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 set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?