Misery Index: Wisconsin won't be able to erase the ugly mark on its résumé after loss to Illinois

Dan Wolken

No matter how much you maximize what Wisconsin can be as a program, the Badgers are not going to win a college football national championship. Not now, and probably not ever. The recruiting landscape just doesn’t make it possible for Wisconsin in this day and age, and that’s completely fine.

But what’s been great about being a Wisconsin fan recently is having the illusion that it’s possible. And you do that by producing a legitimate top-10 team that plays in big games where it feels like there’s a lot stake — even if you come up short. Wisconsin has followed that pattern pretty regularly over the last dozen years, and the reason is because the Badgers don't take many bad losses. Win the games you’re supposed to win, rise through the rankings, then lose close to Ohio State or Penn State and go to a very nice sunny bowl game while wondering “what if” about a play here or there. 

It’s not a bad trade-off. Most programs would take it. 

But the whole arrangement falls apart when you lose as a 30.5-point favorite the week before the game that is supposed to put you right in the middle of the national title conversation. And that’s exactly what happened to Wisconsin in its fourth-quarter meltdown at Illinois to lose 24-23.

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Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst watches during the second half against Illinois.

The Misery Index will let others break down exactly what happened, why the previously dominant Jim Leonhard defense couldn’t get a stop in the fourth quarter or why Wisconsin was having Jack Coan throw the ball on third-and-5 with 2:32 left when it was trying to run out the clock, resulting in an interception. 

For now, let’s just deal with the plight of the fans. If you love Wisconsin, the entire national focus for the next six days was going to be a buildup of your program centered around whether the Badgers could beat Ohio State in Columbus. Heck, by Saturday, you may have even talked yourself into thinking they were going to win.

That’s the beauty of rooting for an undefeated college football team at this point in the year: Anything seems possible, even if it’s really not. Instead, though, Wisconsin fans are going to be filled with outright dread. And even if the Badgers somehow pull the upset, it won’t seem as meaningful because of that ugly, ugly mark on its résumé from Champaign. 

That’s why Wisconsin is No. 1 in the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.


Miami: There was a moment at the start of overtime Saturday when the ACC Network’s cameras panned to the Miami sideline and caught a handful of players dancing. Is that a big deal in and of itself? Not really. Is it the worst thing going on in the college football world? Far from it. Was it every player? No. But here’s Miami, in the middle of a season in which its fan base has largely checked out on first-year coach Manny Diaz, having missed two short field goals late in the game that would have put away Georgia Tech, needing an overtime to avoid its most embarrassing loss yet. And the image of Miami portrayed to fans at that particular moment was players dancing in joy? Football is supposed to be fun, but maybe not quite that fun in that moment. And Miami’s subsequent 28-21 loss is definitely not going to be fun for anyone associated with this program, as Georgia Tech won its first ACC game under Geoff Collins after getting blown out earlier this season by Duke, North Carolina and Clemson. Though Miami doesn’t pass the eye test at all, the real indictment of Diaz so far is that all six of the Hurricanes’ games against FBS teams have been decided by one score. Their record in those games is 2-4, and one of the wins was Central Michigan. The only appropriate dance for this season is a dirge. 

Missouri: For some reason, we have been led to believe that Missouri became a very good football team at some point over the last two years. There hasn’t been a lot of evidence to support it, really, but the Tigers have often been talked about as the kind of team you don’t want to play because they will occasionally look good while feasting on the mediocre. There was even some recent buzz about what might happen if Missouri won the SEC East while under a postseason ban from the NCAA, a punishment that is currently being appealed. But the Tigers losing to Vanderbilt 21-14 pretty much ensures that we won’t need to spend much time examining the bylaws on that one. Alongside Missouri’s botched season opener at Wyoming, this is now two horrible losses for the Tigers in a season when they should absolutely be 7-0 and on their way to 10 or 11 wins, regardless of their bowl status. Is it a fireable offense for Barry Odom to lose to Vanderbilt one week after the Commodores turtled up against UNLV? No, but it’s certainly a missed opportunity to make the case that Missouri has reached a new level as a program. Instead, it all just starts to look the same. 

Florida State: A pretty clear indicator about the sadness of the Seminoles program in its current form came Saturday night when they lost to a Wake Forest team playing its backup quarterback. It wasn’t even worthy of jokes or memes or outrage, largely because we kind of expected it. And that’s pretty sad because if even if the Demon Deacons are having a good year, Florida State’s stature as a program should be such that losing to them is a big event. Instead, it looked like two pretty even teams trying not to screw up in the fourth quarter, the difference being Wake Forest making a 25-yard field goal to take the lead with 4:18 left and Florida State’s Ricky Aguayo missing a 50-yarder in a driving rain with 2:13 remaining. The 3-4 Seminoles have enough schlock left on their schedule to squeak into a bowl game and prevent the indignity of Willie Taggart missing the postseason in his first two years as coach, but nobody is fooled by the awfulness of what they’re watching. 

TCU: From 2014-17, it looked like Gary Patterson might have cracked the code. The Horned Frogs hadn’t merely made the transition from the Mountain West to the Big 12, they were thriving in ways that might have once seemed impossible — three top-10 finishes, playing for conference titles, four straight wins over Texas. But the ability to sustain that level of success over a longer period has proven to be difficult. Over the last two seasons, TCU is 8-9 against FBS teams and 5-7 against Big 12 opponents after Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Kansas State with the most difficult portion of its schedule still to come. There’s no reason for TCU fans to worry that Patterson has lost his touch or isn’t capable of making adjustments because his 18-plus years of experience suggests he knows how to problem solve. But there is something to the idea that the Big 12 programs TCU could once take advantage of have all significantly improved the last few years. If you look up and down the league, you can’t find a poorly-coached team. Thus, Patterson’s big advantage isn’t as big, which means talent becomes more of a factor. That's as good of an explanation as any for why the Horned Frogs are losing the close games they used to win. 


Alabama: There is no way you can wake up this morning as an Alabama fan and feel great about what transpired against Tennessee. Of course, that has nothing to do with beating Tennessee 35-13 but rather the outlook moving forward for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who did not play from the six-minute mark of the second quarter on. After the game, Saban said Tagovailoa had a high ankle sprain, which is an alarming thing to hear. Alabama won’t need Tagovailoa next Saturday against Arkansas, and the off week on Nov. 2 will come at a good time. But if Tagovailoa can’t play or is compromised in any way against LSU on Nov. 9, that could be devastating to Alabama’s season. Remember, it was an ankle injury that Tagovailoa aggravated late last season in the SEC championship game that cost him some Heisman votes and perhaps some mobility in the College Football Playoff. 

Texas: Here’s a new rule. We cannot ever say “Texas is back!” again until the Longhorns get through the Kansas game without forcing the nation to tune in. Of course, as word began to spread that Texas trailed deep in the fourth quarter at home, being able to actually watch the end was a challenge for many Saturday night because it was happening on the Longhorn Network, which isn’t on every cable system around the country. Regardless, Texas survived 50-48 as Cameron “Dicker the Kicker” booted a 33-yarder to win as time expired. That’s certainly a relief for the Longhorns because they could have easily been 4-3 today and long gone from the top-25. Instead, they’re hanging in at 5-2 — but it feels like a house of cards because of their injuries in the secondary and a defense that would struggle to tackle a pack of mannequins. 

Syracuse: One of the biggest whiffs in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll was the Orange starting at No. 22 coming off a 10-3 season in which they paired a top-20 offense with a top-5 ranking in turnover margin. This year, the script has flipped for Syracuse, which fell to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the ACC with a 27-20 home loss to Pitt. It’s not hard to figure out what’s gone wrong. Syracuse is just plus-three in turnovers and can’t run the ball behind its underachieving offensive line, averaging a paltry 2.86 yards per carry (124th nationally) and has exposed sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito to a weekly beating. It’s been rare this millennium for Syracuse fans to have high expectations coming into a season, which makes it even more disappointing that the program’s momentum has all but stalled. The good news, perhaps, is that any buzz about coach Dino Babers getting in the mix for a job like USC is completely over. 

Stanford: Speaking of another team that got the preseason benefit of the doubt and has fallen completely off the map, here’s a Stanford team that is now 3-4 after just rolling over at home against UCLA. The Bruins’ 34-16 win, in which they held Stanford to 198 yards of offense, was their first in a dozen years against the Cardinal. But here’s an even crazier stat: Stanford is 112th nationally in rushing the ball. How is that possible? The entire identity of this program over the last decade was bullying people at the line of scrimmage and having dynamic running backs like Bryce Love and Christian McCaffrey. Now they can’t run it at all? Even by the wine-and-cheese standards of Stanford fans — and yes, if you go to a tailgate in Palo Alto, you will literally see a lot of wine and cheese — this can’t be acceptable. 

Kentucky: If we’re being real, the season basically ended for Kentucky with the double whammy of losing quarterback Terry Wilson to injury Sept. 7 and blowing a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead against Florida the following week. It was just too much to overcome. But you still have to give the Wildcats some credit for authoring one of the most remarkable box scores of the season in a 21-0 loss to Georgia. Lynn Bowden, who Kentucky transitioned from receiver to quarterback midway through the year in hopes of giving the offense some kind of spark, completed 2-of-15 passes for 17 yards against Georgia — an average of 1.1 yard per attempt. In fact, Bowden didn’t complete his first pass until 4:25 remained in the fourth quarter. Granted, the game was played in a rainstorm that made it tough for both teams to throw, but that’s just breathtaking to see a team struggle so badly to move the football. But it’s a Kentucky fan’s reality right now, so good thing basketball is right around the corner. 


“I’m Sorry Al Golden. Come save us!” - CanesInsight.com

“Any point in ever watching or attending another Mizzou sporting event?” - tigerboard.com

“Tom Herman is simply not as good as we had hoped” - Orangebloods.com

“Is Willie Taggart a Gator mole?” - warchant.com