Wisconsin may have been knocked off the throne of the Big Ten West last season by Northwestern, but the Badgers are still expected to be among the top contenders for the division once again in 2019. The schedule, however, doesn’t throw Wisconsin too many favors so the Badgers will certainly have to claw and earn their way back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this fall.
Crossover division games for Wisconsin start with a Big Ten opener at home against Michigan and end with a road trip to Ohio State. A home game against stingy Michigan State is also thrown in for a triple threat from the Big Ten East that is the most challenging any team in the West faces this season. The Badgers' division also is improving with Northwestern and Iowa always a tough obstacle to overcome and Nebraska, Purdue, and Minnesota all potentially on the rise this fall after showing some glimpses of progress last season.
Does Wisconsin have enough in the tank to get by on a strong running game and a defense that has some room for improvement in 2019?
Wisconsin Badgers 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 3, Week 10
Week 1 – Aug. 30 at USF (Tampa, Fla.)
Wisconsin opens the season on the road down in Florida with a matchup with the AAC’s USF Bulls. Charlie Strong’s program can put up a decent fight in the opener and may very well be capable of sending Wisconsin home with a surprise loss if the Badgers are not careful. This is far from a walk in the park for UW.
Week 2 – Sept. 7 vs. Central Michigan (Madison, Wis.)
The home opener in Week 2 should be much more of a comfortable matchup for Wisconsin as Jonathan Taylor will look to rack up some big yardage against the Chippewas. Central Michigan ranked 104th against the run last season and won’t be likely to close a gap that big by Week 2.
Week 4 – Sept. 21 vs. Michigan (Madison, Wis.)
After an early bye week on the schedule, Wisconsin gets a little extra time to prepare for a key crossover matchup at home against the Wolverines. Michigan will also be coming off an early bye week leading into this Big Ten opener. Michigan ran away with last year’s meeting and has taken two of the last three, but Wisconsin has won four straight home games in the series and hasn’t lost to the Wolverines in Madison since 2001. Will the home cooking pay off this time?
Week 5 – Sept. 28 vs. Northwestern (Madison, Wis.)
Immediately after what figures to be a physical game with Michigan, Wisconsin stays home the following week looking for more revenge. This time it is against defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern. With not a lot of room for error in what could be a tight division race, Wisconsin may need to win this game at home against the Wildcats. Expect a second straight defensive battle in as many weeks.
Week 6 – Oct. 5 vs. Kent State (Madison, Wis.)
Wisconsin jumps out of conference in the beginning of October with a home date against Kent State. After two challenges in Big Ten play, Wisconsin should breathe a little easier this week against a program that has won no more than three games in a season since 2013, when the Golden Flashes went 4-8.
Week 7 – Oct. 12 vs. Michigan State (Madison, Wis.)
The home stretch continues with another crossover division showdown against Michigan State. This is another toss-up game on the schedule if the Spartans are healthy. This could also be another crucial game for Wisconsin, and it won’t be an easy one because Mark Dantonio always has the Spartans ready for battle.
Week 8 – Oct. 19 at Illinois (Champaign, Ill.)
Wisconsin hits the road to take on a struggling Illinois program. While the rest of the division games should be worthy challenges for the Badgers, this one should be as close to an automatic win in division play as they come for Wisconsin. The key will be taking control early on and allowing some key players to get an early rest before next week’s game.
Week 9 – Oct. 26 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
Wisconsin’s final crossover game against the Big Ten East is a big one. Wisconsin heads to Ohio Stadium to take on the Buckeyes, who may enter the year as the favorite in the Big Ten and could be in a position to make another run at the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes have dominated the series and have won nine of the last 10 meetings, including two Big Ten Championship Game encounters. The Badgers will look for their first win in The Shoe since 2004.
Week 11 – Nov. 9 vs. Iowa (Madison, Wis.)
After a week off, Wisconsin is back at home for a key division game against Iowa. The Badgers are riding a three-game winning streak in the series and the stakes in the Big Ten West figure to be pretty high going into November. The winner of this game likely remains at the front of the division race coming down the final stretch.
Week 12 – Nov. 16 at Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
Wisconsin will finish out their 2019 season with three games against programs that are expected to be on the rise this fall. The first will be on the road against Nebraska, where Scott Frost is expected to be taking more steps forward in getting the Cornhuskers back to competing for a Big Ten title. We’ll see just how far Nebraska has come by this point in the season, but for now, this is a bit of a toss-up game because the Huskers can be tricky even if they are not ready to make a run for the division.
Week 13 – Nov. 23 vs. Purdue (Madison, Wis.)
The Badgers wrap up their home schedule against Purdue in Week 13. Wisconsin escaped a Purdue upset last year with a 47-44 triple-overtime thriller in West Lafayette after trailing 27-13 in the fourth quarter. Purdue has tended to struggle when on the road, so Wisconsin may be able to take advantage of playing at home as the season begins to wind down. But don’t take Purdue lightly.
Week 14 – Nov. 30 at Minnesota (Minneapolis. Minn.)
After stunning Wisconsin with a 37-14 victory last year in Camp Randall Stadium and laying claim to Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003, the Gophers are not ready to give it up just yet. Wisconsin will be in for a solid battle on the road against P.J. Fleck’s program as Minnesota continues to grow and mature. Was last year a fluke, or are the Gophers ready to prove they have what it takes to make life difficult in the division?
— 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.