Across the country, the number of COVID-19 cases is rising and college football has not been spared. Last week, no fewer than 16 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) games were either postponed or canceled due to the virus, resulting in a limited weekend of college football action. Due to the virus’s unpredictable nature, how the rest of the season plays out is anyone’s guess, and all we can do is hope for the best. Here are the winners and losers from last week’s action:
One football program that already experienced a bout with the coronavirus is No. 10 Wisconsin. The Badgers took a three-week hiatus between games due to COVID-19 spread within the program. Coming out of that hiatus, there was the potential for Wisconsin to be slow and sloppy in its first game in three weeks. Instead, the Badgers looked like they hadn’t broken stride at all. Wisconsin (2-0, 2-0 Big Ten) romped to victory over Michigan at the Big House on Saturday night, topping the Wolverines 49-11. The game was over not long after it started, with the Badgers building a 28-0 lead within the first 20 minutes. Wisconsin won the game the patented Wisconsin way, with stifling defense and a scintillating running game. The Badgers outgained Michigan (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten) on the ground by 341 yards to 47. It was a performance that cemented Wisconsin’s status as a Big Ten and national title contender.
It was only five seasons ago when Stanford last made the Rose Bowl, rolling over Iowa to a 45-16 victory on the back of a monster performance by running back Christian McCaffrey, but it feels like it was much deeper into the past. Stanford’s football program has been on a steady decline since that glorious day. Last season, the team posted a losing record for the first time since 2008, and this season, the program is off to an 0-2 start. The Cardinal began the season with an uncompetitive loss against rivals Oregon, and then this past weekend, the team lost a close game at home to Colorado. Stanford’s defense has not shown up yet this season, allowing 35 points and over 400 yards of offense in both of the team’s games. After success earlier this decade, it is now clear that Stanford is now a rebuilding program.
If any team is going to emerge as a challenger to Wisconsin in the Big Ten West, it looks like it will be No. 19 Northwestern. The Wildcats have quietly gotten off to a 4-0 start this year, and their victories include solid road performances at Iowa and Purdue. The way the Wildcats have been winning games this season has been on defense. Across four games, Northwestern has given up just five touchdowns. The Wildcats are giving up only 302 yards per game on average, have been holding opponents to a conversion rate of under 30 percent on third down and have allowed just four touchdowns on 14 red-zone possessions. The offense, meanwhile, hasn’t been eye-popping, but it has done just enough for Northwestern to win games, particularly on the ground. Wisconsin may be a bit too tough for this sturdy Northwestern team to handle, but it has a shot. We’ll find out a lot more about whether Northwestern is for real next week when they meet Wisconsin head-to-head at home. It should be a very interesting game.
No. 20 USC has played two games this season, and in both of them the Trojans needed a game-winning score in the final two minutes to pull out victories. On one hand, the feat is impressive. The resiliency that sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis and the USC offense have shown to be able to pull off two stunning comebacks in a row is remarkable. Slovis himself is off to a hot start this season. He has completed over 71 percent of his throws for over 700 yards in just two games. On the other hand, these comebacks haven’t come against top opponents, they’ve come against the Pac-12’s two Arizona teams, which are mediocre at best. Therefore USC’s performance so far this season is a mixed bag; the Trojans have played beautiful football down the stretch to pull victory from the jaws of defeat twice, but against opponents, they should have beaten more handily. Luckily for them, their schedule isn’t so tough this season, so an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game is very possible.