Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, easily one of the most even-keeled personalities in his profession, succinctly summarized the state of his program following a devastating home loss to BYU on Saturday.
“We have not arrived,” he told reporters at his weekly media conference on Tuesday. “We didn’t think we arrived. Each week we’re going to get tested differently.”
This week against Iowa, the test is the Badgers’ resiliency, but they’re hardly alone.
While the Pac-12 highlights the Week 4 lineup with Stanford at Oregon (8 p.m. ET, ABC), the Big Ten is leading a week of bounce-back opportunities. It all starts with Wisconsin, which suffered the worst upset of the season to date at the hands of BYU and now travels to Iowa for a series that has determined the winner of the Big Ten West every season since 2014. Michigan State is coming off a bye and still needs to shake off the loss to Arizona State, and Michigan has a chance to show it’s making progress — albeit against a downtrodden Nebraska team that also happens to be looking for a comeback.
It’s not all about the Big Ten, though.
Here are the teams that need most to rally in Week 4:
Bouncing back from: 24-21 loss to BYU, Sept. 15
Next up: at Iowa (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Football Power Index says: Wisconsin has a 48.2 percent chance to win
The storyline: Forget the College Football Playoff for a minute. If the Badgers can’t beat Iowa, they might not even win their own division. And if Wisconsin doesn’t win the entire Big Ten, the Badgers don’t stand a chance at finishing in the top four. According to Football Power Index, Wisconsin would have a 71 percent chance to win the West Division with a win on Saturday, while Iowa would have a 68 percent chance if it wins. The Hawkeyes are well-coached, respectable opponents who have derailed playoff contenders before. Last year, the selection committee couldn’t get past Ohio State’s 55-24 loss at Iowa and kept the Buckeyes out of the top four in large part because of it. In 2016, then-No. 3 Michigan lost at Iowa, 14-13. Wisconsin is already a long shot for the playoff, but lose to Iowa, and it’s an afterthought.
Bouncing back from: 40-28 loss to Ohio State, Sept. 15
Next up: at Texas (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
FPI says: TCU has a 39.3 percent chance to win
The storyline: A loss to Texas would be a significant blow to the Horned Frogs’ hopes of winning the Big 12, and it would almost certainly eliminate them from the CFP discussion. The Horned Frogs could cling to hope if they finish as a one-loss conference champion, but the odds of that are slim, as Oklahoma, West Virginia and Oklahoma State are all currently top-15 opponents — and TCU has to travel to Morgantown on Nov. 10. Even if TCU somehow manages to run the table, it would likely still need some chaos in other leagues to finish in the top four. The good news? History is on the Frogs’ side. TCU has defeated Texas the past four seasons and is 5-1 against the Longhorns since entering the Big 12 in 2012.
Bouncing back from: 22-21 loss to LSU, Sept. 15
Next up: vs. Arkansas (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
FPI says: Auburn has a 95.6 percent chance to win
The storyline: Been there, done that. The question is if Auburn can do it again. The Tigers lost to LSU last year — as well as Clemson in Week 2 — but battled back to win out, knocking off Georgia and Alabama on the way to the SEC championship game. “Anytime you have a lot of players who experienced something the year before, they can definitely rely and recall back,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on Wednesday. “Our guys, obviously, it was a tough loss, especially the way it ended. But, hey, it’s early in the season, a lot of football to be played. I really feel like we’ve got a good team. We just need to continue to improve and need to put last week behind us.” Auburn doesn’t have much of a choice. A second league loss could keep the Tigers out of the SEC title game. The committee considered Auburn as a two-loss team last year because the Tigers twice beat the group’s No. 1-ranked team and advanced to the conference championship game. It’s unlikely the committee would take a two-loss team that didn’t win its division.
4. Notre Dame
Bouncing back from: Offensive struggles
Next up: at Wake Forest (noon ET, ABC)
FPI says: The Irish have a 70.9 percent chance to win
The storyline: The Irish are 3-0 heading into their first road game of the season, but they do need a comeback of sorts — offensively. Of the past 16 CFP semifinalists, 14 have entered bowl season ranked among the top 10 nationally in scoring margin — including all eight teams the past two years. The Irish have won each of their first three games by a touchdown or less. Their struggles tend to come later, as Notre Dame is averaging less than a touchdown per game in the second half and just 3.9 yards per play, after scoring 17 points per game and 6.0 yards per play in the first half. “We’ve been fairly balanced,” coach Brian Kelly told reporters this week. “We haven’t attacked at all times, and we haven’t been proficient at scoring touchdowns. So we’ve got some work to do.” And not a lot of time to do it. The Irish face Stanford on Sept. 29, followed by a road trip to Virginia Tech on Oct. 6, arguably the most difficult remaining game on their schedule. Now isn’t the time for error.
Bouncing back from: Mediocrity
Next up: vs. Nebraska (noon ET, Fox Sports 1)
FPI says: Michigan has a 94.5 percent chance to win
The storyline: The Wolverines aren’t coming off a loss, but they are looking to take the first step toward winning the program’s first conference title since 2004. With Nebraska struggling at 0-2, it appears Michigan should have the upper hand, but the Wolverines haven’t exactly looked like championship material themselves. Remember, the game against SMU was tied 7-7 in the first half. Michigan had 13 penalties for 137 yards. The good news for Michigan is that its most difficult games — against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State — don’t start until mid-October. Until then, Michigan has to make sure its penalties and other problems don’t cost them more than yardage.
6. Texas A&M
Bouncing back from: 28-26 loss to Clemson, Sept. 8
Next up: at No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
FPI says: The Aggies have a 9.7 percent chance to win
The storyline: Yes, the home loss to Clemson was two weeks ago, and the Aggies handled their business against UL Monroe last week, but this is their next opportunity against a ranked opponent. Though this is on the road. Against the No. 1 team in the country. This is where Jimbo Fisher can show how much progress the team has made from the loss to Clemson and will be his first measure of the gap between his program and the best in the country. Fisher said on Wednesday that he learned some things about his team that can help them in Tuscaloosa. “We got hit in the mouth a couple of times, we got behind, kids didn’t fold,” he said. “They just kept playing the next play, and they played themselves back to have a chance to have success in the game. Hopefully, those will be the same characteristics. If those situations occur on Saturday, we can do that.”
7. Michigan State
Bouncing back from: 16-13 loss to Arizona State, Sept. 15
Next up: at Indiana (7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
FPI says: Michigan State has a 79 percent chance to win
The storyline: As if squandering a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead wasn’t painful enough for Michigan State, ASU went on to lose to San Diego State last week (so the Sun Devils have some recovery of their own to do). The Spartans had an early bye week, so this will be their first opportunity to win since the Aug. 31 opener against Utah State. The Spartans entered the season at No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press poll, and while they might not be a legitimate CFP contender, the rest of the Big Ten could benefit from its ranked teams staying ranked by the committee. A loss to IU on Saturday would be another dent in the league’s depth, and it would absolutely eliminate any long-shot odds of Michigan State flirting with the top four.