The Big Ten opened the 2018 season with a reasonable opportunity to assert itself as one of college football's two best conferences. In only three weeks, that possibility has evaporated.
Along with it went Wisconsin's dreams of the College Football Playoff.
Though the Badgers won't officially be eliminated from contention until their second loss, their 24-21 letdown at home against BYU suggested 2018 won't bring another sensational season. The evidence simply isn't there.
Nebraska won't have the magical one-year turnaround under new coach Scott Frost, either.
Northwestern collapsed late against an MAC opponent, and Purdue dropped to 0-3.
Oh, and Rutgers is the nation's worst power-conference team. Again.
Week 3 brought a Saturday to forget in the Big Ten and only added to the league's miserable September.
Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie
Hasn’t exactly been a banner non-conference season for the Big Ten with Michigan State and Michigan already having lost, Nebraska and Maryland being total messes, Penn State needing OT against App State, Northwestern losing to Duke, and Wisconsin on the ropes at home vs. BYU.
Wisconsin failed to avoid a knockout punch as 23.5-point favorites, per OddsShark, watching three drives end on BYU's side of the field. Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook was maddeningly conservative down the stretch, too. It was most evident on a snap that—despite BYU's rightful argument—resulted in a too-many-men penalty.
Late in the fourth quarter, the southpaw recognized BYU scrambling to get defenders off the field and hurried Wisconsin to the line. This was his moment to pull off a trademark Aaron Rodgers Free Play in front of a crowd entirely familiar with those.
Instead, Hornibrook left the pocket and bought time for...an eight-yard checkdown to Garrett Groshek, a releasing blocker.
Are you kidding?!
It was a mind-numbing decision for the signal-caller, who managed only 190 yards on 28 attempts with one interception. His typical inconsistency aside, Hornibrook absolutely has to give his receivers a chance to make a play downfield at that moment.
No, the loss cannot be pinned squarely on him. BYU gained 6.8 yards per rush, the highest mark a Wisconsin defense has surrendered since Ohio State racked up 7.9 during the 59-0 smackdown in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game. Squally Canada's 46-yard scamper set up BYU's game-winning score.
Additionally, Rafael Gaglianone—a career 80.8 percent field-goal kicker—pulled a 42-yarder wide left as time expired.
With a remaining schedule that includes trips to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State, it's improbable the Badgers will finish the regular season 11-1. While a Big Ten crown remains a possibility, CFP aspirations are fading rapidly.
Those expectations never existed for Nebraska, yet Frost's arrival sparked a revitalized feeling in Lincoln. His debut season at his alma mater is quickly becoming a drag.
Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez couldn't play because of a knee injury, and his backup—walk-on Andrew Bunch—was thrust into a challenging situation. He tossed two interceptions, including a game-sealing pick with 2:15 remaining.
The Cornhuskers, favored by 10.5, fought back after falling behind 17-0, but as Frost acknowledged, a loss is a loss.
Northwestern fell to Akron in humiliating fashion, too. The Wildcats raced out to a 21-3 halftime lead before disaster struck during the fourth quarter. On consecutive possessions, Akron returned a fumble for a touchdown and celebrated a pick-six.
Suddenly, the Zips had posted 20 straight points and ultimately pulled off a shocking 39-34 triumph. The 21-point underdogs hadn't defeated a Big Ten program since 1894—when Akron University was named Buchtel College.
Elsewhere, it wasn't necessarily a surprise Rutgers lost; rather, it was how. Kansas, a program that hadn't toppled a power-conference opponent since November 2016, obliterated the Scarlet Knights. They allowed 55 points in the blowout.
Fifty-five. To Kansas.
For good measure, Maryland entered as a 15-point favorite against Temple, which had previously fallen to FCS team Villanova and a good Buffalo sqaud. But the Terrapins offense slowed to a crawl, mustering only 195 total yards in a 35-14 smackdown.
Illinois actually put up a commendable effort despite being a 14-point underdog, yet South Florida scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter to clip Lovie Smith's crew 25-19. Improvement won't happen in Champaign if the Illini cough up double-digit leads.
Sure, Saturday wasn't completely awful for the Big Ten. Ohio State scored an important triumph over No. 15 TCU, though the Buckeyes needed a bit of good fortune on defense and special teams to spark their third-quarter surge.
Michigan and Penn State dispatched SMU and Kent State, respectively, but anything less than decisive wins would've been concerning.
Still, the league saw a fringe CFP contender crumple and a hopeful breakout just keep breaking down. Perennial bowl qualifier Wisconsin and 2-0 Maryland both collapsed at home. Purdue dropped its third straight one-score margin, and Rutgers is horri-bad again.
Hey, at least Indiana won.