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Ranking the Toughest Games on Wisconsin's College Football Schedule in 2015

Author:
Corey Clement

Corey Clement

Despite a coaching change and the loss of a Heisman Trophy candidate in the offseason, it's surprisingly (or not, depending on who you talk to) business as usual for Wisconsin.

The Badgers are gearing up for another division championship run, leaning on veterans on defense and the same old "pound the ball down their throat" running game. Corey Clement is expected to fill the big shoes of Melvin Gordon in the backfield, while Joel Stave is expected to give new coach Paul Chryst an experienced leader under center.

Related: Wisconsin 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch

Wisconsin's 2015 schedule starts with a bang. After that, however, it's rather "ho-hum" in terms of making noise nationally. The Badgers will need to beat Alabama or keep it close before winning every game on the schedule if they want any shot of being in the College Football Playoff conversation by season's end.

Here now are Wisconsin's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.

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12. Sept. 12 vs. Miami (Ohio)

It'll be the home opener after gearing up all offseason to play Alabama. Win or lose against the Tide, Wisconsin should still be fired up to debut in front of the home crowd and give them a reason to jump around early in the season.

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11. Sept. 26 vs. Hawaii

This will be the first home game of the season under the lights in Madison. Anytime Hawaii travels east of the Rockies, jet lag is going to be a concern for them. Additionally, the Badgers have the athletes on defense to neutralize what Hawaii does schematically on offense.

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10. Sept. 19 vs. Troy

I wouldn't call this a trap game, but I can see the Badgers coming out sluggish early on, as this game is sandwiched between the previously mentioned two. There also will be a couple of athletes on Troy who may challenge the Badgers in ways they haven't seen since the Alabama game.

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9. Oct. 17 vs. Purdue

The Boilermakers are up and coming, but they won't have enough on defense to slow Wisconsin's rushing attack and prevent the Badgers from controlling the game. This should be Wisconsin's easiest home conference game.

8. Nov. 7 at Maryland

If this game were in Madison, it would be in the 10-12 range. Outside of William Likely in the secondary, the Terps have very little that is going to keep opposing coaching staffs up at night from a talent standpoint.

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7. Oct. 31 vs. Rutgers

Chryst will likely use the same game plan from 2014 when the Badgers destroyed the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey. Leonte Caroo might be able to cause a few problems in the Wisconsin secondary, but a steady Badger pass rush should be enough to limit his targets.

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6. Oct. 24 at Illinois

The offensive duo of Wes Lunt and Josh Ferguson are going to give plenty of teams fits all season — including Wisconsin. This will be another game where the Badgers will need to control the clock and tempo with the run game and limit opposing possessions to avoid getting into a shootout.

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5. Oct. 3 vs. Iowa

Records and rankings rarely matter in this border war. The Badgers escaped Iowa City last year with a two-point win. They'll need to keep C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeye passing game in check if they want to retain the Heartland Trophy.

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4. Nov. 21 vs. Northwestern

This is the definition of a trap game. Northwestern thrives on playing spoiler in these situations. Chryst will need to keep the Badgers focused on Northwestern and avoid looking ahead to Minnesota.

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3. Oct. 10 at Nebraska

Wisconsin has gotten the better end of this exchange as of late, but that doesn't mean much in 2015. The Huskers will want revenge for the rushing clinic the Badgers put on against them in Madison last year. This early October battle of new head coaches may not be decided until late in the fourth quarter.

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2. Nov. 28 at Minnesota

If this one is for the Big Test West title like some think it could be, this one will be electric. The two teams are very similar to one another, but Jerry Kill's consistency and continuity — not to mention Minnesota's home-field advantage — are going to make this a difficult hurdle for the Badgers.

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1. Sept. 5 vs. Alabama (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Alabama is going to be a difficult team to prepare for early. An ever-evolving offensive attack combined with a bevy of new faces on both sides of the ball are going to make things difficult for Wisconsin from a scouting standpoint. Controlling the tempo will be key, and again, the Badger rushing attack will be crucial to keeping this one close and possibly pulling off the upset.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.