Takeaways as Illinois shocks No. 6 Wisconsin: Illini pick up first ranked win since 2007
The Badgers dominated most of their opponents this season but succumbed to a tough Illini squad Saturday
No. 6 Wisconsin has now trailed for 1 second in the 2019 college football season. Unfortunately for the Badgers, it was the final second of their 24-23 loss to Illinois on Saturday. Wisconsin seemed to be in control for most of the game yet were never able to pull away. Then, two turnovers in the fourth quarter doomed them against an Illini team ready to capitalize on the mistakes.
First, it was Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor fumbling in Illinois territory while the Badgers were up 23-14 with 8 minutes to go. Then, after an Illinois touchdown to cut the lead to 23-21, quarterback Jack Coan threw his second interception of the season. It gave the Illini the ball at midfield and Illinois drove to set up a 39-yard field goal attempt as time expired. James McCourt's field goal kick split the uprights to give Illinois its first win over a ranked team since it upset No. 1 Ohio State in 2007.
The 2007 season was also the last time Illinois had beaten Wisconsin. The Badgers had won nine straight against the Illini. Now they've seen that streak come to an end, and possibly the Big Ten title hopes as well. Let's take a look at some takeaways from this surprising upset.
1. Wisconsin won't be in the College Football Playoff. I said this loss could possibly end Wisconsin's hopes of winning a Big Ten title, but it definitely ruined the Badgers hopes of earning a College Football Playoff berth. In a season like this that has given us a number of worthy candidates to reach the CFP, a loss like this on the resume is going to be a killer. Just ask Ohio State what happens to one-loss Big Ten champions with an embarrassing loss on their resume.
I don't want to take anything away from the Illini here because they played well enough to win this game, and in the fourth quarter they were the better team. But this is still an embarrassing loss. The Badgers were 30-point favorites coming into this contest. They were facing an Illinois team that had won only seven Big Ten games since the 2015 season. They were facing an Illinois team that lost at home to Eastern Michigan earlier this season.
Wisconsin had yet to trail at any point this season. When Illinois scored a touchdown in the first half to cut Wisconsin's lead at the time to 10-7, it was the first time a Wisconsin opponent had scored a first-half touchdown against it all season long. It wouldn't have been shocking to see Wisconsin win this game, but look sloppy doing so. It was an early kickoff on the road against Illinois on homecoming weekend.
The Badgers have a huge road game against No. 4 Ohio State next week. Had they hung on to win this game 23-14 or 23-21, people would have written it off as they were caught looking ahead to Ohio State and moved on. But that's not what happened. Wisconsin became the first ranked team to fall to the Illini since 2007, and it now has to go on the road to Columbus. A season that looked like it could be magical suddenly looks on the verge of coming apart.
2. The Big Ten West is in serious jeopardy, too: Given Wisconsin just lost on the road to Illinois, what are the odds you'd give it of beating Ohio State on the road next week? I can't imagine they're good, so we're suddenly looking at a situation where the Badgers could be 3-2 in conference play. Minnesota, which plays Rutgers this week and Maryland next week, might be 5-0 in conference at that point. Now, Minnesota has a lot of tough games left. The Gophers get Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin in November. So the Badgers will have a chance to win the division, but there's almost no room for error now.
And while Ohio State's the toughest game remaining on the schedule, it's not the last difficult game. Wisconsin must still play Iowa, and its games against Nebraska and Minnesota are both on the road. In other words, the Big Ten West title race just became a lot more interesting thanks to the Illini.
3. Lovie Smith needed this win badly. Illinois got off to a 2-0 start this season, and things were looking up. Then the Illini lost at home to Eastern Michigan. Another home loss to Nebraska followed that. Then Illinois lost to Minnesota 40-17 in Minneapolis. Illinois beat Minnesota by 24 last season, and that was their previous Big Ten win until Saturday. The loss to Minnesota this season showed two programs that seemed to be headed in two very different directions.
It also led to whispers that Lovie Smith's status at Illinois was in trouble. Those whispers didn't get any quieter when the Illini lost to Michigan 42-25 last week in a game that wasn't as close as the final score might suggest. But now? Smith's team has finally delivered the signature win it's been waiting on for four years. Illinois' next three games are against Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan State.
At this time Friday, the most optimistic Illini fan would have them going 1-2 in that stretch. Now, after beating Wisconsin, it's not crazy to think Illinois can win two of those games. If it does and finishes the season strong, it would likely get Smith another season in Champaign and allow him a chance to see his first recruiting class play as seniors.
4. This is the biggest upset in the Big Ten since 1982. As mentioned above, Illinois was a 30-point underdog to Wisconsin. That means Illinois is the biggest underdog to win a Big Ten game outright since Northwestern beat Minnesota as a 32-point underdog in 1982. That stat is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.
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