Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Badgers face daunting schedule in and out of conference

Big Ten preview: Badgers face daunting schedule in and out of conference

There are tough schedules, and then there’s what the Wisconsin Badgers have in front of them this fall.

The Big Ten slate usually provides a big challenge whether you’re Ohio State or Purdue, but Wisconsin got an exceptionally tough draw this season, facing off against the consensus three best teams in the conference — Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, all in the East Division — to open conference play, followed by games against the three toughest teams in the West Division (Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern). Four of those six games are on the road, including unwelcoming environments in East Lansing, Ann Arbor and Iowa City.

Oh, and that’s without even mentioning a season-opening battle with perennial SEC power LSU.

“This has probably been the most-asked question here at Big Ten (Media Days) has been our schedule,” linebacker Vince Biegel said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “And I think the best way to put it is, when an opportunity such as the schedule presents itself and the preparation that we have done up to this point with our spring and our summer, it can mean greatness. … We still have a long way to go to prepare, but I love the young men in our locker room and I wouldn’t want to go to battle with any other guys to have this daunting schedule with.”

Every once in a while, a Big Ten team will run into this type of situation, especially with the conference’s new nine-game schedule. This time it happens to be the Badgers who are the unfortunate recipients of this scheduling. The Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans are the league favorites, and in a more wide-open West, the Badgers would normally be picked to be among the leaders. But the Hawkeyes, Huskers and Wildcats don’t have to face that gauntlet from the East.

Nebraska has Oregon, perhaps an even tougher non-conference opponent than LSU. Northwestern’s top non-conference game is Duke (in Evanston). Iowa again has a light slate with no real non-conference test and a home game against Michigan the lone game against those three East Division powers.

It makes for pessimism surrounding the Badgers’ chances to reach the Big Ten title game before the season even starts. This will be the third straight campaign that opens with Wisconsin taking on an SEC power. Last year it was a 35-17 loss to eventual national champion Alabama, and the season prior, Wisconsin lost 28-24 to this same LSU team.

“At the end of the day, we set a high standard at Wisconsin for ourselves, for our defense and collectively as a team,” Biegel said. “I think we set the bar high last year for our defense, and we have the same expectations coming in this season. I think the offense was young last year. They’re experienced now, so there’s no excuses not to be great.”

It’s hard to say that the season-opener against LSU will allow us to “see what the Badgers are made of.” After all, the Bayou Bengals have one of the nation’s best offensive players in running back Leonard Fournette, and the Badgers will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator. Dave Aranda, who coached the Wisconsin defense for the past three seasons, left this offseason to join the coaching staff at — wait for it — LSU.

And the problem is that while evolution can certainly take place over the course of the season, Wisconsin has little chance to catch its breath or work through growing pains. It’d be one thing if the Badgers could face such a tough stretch to close the season, but to get that hard Big Ten stretch just three games after the LSU game, even dates with Akron and Georgia State likely won’t allow Wisconsin to work out all the kinks.

The schedule is the schedule, though, and Wisconsin has no choice but to play it. Might as well look on the bright side.

“It’s exciting. I’ve never been to Michigan State, never been to Michigan, so I haven’t played them in their home stadiums. I’ve heard a lot about those places, so we’ll see if they measure up to Camp Randall like people say,” running back Dare Ogunbowale said. “But there’s teams that we haven’t played in a while, and that just makes this schedule that much more fun.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.