Wisconsin Football is in for an exciting season. They return their best team since Bret Bielema screwed up the 2011 team in dramatic fashion. Wisconsin also has a much more manageable schedule than last season. There is no big name SEC opponent. The Badgers also avoid Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State. However, the Badgers do have to navigate their way through a flurry of tricky road games, tough Big Ten West teams, and a matchup with Michigan.
From easiest to hardest, this is a full ranking of each game on Wisconsin’s 2017 schedule.
I’m kidding. Kind of. George Washington was president and the wheel was just invented the last time Minnesota beat Wisconsin. But Wisconsin’s schedule is so weak that the Gophers are actually a bit further down the list.
12. Florida Atlantic
Florida Atlantic is not your traditional cupcake. They are coached by Lane Kiffin, who thanks to PJ Fleck and Jim Harbaugh, is just the third most annoying coach the Badgers will face this season. He is also the former offensive coordinator of the same Alabama team that beat Wisconsin just two seasons ago. However, FAU is umm… not exactly Alabama. He’s brought in some good talent, including former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson. But it will take a few more years until they’re able to compete with the big boys.
11. Utah State
Once upon a time, the Aggies were among the top tier mid-majors in college football. In fact, it was just five years ago that Utah State took Wisconsin down to the wire in Camp Randall Stadium. But this is not that same Utah State team. Gary Andersen is no longer an Aggie (and luckily, nor is he a Badger). There is no way Utah State can compete with Wisconsin, especially during their home opener at Camp Randall at night.
Death, Taxes, Bo Ryan, Purdue being a cake walk. Although Purdue isn’t the worst Big Ten team the Badgers play this season (take a bow Illinois), this is at Camp Randall. New Head Coach Jeff Brohm should improve the direction of the Boilermaker program, but it may take him a few seasons to get the results he’s looking for. Wisconsin should win this one by 20+.
9. At Illinois
The only reason Illinois isn’t behind Purdue is because this game is on the road. In college football, crazy things sometimes happen on road. But an Illini upset in this one would be beyond crazy. Illinois’ offense, which averaged just 16.8 points per game last season, will remain a disaster. Their defense won’t be far behind. Wisconsin won 48-3 last season, and a repeat performance wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world.
Maryland is a sleeping giant in the Big Ten. They should have their best season since joining the Big Ten, with a strong rushing attack to go with an improved defense. Head Coach DJ Durkin has the Terrapins on a road to success, and maybe even a Bowl Game. However, it’s hard to envision them upsetting the Badgers in Madison.
7. At Indiana
Unfortunately, Tom Crean does not coach the Indiana Football team, so this game is no gimme. The Hoosiers always seem to give the top-tier teams in the Big Ten East a scare, so I expect them to put up a fight in this one. Their defense is solid, and their offense has some potential. Road games in college football are weird. This could be a trap game.
After Nebraska and Wisconsin, Iowa is the third best team in the Big Ten West. Although they failed to meet expectations in 2016, they will likely be better this season. Running back Akrum Wadley, combined with one of the best offensive lines in the division, will give the Hawkeyes a formidable rushing attack. However, the Hawkeyes lose starting quarterback CJ Beathard, along with defensive back Desmond King. The Badgers should be able to win in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium.
5. At Minnesota
A rivalry game on the road is never good for the heart. So despite the fact that Minnesota isn’t expected to be very good this season, and Wisconsin hasn’t lost to the Gophers in roughly a trillion years, I’m not going to count this one as an easy win. The Gophers have a good offensive line and a duo of experienced backs. They also are officially rowing the boat with PJ Fleck, who is basically the human equivalent of the person that tweets in all caps on twitter. But I think Wisconsin wins a tight one.
I don’t care how good Wisconsin is. I don’t care how good Northwestern is. I don’t care where the game is. None of that matters. Whenever Wisconsin plays Northwestern, I am terrified. Stupid, insane, drunk things almost always seem to happen. I think I speak for all Wisconsin fans when I say that I will never, ever head into a game against Northwestern confident.
3. At BYU
True road games, especially ones out of conference, are never easy. The atmosphere will be electric as possible with a crowd that isn’t allowed to drink. Quarterback Tanner Magnum is going to be one of the best passers Wisconsin’s secondary faces all season. The Cougars went 9-4 last season, and return enough pieces that they could pose a real threat to Wisconsin.
Although ESPN probably won’t admit, Michigan is in for a relatively down year. They’ll be decent, but nowhere near as good as they were last season when they beat the Badgers by seven. So despite the unbearable amount of media coverage the Fighting Harbaughs will garner, the Badgers will likely be favored in this game. At Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers should be able to win a close one.
1. At Nebraska
If I had to pick one loss on Wisconsin’s schedule, I would pick this one. Nebraska is a preseason top-25 team in the country, and Lincoln is historically one of the toughest places to play in the country. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee will be a good replacement for Tommy Armstrong Jr., and the defense will be improved. I actually think this is a game Wisconsin could lose… which probably means Wisconsin will win by 45 and Bradrick Shaw will rush for 300 yards.