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College Football Recap: Week 8

Saturday was depressing for many of us. Surely, something uplifting happened to other fans around the country, right? Let’s recap Week 8.

Wisconsin v Illinois
In a game that defied logic, kicker James McCourt and Illinois may have ended Wisconsin’s playoff hopes with Saturday’s last-second win.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Saturday sucked. No doubt about it.

But all this means is that Mizzou will finish 9-3, with losses to Wyoming, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas. There’s a pattern here.

But as hollow as we all may have felt yesterday — and still may feel — it could always be worse. Hello, Wisconsin.

What We Learned

College Football Makes No Sense Whatsoever

Last week, the Recap postulated how long the Wisconsin Badgers could sustain an unbeaten streak primarily driven by what has been a historically dominant defense.

Turns out, about six days.

A week before its visit to the Horseshoe for a match-up dripping with playoff implications, Wisconsin’s stop-off at Illinois on Saturday was supposed to be uneventful for the away team – devoid of any drama, stress, or even minimal discomfort.

Basically, like each of the Badgers’ first six games this season. Instead, the randomness of college football finally paid a visit.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark for his career on Saturday, becoming the second-fastest ever to reach the mark, but his late fumble may be the larger footnote in the Badgers’ 24-23 loss to Illinois.
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wisconsin’s last-second loss in Champaign makes no sense, but considering how games across the country play out from week to week, the manner in which the Badgers went down doesn’t seem all that far-fetched, I suppose.

Consider the following:

  • Wisconsin, leading the nation in yards allowed per play, surrendered four plays of 25-plus yards, including all three Illinois touchdowns.
  • Heisman candidate, running back Jonathan Taylor , rushed for 132 yards, but his first lost fumble of the season — with Wisconsin up 23-14 — was the beginning of the end
  • Averaging less than a turnover per game offensively, the Badgers coughed up the ball three times to the Illini’s one— wiping out a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession
  • Wisconsin had not trailed in a game all season until Illinois kicker James McCourt’s 39-yarder split the uprights as time expired

A price will surely be paid in the polls come Sunday afternoon, but all is not lost for Wisconsin.

With a with a win next week at Ohio State, Paul Chryst and the Badgers could very well work themselves back into the Big Ten title picture, which is – with a tiebreaker over the Buckeyes – nearly akin to having a leg up in playoff race.

That is, of course, if the Badgers win out.

What We’d Still Like to Know

Is Minnesota The Quietest 7-0 Team in Recent Memory?

When P.J. Fleck was the head coach at Western Michigan, I paid little attention to his “Row the Boat” motto. What caught my attention more was his propensity for polar bear challenges, using his players to crowd-surf, and that spiffy tie.

Even now, as Fleck’s Minnesota is undefeated and within striking distance of the Big Ten title game, I still have no idea what it means.

But maybe that’s the point. Row the Boat is not just a motto – it’s a culture. And a pillar of constructing that culture is what Fleck calls his program’s Four Walls.

Figuratively speaking, the walls represent a barrier between Fleck’s team and outside influences, so as to avoid any corrosive forces — including any undue praise — that might breed turmoil and threaten the program’s cohesiveness.

With Minnesota’s 42-7 rout of Rutgers Saturday, the volume of chatter, though only a hush now, is bound to grow. The Gophers are 7-0 for the first time since 1960. That season, they won the national championship.

Is this Minnesota team on that same level? Probably not, but who am I to judge? You could forgive me if I don’t have a ton of intel on Fleck’s Gophers.

While not excelling particularly well in one category, they perform serviceably in many. Minnesota is ranked in the top 35 nationally in total defense, total offense, rushing yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards allowed per game, and passing yards allowed per game.

Minnesota vs. Rutgers
Now 7-0 for the first time in nearly 60 years, the Minnesota Gophers are getting closer and closer to an appearance in the Big Ten title game, thanks in no small part to head coach P.J. Fleck and his motivational approach.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Sure, those numbers will be tested. The meat of the schedule is still to come (Iowa and Penn State), including the finale against Wisconsin that could decide the Big Ten’s West Division.

The fact that Minnesota – which last claimed at least a share of a conference title in 1967— is in this position this late in the season is a testament to Fleck, who is as cerebral as he is jovial, designating 30 members of each class of his program to participate in a book club that consists primarily of leadership titles.

And it’s working. Even if most of the country presumably has yet to pay attention.

But that’s the way that Fleck, who is rarely at a loss for words, likes it.

“What the Row the Boat culture does in my opinion is we take the four walls and we process all that information,” Fleck said after the Rutgers win.

“When you’re talking about rankings and you’re talking about winning and you’re talking about goals and visions, we’ll talk about all that tomorrow. And we’ll celebrate it. And then what we’ll do is we’ll pat ourselves on the back we’ll High Five each other, we’ll celebrate in the locker room and then our four walls will get tighter and tighter.”

If the Gophers continue to win into November, we’ll see how tight those walls can get.

What We’d Like to Forget

The Sooner Schooner’s NASCAR-like Wipeout

When I initially saw Oklahoma’s famed Sooner Schooner flip during the second quarter of OU’s win over West Virginia Saturday, I feared the worst.

Given the impact of the crash, I think my fears were justified. Luckily, the incident ended up in that it-looked-worse-than-it-really-was category.

But how did it happen?

One of college football’s more revered traditions, the Sooner Schooner gallops out of the northeast tunnel of Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium after every OU score. And considering nine of the top 10 highest-scoring seasons in school history have taken place since the Schooner last crashed in 1993, that’s a lot of rides without fail.

The Oklahoma Daily reported after the game that a number of factors played a role, including wet grass, the horses taking too sharp of a turn, and an inside wheel that just sort of stopped spinning.

The university added to that list with an official statement, saying that an uneven distribution of weight in the rear of the wagon was the cause.

The school was also quick to point out that most of those involved reported no injuries, while three individuals were evaluated at the stadium and released.

And what of the ponies? As it turns out, OU says, they are fine. Video of the incident clearly shows them safely prancing away from the human wreckage.

But that wasn’t good enough for some.

An hour or so after OU officials provided assurance that all was OK, PETA took to Twitter to lambast the university for the “unnecessary and incredibly dangerous” exploitation of animals for sports, putting in all caps its demands for how OU football needs to operate its in-game rituals going forward.

The school has yet to respond directly to PETA – or address its demands. And it probably won’t, because it doesn’t need to.

It’s obvious that Saturday’s crash, as violent as it may have initially appeared, was nothing more than a fluke.