College Sports

The Big 10: Notre Dame turns the QB page (again) with Ian Book; Badgers are back

Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer — the list of former Notre Dame quarterbacks who could collaborate on a book about Irish coach Brian Kelly’s ever-itchy QB trigger finger is long.

Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book know a thing or two about it, as well.

Book, a junior, replaced Wimbush, a senior, as signal-caller for the Irish’s 56-27 victory at Wake Forest. That Book fared exceptionally well — 325 passing yards and five total touchdowns — wasn’t altogether surprising given the sad-sack nature of the Demon Deacons defense. But there’s no turning back for a coach after a performance like that one, is there?

Not for the moment, anyway. Things could always change on Kelly’s watch.

The Notre Dame quarterback job belongs to Ian Book — for now. (AP/Chuck Burton)

“I came here to be the starter, and it’s up to the coaches and they’ll play the best quarterback to win,” Book said. “We’re all one team, and I’m not worried. I know they’ll make the right decision — whatever that is, both ways. We’re here to get wins.”

Wimbush is 13-3 as a starter and was outstanding — especially with his legs — in a season-opening defeat of Michigan. Still, he didn’t make it out of September with the No. 1 job. You have to feel for him. There isn’t a tougher, more pressure-packed place to play quarterback in the country.

On to the rest of the “Big 10” (where 10 actually means 10):

2. Legendary matchup: Saturday night’s Stanford at Notre Dame clash will be as big a game as there has been in college football this season. Both top 10 teams are 4-0 and already thinking playoff.

The Cardinal have won three straight and seven of nine in the Legends Trophy series, but dare we look past this game for just a minute? Because, let’s face it, the rest of the Irish’s schedule looks far friendlier than it did entering the season. The October 6 game at Virginia Tech isn’t so daunting in the wake of the Hokies’ stunning defeat at Old Dominion. November foes Northwestern, Florida State and USC already have two losses apiece.

Just saying: If I’m an Irish fan, I might be poking around a little bit just to see what flight prices are like for the playoff semis in Miami and Arlington, Texas.

3. OK, fine: Saturday night’s Ohio State at Penn State clash might be even bigger. Deal with it, Irish enthusiasts.

4. O-D-who? ODU, that’s who. The Monarchs — keep up, people, we’re talking Old Dominion here — dropped their first three games to Liberty, Florida International and Charlotte. The words “murderer’s row” don’t exactly leap to mind. But then they kneecapped 13th-ranked Virginia Tech 49-35 because, you know, why the heck not? God bless America.

5. Badgers are back: One week after being upset at home by BYU, Wisconsin played an almost perfect game in a 28-17 victory at Iowa. The Badgers made a fourth-down stop at their 5-yard line on the Hawkeyes’ first possession and responded with a 95-yard touchdown drive. Late in the final quarter, they drove 88 yards for the go-ahead score. All told, they possessed the ball for over 35 minutes and were beautifully balanced with 210 yards on the ground and 205 yards through the air.

In short, they reintroduced themselves as a shoo-in to win the Big Ten West and a legit playoff contender. All it will take is perfection from here on out. That may sound like a tall order, but this is a program with 10 straight true road wins and 16 straight victories in regular-season conference play. Doubt Bucky at your own risk.

6. Then again … It could be argued that Wisconsin is merely the fourth-best team in its own league. That’s how good unbeaten Ohio State has looked. That’s how good Penn State — which scored 42 straight Friday at Illinois to blow open a tight game — has looked. And don’t forget Michigan, which bludgeoned Nebraska 56-10 to move to 3-1. The Big Ten has taken some lumps this season, but the East division is still mighty.

7. Illini pride: Lovie Smith’s team had a 24-21 third-quarter lead over Penn State before, well, let’s just leave it at that. It’s something to build on. Baby steps.

8. Weight watchers: P.J. Fleck got the Minnesota job after his 2016 Western Michigan squad went 13-1. Scott Frost went home to Nebraska after his 2017 UCF team went 13-0.

In other news, the Gophers were destroyed 42-13 at Maryland and the winless Huskers were humiliated in Ann Arbor.

Life in a heavyweight league is just plain harder.

9. Look away: Buffalo 42, Rutgers 13. In case you were wondering which team is the worst in Big Ten history.

10. Forward, march: Army took Oklahoma to overtime Saturday. Army. At Oklahoma. The Sooners won the game, but that’s merely a pointless detail. Once more, with feeling: God bless America.