Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Schedule analysis: Wisconsin
By Adam Rittenberg
Preseason practice is in full swing, and kickoff is just around the corner. To get you ready, we're analyzing every Big Ten team's complete 2013 schedule.
Let's take a closer look at what awaits first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen this fall.
Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
Aug. 31: Massachusetts (1-11)
Sept. 7: Tennessee Tech (3-8)
Sept. 14: at Arizona State (8-5)
Nov. 9: BYU (8-5)
Leaders division games
Sept. 21: Purdue
Sept. 28: at Ohio State
Oct. 19: at Illinois
Nov. 16: Indiana
Nov. 30: Penn State
New coach Gary Andersen and the Badgers will have to hit the ground running with a tough early schedule.
Oct. 12: Northwestern
Nov. 2: at Iowa
Nov. 23: at Minnesota
Gut-check game: Ohio State. We'll learn a lot about Andersen's team in the first month of the season, first during a trip to Arizona State and then with a visit to Ohio Stadium in prime time. The Badgers defended Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller better than any other team in 2012 and nearly handed Urban Meyer his first Big Ten defeat before falling in overtime. Everyone assumes Ohio State will run away with the Leaders division, but Wisconsin can shake things up in a big way with an upset in Columbus. If Wisconsin loses the division tiebreaker to the Buckeyes, it'll have a tough time continuing its streak of Big Ten titles.
Trap game: The Big Ten opener rarely can be designated a trap game, but it could be for Wisconsin this fall. Sandwiched between the tough road trips to Tempe and Columbus is a home contest against Purdue, a team the Badgers have dominated as of late, winning the past seven meetings and the last five by 21 points or more. Purdue plays a brutal stretch to open the season, but the Badgers shouldn't look past a team that has several pros on defense and some weapons offensively such as speedy running back Akeem Hunt.
Snoozer: What's worse: an opener against an FBS team that won one game in 2012 and was picked to finish last in the MAC, or a Week 2 matchup against an FCS team that won just three? Take your pick, it's Massachusetts or Tennessee Tech. Just wake me up when Wisconsin's plane lands in Phoenix.
Non-con challenge: Arizona State could be a very tough draw for the Badgers, who are replacing three of four starters in the secondary and could have a tough time keeping pace with the Sun Devils' up-tempo offenses. Big Ten teams typically struggle in Pac-12 venues, and while the game takes place at night, heat could be a factor in the Valley of the Sun. Wisconsin can get a big boost with a victory before its trip to Columbus two weeks later. The BYU matchup in November could be tricky, as the Cougars had the nation's No. 3 defense in 2012.
Telltale stretch: We won't have to wait long to find out what Andersen's first Badgers team is all about. After the two tomato cans referenced earlier, Wisconsin visits Arizona State and Ohio State in a three-week span, with Purdue in between. After an open week, the Badgers host Northwestern, another preseason Top 25 team. Wisconsin needs to be 2-1 at worst in this stretch to make a serious run for Indianapolis. Transition is the big challenge for a veteran-laden team, but a shaky start could derail the season.
Analysis: Many Big Ten schedules build toward November, giving teams time to work out the kinks before playing their biggest games. It's sort of the opposite for Wisconsin, which plays most of its better opponents -- at least on paper -- between Week 3 and Week 7. Wisconsin could be anywhere from 6-0 to 3-3 entering mid-October. Don't be surprised if the Leaders division title is decided Sept. 28 because of the all-important tiebreaker at stake.
Wisconsin's stretch run shouldn't be neglected here, as it plays rivals Iowa and Minnesota on the road and finishes at home against Penn State. The Badgers and Hawkeyes meet for the first time since 2010, continuing one of the more evenly matched long-term series (tied 42-42-2) in all of college football. A Nov. 16 home matchup against Indiana could be another potential trap game as the Hoosiers will test Wisconsin's shaky secondary for four quarters. But Wisconsin's second-half schedule is fairly navigable, and the Badgers miss three of the top four teams in the Legends division.
Bottom line: Wisconsin must show it can handle the coaching transition and all the changes in the first six games. If so, the Badgers will make another serious run at a league championship.