Like too many hot spots in the nation, Chicago has had a rough go with the Coronavirus from a health and economic standpoint. Hospitals have too much business; bars and restaurants too little.

Over-wrought people need a break. The kind that sports can provide.

After serving up a bit of diversion with their 5-1 start, the Bears have slipped back into the pack with four straight losses. And with two Packer games still left, there’s little hope of Covid relief there.

On the other hand, Chicago’s college teams are nearly as welcome as a vaccine. No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0) and No. 11 Northwestern (5-0) are unbeaten and off to sensational starts. And Illinois (2-3), which has won its last two games, is feeling bolstered by the return of quarterback Brandon Peters from a Covid-19 layoff.

That’s 15-3 for the college teams that have the deepest Chicago roots.

With its dominant performance in a 17-7 defeat of Wisconsin, Northwestern put itself in great position to win the Big Ten West and take a shot at Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

With an upset of the Buckeyes, the Cats would put themselves in the discussion for one of the four berths in the College Football Playoff. A long shot? Yes. But between Northwestern’s defensive prowess and Ohio State’s defensive issues, who knows?

Already tracking for a playoff berth. . . the South Side’s beloved Notre Dame, which notched the biggest victory of this virus-addled regular season when it defeated Clemson. The Irish have won 14 straight, the nation's longest FBS winning streak. They face a challenging road test on Friday at talented, but under-achieving North Carolina (6-2, with a pair of upset losses).

Illinois also has gotten into the act. The Illini smacked Nebraska in the mouth 41-23 for their second straight victory despite being a 16-point underdog. It was Illinois’ first victory at Nebraska since 1924, when Red Grange and leather helmets were in vogue.

The Illini even talked some smack afterward with this official tweet: ``Good game Nebraska. Thanks for bringing back B1G football." This reference to the Cornhuskers’ adamant efforts to restore Big Ten football after conference officials canceled it was quickly deleted. But the point was made. It’s possible someone didn’t realize how snarky this would appear to be. But they did what they did.

Northwestern, a 7-1/2 point underdog, also fired some barbs after upsetting the Badgers. Noting that ESPN analyst Joey Galloway had dismissed NU by saying, ``they’ve got a bunch of Rece Davises out there,’’’ Cats coach Pat Fitzgerald referred to his team as ``the Fighting Rece Davises’’ and thanked Galloway, a former Buckeye, for the bulletin-board material.

For the uninitiated, Rece Davis is an ESPN analyst who’s excellent at college football commentary, but who will never be mistaken for an athlete.

Recapping. . . Chicago’s three favorite college teams are tracking for the conference championship games in the ACC (Notre Dame) and Big Ten (Northwestern). And Illinois, which appeared dead in the water two weeks ago, takes a two-game road winning streak (over Rutgers and Nebraska) into its meeting in Champaign with Ohio State on Saturday.

While Chicago still is in the grips of the Covid-19 crisis, at least the Irish, the Cats and the Illini are providing some temporary relief for college football fans.


@ Considering that Purdue’s Boilermakers have railroad tracks on their helmets, they ought to refer to their 34-31 loss to Minnesota on ``the worst pass interference call ever'' as The Great Train Robbery.

@ I keep thinking the perfect nickname for Wisconsin’s quarterback is ``Otto’’ Graham Mertz. But after Saturday’s rough day at Northwestern, he will need to earn that against Indiana on Dec. 5.

@ How about this trade? Nebraska sends Scott Frost to Michigan for Jim Harbaugh. Straight up. A change of scenery would do them and their frustrated programs well.

It’s not unprecedented. Think Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon. In 1960, the Tigers and Indians swapped managers. In mid-season. You could look it up.

And Harbaugh looked good in red when he was with Stanford and the 49ers.

@ If you had Cincinnati minus-5.5 and saw running back Gerrid Doak stop at the 1 yard-line, leaving the Bearcats with a 36-33 victory when he could have tripped and fallen into the end zone—I hope you didn’t bet the house.

And I’m thinking Doak would have gone in for that touchdown if Penn State hadn’t made the mistake of scoring and opening the door for Indiana’s miracle comeback on the same kind of play.