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Highlighted by the Badgers’ opening week matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cowboy Classic at AT&T Stadium, this season has the potential to bring Badger fans both heartache and heartbreak. The 2015-2016 season, per usual, features matchups against B1G rivals, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa, as well as some weaker out of conference opponents such as Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii. Based on 2014 win/loss statistics, the Badgers have the 95th most difficult SOS (strength of schedule), with their 2015-2016 opponents amassing a poor record of 74-79 (48.37%) in the previous season.

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When you compare this SOS statistic to other football powerhouses like Alabama, Arkansas, and conference rival Michigan State, who are all in the top 10 of this stat, this reflects very poorly on the Badgers come College Football Playoff selection time. With weak non-conference play and relatively weaker B1G opponents on the schedule, the Badgers will have to beat Alabama and win the Big 10 Championship in order to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. With all of that said, here is a look at the best three games on the Badgers schedule, with one that may surprise everyone.

September 5: Alabama Crimson Tide
This will, without a doubt, be the toughest team that the Badgers face in the regular season, and probably all year. The Crimson Tide finished last year with a 12-2 record, and are looking to rebound in their first game of the season after a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal. This Alabama team is nowhere near the same caliber as they were last year, having lost 7 players to the NFL draft, including starting running back TJ Yeldon, Heisman trophy finalist wide receiver Amari Cooper, and talented safety Landon Collins. It’s safe to say there are a lot of empty slots to fill, but with head coach Nick Saban guiding the team and an always top-tier recruiting class, the Crimson Tide will definitely put up a tough fight against the Badgers.
What to Expect: This is sure to be a run heavy game with two budding All-Americans in Wisconsin’s Corey Clement and Alabama’s Derrick Henry finally getting their chance to lead their teams following the departures of Gordon III and Yeldon. I believe the game will ultimately come down to the success of each offensive line in the run block, and if one team can catch a break on defense, they should come out victorious.

October 10: Nebraska Cornhuskers

In the sixth week of the season, the Badgers will head down to Lincoln to face their Big 10 West rivals, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. After Wisconsin’s absolute 25-point demolition of Nebraska last season, where Melvin Gordon III ran for a record-breaking 408 yards, the Cornhuskers will certainly be seeking revenge. Although both teams share a lot of uncertainties for the upcoming year with new head coaches, new running backs, and average quarterbacks, they remain the two clear favorites in the B1G West. This game could have a lot of implications in determining the success or failure in either team’s season.
What to Expect: Nebraska has a lot of holes to fill in their offense, so there remains some mystery as to who is going to step up to be the big playmaker on the team. With the graduation of star running back Ameer Abdullah and a change to a pro-style offense, quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. will have much more responsibility. But, it is yet to be seen if he can beat an elite defense like Wisconsin’s. The Cornhuskers’ defense, per usual, is expected to be above average; however, the departure of Randy Gregory (drafted by the Cowboys) leaves a lack of star power on the defensive side of the ball. I expect a great game, but ultimately think the Badgers will stay true to the run game and once again emerge victorious.

November 21: Northwestern Wildcats
After suffering a 20-14 loss to the Wildcats last season at Ryan Field, the Badgers’ hopes of having a historic season were destroyed. The Badgers were a heavy favorite, but they did not play like it. The Wildcats didn’t do anything special to beat the Badgers, but they made very few mistakes. I credit most of this win to Northwestern’s head coach Pat Fitzgerald simply outcoaching Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen. With Northwestern returning key offensive weapons in wide receiver Chirstian Jones and running back Justin Jackson, the Badgers certainly cannot overlook the Wildcats.
What to Expect: While I believe that the Wildcats have the chance to put up a good fight, I think that they will simply be outmatched on the road against the Badgers. The Wildcat defense lost their star linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo and will not be able to make up for it on the offensive end.