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While flipping between Iowa-Wisconsin and Oregon-Washington, I kept wondering: Is this the same sport?

The Badgers-Hawkeyes tussle, in which Iowa padded its 7-6 lead to win 15-6 with three fourth-quarter scores, was like a tractor pull in the mud. On bald tires.

By contrast, the Ducks-Huskies track meet was an Indy-Car race on a nicely paved street course. With Michael Penix Jr. and Kent Nix negotiating all the twists and turns, it was easily the greatest game ever played between two quarterbacks who have Xs in their surnames

Next year Oregon and Washington will be in the Big Ten. If they move the football like that. . . Heaven help the rest of the Big Ten.

And if the Iowas and Wisconsins of the world bring the Pac-12 quartet—USC and UCLA also are going Midwest—down to their offensive level. . . Heaven help the rest of us.

BADGERED: Realistic Wisconsin fans already knew that Luke Fickell’s first season in Madison had been over-hyped.

Wisconsin got out-toughed and outsmarted by Iowa. Not an easy pill to swallow in the Badger State.

These Badgers don’t block or tackle at the level they reached when Barry Alvarez was building the Forward-W brand. And for all the excitement about Tanner Mordecai, he hasn’t given the program the Russell-Wilson-like lift that seemed possible.

Young QB Braedyn Locke, who played the second half after Mordecai left with a hand injury, looked too young to get the job done against Iowa’s veteran lockdown defense. Which was understandable. But Mordecai, who led Wisconsin to zero points in the first half, wasn’t getting anywhere against the Hawkeyes’ leather helmets, either.

If Mordecai, who couldn’t grip the football after whacking his hand on a helmet, is out for a while, Locke figures to get some experience that will pay dividends beyond this fall. After redshirting at Mississippi State last year, the 6-foot, 200-pound pocket passer from suburban Dallas could be the Badgers’ quarterback of the future—although with the transfer portal, things can change quickly.

Fickell has doubled down on the Locke family. Braedyn’s younger brother Landyn Locke, a 6-3, 180-pound hot prospect, is the first commitment in Wisconsin’s f2025 class.

What’s pretty clear is Saturday’s slogfest in Camp Randall was basically the Big Ten West championship game. Maybe Iowa will stumble. But with Minnesota, Northwestern, Rutgers, Illinois and Nebraska remaining, another Hawkeye loss will be a pretty serious upset—even if Iowa might not score 100 points in those five games.

Meanwhile, the Halloween costumes do not shape up as the scariest thing when the Badgers play host to Ohio State on Oct. 28. And Wisconsin could stumble just about anywhere, based on what it has shown so far.

By the way, Graham Mertz, the Wisconsin QB of the past, threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns to lead Florida to an exciting 41-39 win at South Carolina on Saturday.

That said, I believe Fickell and his Air Raid offensive coordinator, Phil Longo, will get Wisconsin up to speed sooner than later. Not this fall. But they will get there.

College football is a fickle sport.

Just ask Coach Prime. The darling of the football world last month, his Colorado team blew a 29-0 halftime lead and got Buffaloed by Stanford 46-43 in double overtime.

Which is a worse way to lose? Scoring 43? Or 6?

The point is, whether at Wisconsin, which seemingly had everything in place, or Colorado, which was starting from scratch, first-year coaches have a lot of building to do.

It’s way too early to jump off the Fickell-Longo bandwagon.

Especially with four Pac-12 teams bringing, um, scoring to a Big Ten near you.

IRISH ERUPT: It made sense that experts were picking USC to saddle Notre Dame with its third loss in four weeks. The unbeaten Trojans, led by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Caleb Williams. had a potent offense and a world of possibilities for this season.

Honestly, I wasn’t buying it. USC’s defense was suspect. And it was Notre Dame’s time.

That second loss, at Louisville a week earlier, eliminated the Irish, who turn their nose up at conference championships, from the only thing they have to play for—the national championship.

That eased the burden of expectations. The Irish could exhale—and embarrass Williams, who threw three brutal interceptions as ND jumped out to a 24-3 lead and went on to a 48-20 win.

In college football, as in life, timing is everything. Like USC, unbeaten Louisville, which had looked so tough against Notre Dame, looked very beatable suffering its first loss, 38-21, at Pitt on Saturday.

Notre Dame (6-2) has a week off before playing its final four games, which include a home date with Pitt and trips to Clemson and Stanford. All three of those teams are capable of giving ND a game.

Should be some big moments in there for 6-5, 260-pound junior Mitchell Evans, the latest in ND’s long line of tight ends who will play on Sundays for a long time.

FINALLY: As your humble Big Ten observer, I can tell you that there hasn’t been a whole to observe so far. Other than that riveting Ohio State-Notre Dame game, um, I can’t think of another big-time showdown.

That drought ends this week: No. 7 Penn State at No. 3 Ohio State.

After nearly two months of watching the Nittany Lions, Buckeyes and Wolverines stomp on lesser-lights, a true heavyweight showdown. The assumption is that Penn State, which is 1-8 against Ohio State on James Franklin's watch, won't be up to the task.

It will be a battle of new quarterbacks: Ohio State's Kyle McCord was cool under fire at Notre Dame. Can Penn State's Drew Allar handle the big-game pressure he'll face in the Horseshoe?

 This game, plus Michigan’s Nov. 11 trip to Penn State and Michigan’s Big Game with Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25 will determine who rules the last Big Ten As We Know It—before it is invaded by a West Coast Fab Four.

Oh, and by the way, Wisconsin travels to Illinois this Saturday to play the team that sank Paul Chryst. The Fickell skeptics will have their spears sharpened and ready to go, in case the Badgers aren't up to the task.