- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's time once again to turn a critical eye toward the entire schedule of a Big Ten team. Today, we focus on the Wisconsin Badgers, who are now the overwhelming favorites to win the Leaders Division. Where could they get tripped up? Let's find out.
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Northern Iowa (10-3)
Sept. 8: at Oregon State (3-9)
Sept. 15: Utah State (7-6)
Sept. 22: UTEP (5-7)
Leaders Division games
Oct. 6: Illinois
Oct. 13: at Purdue
Nov. 10: at Indiana
Nov. 17: Ohio State
Nov. 24: at Penn State
Sept. 29: at Nebraska
Oct. 20: Minnesota
Oct. 27: Michigan State
Gut-check game: The Badgers will get challenged right off the bat in conference play with that trip to Nebraska. You know the Huskers have been lying in wait for this one ever since getting embarrassed 48-17 in their Big Ten debut last year in Madison. It will be a night game in Lincoln and Big Red will be wearing some funky uniforms. Wisconsin will have its hands full and then some.
Trap game: The only game that seems like a potential trap is the Week 2 road trip to Oregon State. The Beavers were pretty brutal in 2012 but do have 16 starters back. Flying across two times zones and playing on Pac-12 turf could be dangerous if Wisconsin spends too much time remembering last year's easy 35-0 win over Oregon State at home.
Snoozer: Outside of the Oregon State game, nothing on Wisconsin's nonconference schedule draws much interest. The UTEP game could be particularly sleep-inducing, coming as it does after another potential yawner against Utah State and a week before the much-anticipated showdown at Nebraska. At least Montee Ball should pile up a bunch more touchdowns.
Non-con challenge: See: Trap Game.
Telltale stretch: The Badgers' Big Ten schedule is severely backloaded, with three of the final four games coming against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. The closing two weeks against the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions could have been especially epic if those two opponents weren't both on probation. But we expect the Ohio State game to be incredibly hyped, and Penn State will likely look at Wisconsin as its bowl game. All that said, the most important stretch might actually come in the first two weekends of October against Illinois and Purdue. If the Badgers win both of those, they should have some room to play with in the Leaders race and their march to Indianapolis may become a long coronation.
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