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Thursday, June 12, 2014
Key stretch: Wisconsin

By Adam Rittenberg

The 2014 season is creeping closer -- a very good thing. As we count down the days, we're taking a look at the key three- or four-game stretch in the schedule for each Big Ten team.

First up: the Wisconsin Badgers.

Key stretch: Nebraska (Nov. 15), at Iowa (Nov. 22), Minnesota (Nov. 29)

Breakdown: Wisconsin's schedule begins with a big splash against LSU in Houston, but after the opener things should be relatively calm until the stretch run. The Badgers finish with three West Division opponents, two historic rivals and an emerging one in Nebraska. They'll likely need at least a 2-1 finish to gain tiebreakers and punch their ticket to Indianapolis, and 3-0 might be required. Wisconsin thumped Nebraska in 2011 at Camp Randall Stadium as the Huskers made their Big Ten debut. Gary Andersen's team aims for its third consecutive victory at Iowa as it visits Kinnick Stadium in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1974-75. Wisconsin owns a 10-game win streak against Minnesota -- the longest in the history of the 124-year series. Minnesota hasn't won in Madison since 1994.

Prediction: The good news is that these games come late in the season, when Wisconsin should have more answers on both sides of the ball. Its quarterback situation should be settled, and the position shuffling on defense that took place this spring likely will be over. Wisconsin hasn't been quite as dominant at home the past two seasons but remains very tough to beat at Camp Randall. Expect a much closer game with Nebraska, which has gradually improved away from home. The road trip to Iowa could be the toughest game, although Wisconsin matches up well against the Hawkeyes. I'll go 2-1 in this stretch with a loss either to Nebraska or Iowa.