which they did successfully to complete a comeback from 36-23 down in the fourth quarter.
The Tar Heels badly needed this game if they wanted to repeat as ACC Coastal champions. LOSERS Notre Dame: Duke was a three-touchdown underdog coming into Notre Dame Stadium and sprung a 38-35 upset that could have wide-ranging implications on the program.
Notre Dame is now 1-3 after coming into the year with College Football Playoff aspirations, and you can bet there will be fallout on the defensive side. It’s been apparent all year there are major issues, but this is now at the fivealarm fire stage with coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies are in an absolute free fall, and now there’s a very real possibility that Rod Carey’s job is in danger. Northern Illinois lost its seventh consecutive game dating to last season; this time 28-23 to Western Illinois. Saturday represented an opportunity for the Huskies to get back on track after a disastrous start to this season; instead they fell behind 28-7 after three quarters and couldn’t quite complete the comeback.
Georgia: It was clear the Bulldogs were living a lie at 3-0, and Mississippi exposed them in humiliating fashion 45-14. This was a rout of a Georgia team that was very fortunate to win its first three games against mediocre opponents, and it’s a bad look for a first-year head coach in Kirby Smart replacing a guy (Mark Richt) who almost never got beat in such humiliating fashion.
Making matters worse, running back Nick Chubb sprained an ankle in the first half and didn’t return. The severity of the injury is unclear.
Oregon: The Ducks' slide back into mediocrity in the Pac-12 continued Saturday with a 41-38 loss to Colorado at home. Not to take anything away from the Buffaloes — it's Colorado's first win vs. the Ducks since it joined the league in 2011 — but the magic of past years seems to be gone. The Oregon defense is a problem. Mark Helfrich's tenure at the top is going to get tricky.
LSU: It won't get any easier for Les Miles after the No. 17 Tigers came up short against Auburn 18-13. There was some buzz about this clash being a loser leave town matchup, Miles vs. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, and no doubt the seat will heat up again for LSU's head coach. And maybe for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. LSU scored on the game's final play in what would have been a miraculous victory ... but the clock actually ran out before the Tigers got the play off. Ecstasy to agony; there could be a lot more on the way.
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) prepares to fire a pass during the third quarter against Michigan State. The Badgers rolled to a 30-6 victory.