The Badgers must contend with both Ohio State and Michigan as part of its Big Ten crossover slate
After taking a bit of a step back within the Big Ten pecking order last season, Wisconsin is looking to bounce back and make another run for a conference championship in 2019. The schedule does Wisconsin no favors though with a difficult rotation in the cross-divisional pairings, but the Badgers will get some pivotal division games at home in Madison.
Paul Chryst has shown no signs he is ready to change things up too much, nor should he. Wisconsin's recipe of a strong running game with Jonathan Taylor and a stable offensive line is good enough to set the tempo if the defense can hold things together this season. If the Badgers can find a solution at quarterback that can open things up just a little bit, Wisconsin should be in a solid position this season. The question will ultimately be how they show up in their biggest games, of which there is a good handful this fall.
Here is a look at Wisconsin's schedule, ranking opponents form the easiest to the most challenging for the Badgers.
12. Sept. 7 vs. Central Michigan
Wisconsin's home opener in Week 2 comes against a Central Michigan team that went 1-11 last season. The Chippewas have a new coach though with former Florida head coach and Michigan assistant Jim McElwain, but the 104th-ranked rushing defense should put up little fight against the Badgers.
11. Oct. 5 vs. Kent State
After a big division game against Northwestern to close out September, the Badgers get to pick on the other last-place team from the MAC in 2018 with Kent State. The Golden Flashes have won four games in the past two seasons and ranked 114th against the run last fall.
10. Oct. 19 at Illinois
The Illini have had some lean years under Lovie Smith and have been no match for Wisconsin during that run. Wisconsin has won nine straight in the series and 13 of the last 14. A healthy dose of transfer players and improved recruiting could make Illinois a bit more competitive, but Wisconsin should still be an easy favorite.
9. Nov. 30 at Minnesota
After having their long winning streak snapped last year by Minnesota, the Badgers look for revenge on the road in the final game of the regular season. The Gophers may have caught Wisconsin at a good time last season, but there are still a good number of question marks about Minnesota while Wisconsin should have a rebound season to give the road team the edge.
8. Aug. 30 at USF
Wisconsin opens the season on the road against South Florida in Tampa. A mixture of a solid and healthy USF team and playing on the road in the Florida heat and humidity could be a bad combination for the Badgers in the opener. Wisconsin may still go home with the win, but they may have to gut this one out.
7. Nov. 23 vs. Purdue
Another wild card in the Big Ten West, Purdue once again has potential to beat almost anybody they play. But playing on the road is still a challenge for the Boilermakers as they continue to grow, and it’s been over a decade since they managed to score more than 10 points in Camp Randall Stadium. Playing this game at home gives Wisconsin a more comfortable spot to be in than playing on the road.
6. Nov. 9 vs. Iowa
A big matchup at home against division foe Iowa should have some heavy implications in the Big Ten West in early November. And getting to host the Hawkeyes after having the previous week off certainly comes at a good time. Iowa is also coming off a bye week, but home-field advantage could mean something in this potential defensive battle.
5. Nov. 16 at Nebraska
Nebraska is certainly a trendy team heading into the season as Scott Frost enters Year 2 in Lincoln. Playing games at Nebraska should be a tougher challenge this year for a number of teams, including the Badgers. Wisconsin has a stellar 7-1 mark against the Huskers since Big Red joined the Big Ten, but this could be a really difficult spot for them this season if Nebraska lives up to some of the preseason expectations.
4. Oct. 12 vs. Michigan State
Never overlook the Michigan State Spartans. These two teams have exchanged wins and losses with each other over the years, leaving this to be anyone’s guess. If the Spartans are healthy, then Wisconsin will have to fight for this one. This could be a major swing game in the Big Ten West standings as well.
3. Sept. 28 vs. Northwestern
Northwestern dethroned the Badgers last season in the Big Ten West and hope to do so again this fall. Road trips to Madison have typically been difficult roadblocks for Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, although they did escape with a victory in 2015. The stakes will be high for a September game given how wide-open the division could be. The winner here getting an early jump on the division could be vital in November.
2. Sept. 21 vs. Michigan
Wisconsin will welcome the Wolverines, coached by Jim Harbaugh and quarterbacked by Shea Patterson in the middle of September in a bit of a statement game opportunity. Both teams will be coming off bye weeks and the Badgers will hope to derail the early championship hype Michigan is receiving going into the season.
1. Oct. 26 at Ohio State
While Michigan may be the trendy pick in the Big Ten this season, there is little question that a road trip to Ohio State is a bit more daunting than a home game against the Wolverines. Ohio State will still be really good this season even with some transition taking place. But it's a transition with a stacked roster as you will find in the Big Ten and it's not an entirely new regime implementing a new system. Ohio State will still be really good and the Buckeyes will show why when they host the Badgers at the end of October with the intent on trying to make some playoff noise going into November.
— 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.