Which game could turn a season on a dime? Or flip it on its head? We asked Land of 10’s Sean Keeler and Corey Masisak to break down the football games in the fall that intrigue them the most — and why, continuing with the Wisconsin Badgers:
2016 record: 11-3, 7-2 Big Ten
2017 predicted record (Massey): 11-1, 8-1 Big Ten
Home games: Utah State; Florida Atlantic; Northwestern; Purdue; Maryland; Iowa; Michigan.
Road games: BYU; Nebraska; Illinois; Indiana; Minnesota.
Most intriguing game: at Nebraska, Oct. 7
Now here’s a switch: Unlike last spring, on paper (open fingers, insert air quotes), the schedule sets up to be relatively kind. No Ohio State. No Penn State. Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern at home.
BYU is the only nonconference foe on the Badgers’ dance card coming off a bowl appearance, although the Cougars are anything but an easy mark. A Week 2 visit from the mercurial Lane Kiffin and his FAU Owls adds a little sizzle to what’s otherwise a skirt steak of a matchup.
Intrigue? A bit. Entertainment value? Not much, assuming the chess pieces line up as expected.
A junket to Lincoln, Neb., to open October, mind you, smells like a different prospect altogether.
Win at Memorial Stadium, and there’s a chance to really get the snowball going downhill, given that the most winnable league contests on the slate — Purdue, Maryland, at Illinois, at Indiana — roll in, one right after the other, following the Nebraska test.
Looking at Wisconsin’s 2017 schedule and the Badgers have a shot at 12-0. No OSU and get Michigan at home. Hardest road game at Nebraska
— Matt Barber (@dixiefriedsport) January 2, 2017
Lose, and the iron grip on the West — a division the Badgers have won two of the first three years of its existence — starts to wobble a bit. Plus, the whole “Because Barry Alvarez Is A Husker We’re All In The Same Family” vibe is starting to wear thin in some Big Red circles:
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) April 25, 2017
— Husker Hype (@husker_hype) March 4, 2017
— Walter Donnelly 3rd (@WBDIII) December 4, 2016
Cornhuskers fans want what Wisconsin has: defensive dominance; physicality; consistency; and a constancy in both the standings and College Football Playoff picture despite three different coaches — four if you count Alvarez’s interim stints — over the last five seasons.
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and the Badgers have had targets on their backs for so long they’re practically tattoos of honor. The longer Bucky can keep Nebraska flailing away at arm’s length, the hotter the seat gets for Nebraska coach Mike Riley.