Where is the football season we were hoping for?
The Wisconsin Badgers were ranked 12th when the college football season began, and the Green Bay Packers were a prohibitive Super Bowl favorite.
Then, they both had to start playing games and wrecking all of our dreams about possible Pasadena trips or a February stroll down Bourbon Street.
Sure, there's plenty of pigskin left but right-thinking football fans have to be wondering what's up in Madison and Titletown.
Wisconsin looked decent in the second half of Saturday's win over befuddled Illinois but spent way too much of the first two quarters playing down to the visitor's level. The Badgers already blew out their offensive line coach and benched transfer QB Danny O'Brien in favor of Whitnall freshman walk-on Joel Stave who's done nothing to embarass himself. The game seems to be a little to quick for him at this level on a few occasions, but that will change with experience. Stave is the least of Wisconsin's issues, even when Coach Bret Bielema astoundingly yanks him in two-minute drills or puts in the team's third string quarterback for a couple of plays, the way he did Saturday against Illinois. The Badgers offensive line has yet to meld, Heisman hopeful running back Montee Ball has performed like anything but, the defense still coughs up too many big plays and the secondary remains suspect. With hindsight, it's easy to say pollsters greatly over-estimated Wisconsin's talent and undervalued those who'd left after January's loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
The Packers are 2-3 after a stunning loss to the rebuilding Colts in Indianapolis Sunday. They blew a 21-3 halftime lead falling 30-27 and looking astoundingly average in all phases of the game after intermission. It's as if the 2012 team checked out and one of Dan Devine's gaggle from the end of his stormy 70's tenure checked in.
Okay, maybe that's harsh, but here's the reality: the offense hasn't been in sync since the season began (actually, they've been off kilter since last year's loss at KC), the defense is still on the field too long, Coach Mike McCarthy tends to forget the need to establish a run--or at least, give the impression it's even a weapon in his arsenal. That allows teams to rush QB Aaron Rodgers at will, especially in empty-backfield situations. I'm sure he knows all this, but I still find it astounding. And, as per Bob McGinn's post-game story Sunday night in the Journal/Sentinel, even some of his own offensive linemen were questioning the volume of passes that came at the start of the second half. Some say that Rodgers perhaps checked out of runs at the line of scrimmage and went to the air when he saw the defensive alignments, but the offensive linemen would've known that before raising the play-call issue.
The unbeaten Houston Texans are next--on the road no less, a place where the Packers were once very comfortable. That was last season, when they lost just once--to the Chiefs late in the regular season. Green Bay already dropped three games in just five tries, falling further behind the Bears and surprising Vikings in the NFC North. If Chicago and Minnesota stay solid, catching up may be a moot point and a once-promising season could be lost.
This looked to be such a great football autumn, with promise for big things in winter in both Green Bay and Madison. An over-rated Badgers squad and a suddenly flawed Packers unit still have time to turn things around, but can you honestly say you've seen a whole lot that makes you think either will anytime soon?