Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 1, 2015

Paul Chryst takes over a Wisconsin program that is on its third head coach since 2012 after Bret Bielema (Arkansas) and Gary Andersen (Oregon State) abruptly bolted Madison in recent years.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's 2015 schedule analysis posts ]

Chryst seemingly offers stability, as he?s a native son who played and has coached for the Badgers. He?s home; why leave? And he inherits one of the league?s top programs that has been a Big Ten standard, as the Badgers have played in three of the four conference title games.

Wisconsin figures to have a good shot to return to Indianapolis in December for the Big Ten championship game, thanks to one of the friendliest schedules in the Big Ten.

Toughest non-conference game: vs. Alabama, Sept. 5. No warm-up lap for Wisconsin, which open the season vs. Nick Saban's perennial power in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide have been college football?s ?it? program for close to a decade, winning at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons. This will be the ultimate measuring stick for the Badgers.

Toughest conference game: at Minnesota, Nov. 28. This is a pretty friendly Big Ten schedule for a second season in a row, with Rutgers and Maryland being the cross-division foes. The trip to Nebraska on Oct. 10 should be difficult. But let?s go with the season-ending visit to rival Minnesota as the ?toughest.? Wisconsin has had the whammy on the Golden Gophers, as Minnesota has lost 11 in a row to Wisconsin and has just two victories vs. the Badgers since 1995, going 2-18 in the last 20 meetings. The Badgers need to keep their foot on the neck of the Gophers, who keep pushing up the food chain in the Big Ten West.

Who they don?t play: The Badgers get a big break by missing Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State and Indiana.

Easiest game: vs. Miami (OH), Sept. 12. The Red Hawks went 2-10 last season under first-year coach Chuck Martin. The ?Cradle of Coaches? remains a work in progress and should be little more than a speed bump for Bucky.

Rugged stretch: There is no scary stretch for Paul Chryst during his maiden voyage in Madison. Back-to-back games vs. Iowa on Oct. 3 and at Nebraska on Oct. 10 will go a long way toward shaping the Big Ten West race. The Badgers probably can afford to do no worse than a split if they hope to win the West.

Factoid: When Wisconsin plays Alabama in the opener, it will mark the second-ever meeting. The schools clashed in 1928 in Madison, with the Badgers taking a 15-0 decision.

Best chance to be upset: vs. Iowa, Oct. 3. Wisconsin needs to be careful when the Hawkeyes visit for the Big Ten opener on Oct. 3. Yes, the Badgers have won the last three meetings-all in Iowa City. Still, this is a pivotal year for Kirk Ferentz, who will be motivated for a big season. A win at Wisconsin would bolster his sagging program. The Hawkeyes haven?t been to Madison since 2009, when they left with a 20-10 victory.

Best chance to pull an upset: vs. Alabama, Sept. 5. The only time Wisconsin may be an underdog is in the opener vs. Alabama. Perhaps the Badgers can shock the Crimson Tide. If you are going to stun an opponent, the season-opener is a good time to do it.

Must win: at Nebraska, Oct. 10. If the Badgers want to win the West, they need to win at Nebraska. Making that difficult will be the fact the Badgers will be coming off what figures to be a tough home game vs. Iowa. Still, Wisconsin has had good success vs. the Cornhuskers since they joined the Big Ten. The Badgers are 3-1 vs. Nebraska, notching some memorable wins: 48-17; 70-31; 59-24. But the Badgers? one loss to the Huskers of late was in Lincoln in 2012, a 30-27 Nebraska triumph.

Bye week: This comes late, after Wisconsin has played 10 games. The Badgers are off Nov. 14, playing at Maryland going into the bye and welcoming Northwestern coming out of the bye. Wisconsin could be 9-1 going into the bye.

2015 Wisconsin Schedule
Sept. 5 Alabama (at Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 12 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 19 Troy
Sept. 26 Hawaii
Oct. 3 Iowa
Oct. 10 at Nebraska
Oct. 17 Purdue
Oct. 24 at Illinois
Oct. 31 Rutgers
Nov. 7 at Maryland
Nov. 14 OFF
Nov. 21 Northwestern
Nov. 28 at Minnesota


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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