Paul Chryst and the Badgers draw Penn State and Michigan in Big Ten cross-divisional play this fall
Over the past few years, Wisconsin has been the team to beat in the Big Ten West Division. This fall, the Badgers look to be in decent shape to keep that trend alive even with the division seemingly improving with new coaches breathing some life into a handful of programs. After back-to-back appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game, however, Wisconsin will have some difficult games to prepare for to make it three straight trips to Indianapolis at the end of the regular season.
Wisconsin’s road schedule includes cross-division games against Penn State and Michigan, and division games on the road against Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue look to be no walks in the park either. An early bye week comes at a decent time in between two key division matchups, but the lack of a breather in the last two months could become a problem for Wisconsin down the road.
Here’s a look at Wisconsin’s 2018 schedule and how it all could play out.
Wisconsin Badgers 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 5
Week 1 – Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky (Madison, Wis.)
Wisconsin should be able to get off on the right foot against the Hilltoppers from Conference USA. Western Kentucky plays a Big Ten team for the second year in a row after beating Illinois last fall, 31-17. Wisconsin won’t suffer a similar fate.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. New Mexico (Madison, Wis.)
Wisconsin should be staring at a 2-0 record with New Mexico coming to Madison. New Mexico had the nation’s 55th-ranked rushing defense last season, so expect that to be an area the Badgers can expose right from the kickoff.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. BYU (Madison, Wis.)
Wisconsin demolished BYU, 40-6, in Provo last season and now gets a chance to host the Cougars in a home-and-home series. BYU was an absolute mess last season and they should be better this fall. But Wisconsin’s strengths are too much for the Cougars to battle and Wisconsin should once again pull away for a win to enter Big Ten play at a clean 3-0.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 at Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
Big Ten play opens on the road for Wisconsin, and it’s in one of the trickiest spots in conference play. Iowa upset Ohio State and nearly took down Penn State in Kinnick Stadium a year ago, but as long as this game is played in the afternoon, Wisconsin should manage to be in pretty decent shape. It is no automatic win, as a defensive battle could break out here, but Iowa has some work to do to get by the Badgers.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 vs. Nebraska (Madison, Wis.)
Wisconsin returns home for another big game in Big Ten West play. Scott Frost brings Nebraska into Madison hoping to make some noise in his first year on the job. We’ll have a better idea of just what Nebraska looks like with their new head coach, but even an energized Nebraska may have a tough time leaving Camp Randall with a win after the Badgers get a bye week to prepare.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Wisconsin managed to pull away for a defensive victory over the Wolverines last season. If Michigan is still struggling to form an offensive identity, this year’s meeting in the Big House could have a similar result. But if Michigan shows improvement on offense, especially at quarterback, Wisconsin could be in for a tough one in the middle of October.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 vs. Illinois (Madison, Wis.)
As good as Wisconsin has been recently, Illinois has been on the opposite end of the spectrum. That may not change a whole lot this fall as the Illini brace for a road trip to Madison. This would seem to have the ingredients for a possible trap game, but Wisconsin doesn’t tend to fall for those. Wisconsin wins this one without much of a problem, and they may not need much offense to do it either.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 at Northwestern (Evanston, Ill.)
The Wildcats are once again the trendy wild-card pick in the Big Ten, at least in the Big Ten West. Pat Fitzgerald’s program is always tough on defense and can cause problems for anyone when at home. And last year’s 33-24 loss to the Badgers hasn’t been sitting well in Evanston. But the Badgers are still the better team and should be the favorite. There is upset potential for the Wildcats here, but bet on Wisconsin.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 vs. Rutgers (Madison, Wis.)
Since joining the Big Ten, any time Rutgers goes on the road against the best teams in the conference has turned into a disaster. That should be no different here with Wisconsin’s running game making life miserable for the Scarlet Knights.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 at Penn State (University Park, Pa.)
Could this be a potential preview of the Big Ten Championship Game? Sure, it’s entirely possible. Penn State may no longer have Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesiciki (each playing big roles in a Big Ten championship victory over the Badgers two seasons ago), but Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions could still be one of the conference’s most potent offenses and that could be a bad draw for Wisconsin on the road.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 at Purdue (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Purdue is still going to be a bit of a work in progress this season, but the Boilermakers are no longer an automatic win to rely on. Wisconsin managed to win a defensive battle against Purdue last season, 17-9, and this one could be another potential nail-biter a week after playing at Penn State. But if Wisconsin loses to Penn State, expect the Badgers to run away with this one.
Week 13 – Nov. 24 vs. Minnesota (Madison, Wis.)
P.J. Fleck may be able to raise the hype for Minnesota, but Wisconsin has won 14 consecutive meetings in this rivalry. With the game in Madison and a potential spot in the Big Ten title game on the line, don’t count on that streak ending here. Wisconsin has won the last eight meetings by double digits.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.