We are still a couple of months away from the beginning of the 2016 college football season but that doesn’t mean we cannot dive into some preseason analysis.
As you may have heard, the Wisconsin Badgers’ upcoming schedule is set to be a rough one. This will be the first year the Big Ten Conference will incorporate nine conference games for each team, meaning an unbalanced home and away schedule will be in place for each team. For the Badgers, they will have to endure the first season of this change with five conference road games.
While you may already know the tough road the Badgers must embrace this upcoming season, we take a look at the level of difficulty each game will bring for the team. Using a scale of one to ten, with one being the least difficult and ten being the most, we rate each of Wisconsin’s games for the 2016 season.
No better way to start off the season with College Gameday making an appearance.
Saturday, September 3: vs. LSU Tigers*
Difficulty Level: 9
Although it has not been made official, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke in early April at the Wisconsin Sports Awards, saying, “I don’t think they’ve announced it, but I think they’ll have College GameDay there,” with regards to College Gameday visiting.
The game will be played in Green Bay at Lambeau Field, its first college football game in 33 years. The Badgers and Tigers will be one of several big games to kick off the college football season and will be a rematch of 2014’s meeting where the Tigers came back and won 28-24 in Houston.
LSU is projected to be a top ten preseason team, perhaps top five. Coming off a weird season that saw the drama surrounding long-time head coach Les Miles and a 9-3 record, the Tigers lost some key pieces on defense, but will come back even stronger on offense. Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette is set to be one of the nation’s top rushers (again), and will be a tough task for Vince Biegel and the rest of the Wisconsin defense.
Some good news for the Badgers is that this year’s matchup with an SEC opponent will have a home field advantage as opposed to the last two seasons playing LSU and Alabama down south. On the field, if the Badgers can stop the Tigers’ rushing attack, they could have some success against the pass as well, with LSU quarterback Brandon Harris completing just over 53 percent of his passes last year.
It will be a game that could set the stage for each team’s season and will be an opportunity for both to jumpstart their year in the right direction.
Saturday, September 10: vs. Akron Zips
Difficulty Level: 3
Regardless of the result versus LSU, it will be important for the Badgers to not experience a letdown against an Akron team that is fresh off a bowl victory and an 8-5 record.
It will be interesting to see how Corey Clement will do against the stingy Akron defense that ranked third in the country last season in rushing defense, giving up just 2.8 yards per carry.
This will be third meeting all time between the Zips and the Badgers with their most recent meeting coming in 2008, a 38-17 Wisconsin victory in Madison.
________________________________________________________________Saturday, September 17: vs. Georgia State Panthers
Difficulty Level: 2
The Georgia State Panthers are one of the most recent teams to move into the FBS level and will be taking on the Badgers for the first time in school history. Once enduring a 1-11 season in 2014, the Panthers improved drastically in 2015, posting a 6-7 record.
The Badgers should have a field day against the Panthers’ defense, a squad that gave up 30+ points nine times last year and four games giving up at least 40.
Saturday, September 24: at Michigan State Spartans
Difficulty Level: 7
It’s been five years since the Badgers played in East Lansing. It has also been five years since Badger fans experienced one of the most heartbreaking losses in school history with Kirk Cousins heaving up a successful hail mary as time expired to escape with a 37-31 victory.
The Spartans and Badgers have met twice since then, with both teams prevailing by three points. It seems whenever the two meet, we experience a close down-to-the-wire game and this year’s matchup should be no different.
Michigan State will be without quarterback Connor Cook, who went in last week’s NFL Draft and will need to rebuild a bit on offense. It is completely up in the air how the Spartans will respond from last year’s College Football Playoff run as many aspects of their offense and defense will need to be refurbished. One thing we do know is how difficult it is to win conference road games and every time these two meet, we are in for a nail biter.
Saturday, October 1: at Michigan Wolverines
Difficulty Level: 8
An even longer break than with the Spartans, the Wolverines and Badgers have not met since 2010. Michigan has always been a prominent program in the Big Ten but has fallen off in the last several years, a stretch where Wisconsin did not see them at all. Now, in 2016, the Wolverines are back on the upswing and also back on the Badgers’ schedule.
Michigan holds a 49-14 all time versus Wisconsin, but the Badgers have grabbed the last two recent meetings. The Wolverines improved their record by five wins last year and seemed to be heading in the right direction under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh.
If the Badgers want to make some noise in the conference this year, the first two games will be a tell-tale sign of what lies ahead of them.
Saturday, October 15: vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Difficulty Level: 9
It will be a long wait for the Badgers’ conference home opener and October 15 will be well worth the wait with the Buckeyes coming to Madison for the season’s first night game.
Yes, the Buckeyes lost a record-breaking amount of players in the NFL Draft in the first couple rounds and a significant chunk of their production overall, but if there is anything we know about Urban Meyer and his squad it’s that they will always be able to reproduce talent at an elite level.
Ohio State will be without former quarterbacks Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller, but will still have a potential Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett under center.
The last time the Buckeyes visited Camp Randall under the lights they escaped with a 21-14 overtime victory. Before that? The Badgers knocked off the top ranked Buckeyes 31-18 in 2010.
Saturday, October 22: at Iowa Hawkeyes
Difficulty Level: 8
There is no indication that the Hawkeyes will not live up to last season’s magical run. With many returning weapons, including starting quarterback C.J. Bethard and star wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, the offense will only get better. Additionally, the return of their big time defensive back Desmond King will be a huge boost on the other side of the ball.
The Badgers proved last year they could play with the Hawkeyes as a fumble at the goal line sparked their doom in a heartbreaking 10-6 loss. Wisconsin is looking to make it three straight in Iowa City.
Saturday, October 29: vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Difficulty Level: 6
Second conference home game of the year and second night game of the year, it’s always a fun time when the Badgers and Cornhuskers get together.
Realistically, the difficulty level should probably be lower as Nebraska has struggled mightily in Madison since joining the Big Ten, but the fact of the matter is this will likely be the first game for the Badgers where they don’t face a ranked team since September 17. Nebraska will likely improve from their disappointing season a year ago and could compete for the Big Ten West title, even with their difficult schedule.
Saturday, November 5: at Northwestern Wildcats
Difficulty Level: 7
Back on the road again. We’re not saying the Wildcats will be as good as they were a year ago or on the level of the previously mentioned teams, but the Badgers haven’t won in Evanston since 1999, as it has proven to be a house of horrors for Wisconsin. While the games have been close, the Badgers have not been able to get over the hump and have seen seasons ruined at the hands of the Wildcats.
Saturday, November 12: vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Difficulty Level: 5
While no games are a given, the Badgers will get a so-called “break” from the big boys when the Illini come into town. The program has had its fair share of messes and problems over the past few months and while there are skilled players on their roster, Illinois just doesn’t have the firepower to hang with the Badgers in Madison…let’s hope. The only bright area for the Illini this offseason was the addition of former Bears coach Lovie Smith.
The Fighting Illini haven’t won in Madison since 2002.
Saturday, November 19: at Purdue Boilermakers
Difficulty Level: 4
Purdue football has been active of late, with various coaching changes and staff adjustments, but the team is still unsure who they will get production from. The Boilermakers finished second to last in rushing last season and saw their number one quarterback lose his job during the year. While many key players return, it is safe to say this team is still a couple of years out from making noise in the West.
Saturday, November 26: vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Difficulty Level: 7
Ah, yes. The end-of-the-year rivalry with our beloved neighbors to the west. Minnesota will be good, and anything less than a West championship will be a disappointment to Gophers fans. Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner has been generating noise recently, but Wisconsin hasn’t had trouble winning the axe in recent years.
The last weekend of the Big Ten regular season will have the Badgers vs. the Gophers and Nebraska taking on Iowa, the four likely teams to compete for a division title. While a heavy load of the schedule is in the beginning of the conference year, these games on Thanksgiving will likely have a say in who will be heading to Indianapolis.
The Big Ten Championship is set to take place on Saturday, December 3.