Badgers have slate built for success

First-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has a schedule that’s built for success. The Badgers should start no worse than 3-1—maybe even 4-0—as they head to Ohio State on Sept. 28. After visiting the Horseshoe, the Badgers don’t have a lot of heavy lifting.

In fact, a talented and veteran Wisconsin squad should be favored in every remaining game in its quest for a fourth Rose Bowl berth in a row. Fire up the grill and cue the polka music.

Toughest non-conference game: There is a visit from BYU on Nov. 9. But the trip to Arizona State on Sept. 14 will be most daunting. The Sun Devils are on the rise under Todd Graham. And, night or day, heat will be a factor in Tempe in September. ASU visited Madison in 2010 and lost, 20-19.

Toughest conference game: Without a doubt, it’s the visit to Ohio State on Sept. 28 in a huge early-season Leaders showdown between the top teams in the division. The Buckeyes will be the Big Ten favorite coming off a 12-0 season. And Ohio State has had the better of the Badgers in recent years, winning the last two games and five of the last six. Wisconsin’s last win in Columbus was in 2004.

Who they don’t play: Talk about hitting the jackpot, the Badgers don’t play Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan. Instead, Wisconsin’s Legends Division foes are Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota. Yes, the Wildcats will be formidable. But you have to like the Badgers’ chances vs. the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers.

Easiest game: There are several to choose from. UMass at home in the opener figures to be a cake walk. And the Badgers should roll vs. Purdue on Sept. 21; at Illinois on Oct. 19 and vs. Indiana on Nov. 16. But no game figures to be easier than a Sept. 7 visit from FCS Tennessee Tech.

Rugged stretch: There really aren’t many tough runs. The scariest is a two-game stretch, but a bye week softens it. On Sept. 28, Wisconsin goes to Ohio State. After a bye, the Badgers play host to Northwestern, which could have one of its best teams ever.

Interesting factoid: Wisconsin, the three-time reigning Big Ten champ, has lost four of its last seven vs. Northwestern. Bet you didn’t know that.

Best chance to be upset: Anything can happen in a rivalry game, right? Well, the Badgers need to be on guard when they play at Minnesota on Nov. 23 in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. But Wisconsin has dominated this series of late, winning nine in a row. And the Badgers are 18-4 vs. the Golden Gophers since 1991. Still, it’s the Axe game.

Best chance to pull an upset: The Badgers won’t be an underdog very often in 2013 with this soft schedule. But they could be when they travel to Arizona State on Sept. 14. Wisconsin’s rebuilt secondary and new 3-4 defensive scheme will be put to the test during a trip to Tempe. Todd Graham’s Sun Devils’ play a high-flying brand of offense that operates at a quick pace. The Badgers better be in shape—and ready.

Must win: If the Badgers want a shot at going to a third Big Ten championship game in succession, they must go unbeaten at home. And that will mean defeating Northwestern on Oct. 12. This is a surging Wildcats program coming off a 10-win season and its first bowl win since the 1948 season.

Bye weeks: These come too close together. The first bye comes after five games on Oct. 5. It’s a well-place bye, coming between a trip to Ohio State and a visit from Northwestern. The next bye comes just three weeks later on Oct. 26 between trips to Illinois and Iowa. Wisconsin will finish the season with five games in a row. Penn State visits for the finale. What type of shape will the Nittany Lions be in, having played with just 67 scholarship players? Penn State has won three of the last four games—taking an overtime decision in 2012. This game could determine if the Badgers play on New Year’s Day or not.

Here is the 2013 Wisconsin schedule:

Day Date Opponent
Sat. Aug. 31 vs. Massachusetts
Sat. Sep. 7 vs. Tennessee Tech
Sat. Sep. 14 at Arizona State
Sat. Sep. 21 vs. Purdue
Sat. Sep. 28 at 3 Ohio State
Sat. Oct. 12 vs. 17 Northwestern
Sat. Oct. 19 at Illinois
Sat. Nov. 2 at Iowa
Sat. Nov. 9 vs. Brigham Young
Sat. Nov. 16 vs. Indiana
Sat. Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Sat. Nov. 30 vs. Penn State

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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