By Ralph D. Russo
Can’t hide problems when conference play starts.
The second month of the college football season often reveals issues that nonconference play might have masked and which teams could be in for long seasons.
Things have quickly gotten bleak for No. 18 Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
The Sooners lost for the second straight week Saturday, this time in humbling fashion to a TCU team that put up more than 600 yards.
“We’re not very good, obviously, right now,” first-year Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said, stating in the obvious.
Wisconsin was hammered by Illinois, losing to the Illini at home for the first time in 20 years and falling to 2-3.
“Something needs to change because that’s not us,” Badgers safety John Torchio said. “That’s not the Wisconsin football we all know.”
After the departure of Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma fans were bitter but also emboldened by the arrival of Venables, the former Clemson defensive coordinator.
Despite all Riley’s success, 55-10 with two Heisman Trophy winners, he never did get the defense right.
Venables would toughen up the Sooners in a way that Lincoln never did, OU fans hoped.
After Adrian Martinez and No. 25 Kansas State took apart the Oklahoma defense last week, Max Duggan and TCU blew it up. The Horned Frogs and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley — Lincoln’s little brother — had scoring plays of 73, 67, 62 and 69 yards.
Oklahoma also heads into the Red River Rivalry against Texas next week with questions at quarterback. Dillon Gabriel left the TCU game after taking a hard hit to the head.
The Big 12 looks wide open, with unbeaten Kansas — of all teams — sitting at the top at 2-0 with rival Kansas State. No. 9 Oklahoma State would probably like a word in that discussion, too, after winning at No. 16 Baylor.
In 2020, Oklahoma lost its first two Big 12 games and went on to win the conference. So don’t count out the Sooners. But the last two weeks have been so bad it’s starting to feel like a reset season under a new regime.
The issues at Wisconsin seem more dire. It’s one thing to get blown out by Ohio State last week. It’s a very different thing to get run out of Camp Randall Stadium by former coach Bret Bielema’s Illini.
When Bielema took over at Illinois, he tried to downplay the idea he would build the program in Wisconsin’s image, but that’s pretty much what he’s done. Running back Chase Brown and the Illini mashed on offense and held the Badgers to 2 yards rushing. Wisconsin had outrushed Illinois 391-26 in last season’s matchup.
“I knew if we wanted to have a chance, we couldn’t let them run the football on us like we did a year ago,” Bielema said.
Wisconsin won double-digit games in four of coach Paul Chryst’s first five seasons. No program in the country had a stronger identity and maxed out its potential as well. The Badgers seemed to have lost their way, going 15-10 in the last two-plus seasons.
If you think the Big 12 looks wide open, get a load of the Big Ten’s West Division, where five weeks into the season there are five 1-1 teams, and the Badgers sitting at the bottom at 0-2.
No. 21 Minnesota was the flavor of the week in the West, but then the Gophers, missing star running back Mohamed Ibrahim, were dumped at home by Purdue.
Who else is pushing Oklahoma and Wisconsin for most disappointing team in the first half of this season?
Houston was billed as the class of the Group of Five, but the Cougars are now 2-3 after losing an overtime game to Tulane and its third-string quarterback on Friday.
No. 17 Texas A&M responded to the Appalachian State upset by beating Miami and Arkansas, but the Aggies showed Saturday that things are far from fixed on the offensive side of the ball.
Mississippi State thumped Texas A&M (3-2), sending the Aggies to No. 2 Alabama next week with few answers on offense and a banged-up starting quarterback.
Alabama will also have the latter next week in Tuscaloosa: Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young left the Tide’s victory at No. 20 Arkansas in the second quarter with a sprained shoulder. Coach Nick Saban said the initial prognosis is that the injury isn’t too serious.
The Tide sputtered, then pulled away from the Razorbacks with Young on the sideline. There is always another blue-chipper waiting to play for Saban and Jalen Milroe flashed big-time ability in relief. But he is no Young.
Texas A&M upset Alabama last season, the highlight of a ho-hum 8-4 season. The Aggies then won the offseason with a monster recruiting class and Jimbo Fisher firing off verbal barbs at Saban in defense of his program.
Next week’s game got circled on a lot of calendars because of the back and forth between Fisher and his former boss. Now, TCU at Kansas can make a better case for hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
Like the Sooners and Badgers, the Aggies have been exposed and there is not a lot of reason to believe things are going to get much better.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
UCLA moved to 5-0 for the first time since 2013 by beating No. 15 Washington on Friday night behind nifty performance by QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. It was the Bruins first victory against a top-15 team since 2015. … With a chance to assert itself as a possible threat in the ACC to Clemson, No. 23 Florida State couldn’t handle No. 22 Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have beaten the Seminoles three straight season. … No. 12 Utah has been rolling since leaving Gainesville with a frustrating loss in the season opener. With every passing week, the Utes are going regret letting that game slip even more.