There are plenty of unknowns for the Wisconsin Badgers thanks to the overhauled coaching staff and several positions now up in the air with the 2013 recruiting class completed—we think.
The most intriguing battles should come in the secondary, at quarterback and for the No. 2 receiver alongside Jared Abbrederis. The Badgers have brought in plenty of talent at each position, and with Gary Andersen now calling the shots, nearly anything and everything is up for grabs.
That being said, who doesn't love predictions? We're still over six months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, which is depressing to think about, but it's never too early to begin speculating how the season will play out.
Or maybe it is, but that's not going to stop us—let's take a swing at the game-by-game schedule predictions for the Badgers in 2013.
This might have flown under the radar, but the Massachusetts Minutemen happen to be an FBS team these days and play their football in the MAC.
Unfortunately, they had a rough go of it in their inaugural season playing top-level college football, going 1-11 while notching their only victory at Akron. UMass only found itself in a handful of games last season, and now it will have to kick off its 2013 season in Madison.
Understandably, it will take the Minutemen a few years to get on their feet and establish themselves in the FBS, and regardless of who wins the quarterback battle for the Badgers in the offseason, they should have no difficulty handling this team to get the season started off on the right foot.
The days of playing an early-season cupcake game against FCS opponents appear to be limited, at least according to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.
That ban will likely begin taking place in 2016 for all Big Ten schools, but the Badgers already have Tennessee Tech on their schedule, so at least for now, FBS schools will continue to invite FCS schools into their homes and wipe the floor with them.
This should be the case on Sept. 7 when Wisconsin hosts the Golden Eagles, a team that went 3-8 in the OVC last season. In their lone game against an FBS team last season, Tennessee Tech lost at Autzen Stadium to Oregon, 63-14.
In a way, it will be nice for the Badgers to play their first two games against weak opponents so the new coaching staff can get a look at just about everyone on the roster. As with UMass, the Badgers' clash with the Golden Eagles will be nothing more than a tune up.
Andersen is hoping the first two games prep the Badgers for their first true test of the season when they travel to Arizona State to take on the Sun Devils.
In a relatively down year for the Pac-12, the Sun Devils were a middle of the pack team, going 8-5 overall and 1-3 against ranked opponents last season. They did finish strong, however, winning at Arizona and then cruising to victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy.
The Badgers will have to be on top of their game on defense going up against junior quarterback Taylor Kelly and the high-powered Arizona State offense. It should be a pretty even matchup, but when comparing Wisconsin's trip to fellow Pac-12 member Oregon State to this game, it appears to be a more favorable matchup this time around for the Badgers.
The quarterback situation is sure to be in much better shape than at the same point last season, and Wisconsin still returns a lot of talent from its Big Ten championship team. This game will go a long way in dictating the direction of Andersen's inaugural season in Madison.
The Boilermakers were a tough team to figure out last season. By forcing overtime against Ohio State and pushing Notre Dame to the brink, they showed they had the ability to play with just about anyone in the country.
But at other times, like in blowout defeats to Wisconsin and Michigan in West Lafayette, and to Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Purdue looked like a team in flux. Still, its up and down season translated to a bowl appearance, and it was a team that played far better away from home.
This game will be played at Camp Randall Stadium, so that would surprisingly appear to benefit the Boilermakers, but the Badgers have Purdue's number regardless of where the game takes place. Until they prove otherwise, the perception is that the Boilermakers simply can't hang with the Badgers, and we should expect that trend to continue in 2013.
Yes, the Big Ten was down as a conference last season, but Ohio State took care of business and went undefeated not only in league play, but in non-conference play as well. There were some close calls along the way, but what Urban Meyer has been able to do during his short time in Columbus is pretty remarkable.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they were ineligible for postseason play last season, but that ban has come and gone, and now Ohio State has its sights set on a Big Ten title and potentially a run at the National Championship.
Meyer brought in a top-three recruiting class according to ESPN, and returning is a Heisman contender, junior quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will just be too much for the Badgers when taking into account their roster-wide talent and the fact that this game will be played at The Horseshoe.
This will be the first time since 2010 that Northwestern has appeared on the schedule for the Badgers, the year Wisconsin defeated the Wildcats by a score of 70-23.
A lot has changed since then, with Northwestern taking strides forward and Wisconsin arguably losing a step or two after an unimpressive 2012 campaign. And while the Badgers are losing prolific running back Montee Ball to the NFL, Northwestern will return its own stud tailback in Venric Mark.
The quarterback duo of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter will also be back, and depending on who has the hot hand on Oct. 12, the Wisconsin defense will have to prepare for several different looks. The Northwestern defense was also vastly improved and was huge reason why it was able to finish 10-3 last season.
However, the Wildcats lack threats in the passing game and will lose the battle in the trenches. If this game was being played in Evanston, the result might be different, but the Badgers will protect their home field and do enough to pull out a win.
Enter the worst team in the downtrodden Big Ten last season—the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Illinois failed to notch a single conference victory, and to rub salt in the wound, it will be losing its top defender in defensive lineman Akeem Spence. A lot more was also expected out of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but for whatever reason he couldn't put it together in 2012 and will look for a drastic turnaround in 2013.
The Fighting Illini are undoubtedly in rebuilding mode entering the season, although they would be hard pressed to struggle more than they did last year. That being said, the Badgers aren't in rebuilding mode, even though they experienced a coaching change in the offseason, and are in far better shape as a football program.
Even though the game will be played in Champaign, this game will be Wisconsin's for the taking.
If Illinois was the worst team in the conference, the Hawkeyes weren't far behind.
Iowa only managed two wins during Big Ten play last season, and it lost to the likes of Central Michigan, Purdue and Indiana during that time. Not only that, but the only player to throw a pass for the Hawkeyes last season was James Vandenburg, and his eligibility has run out.
The Hawkeyes did find themselves in several close games last season thanks to their defense, but their offense didn't have the firepower to get them over the top. Nothing points to that changing in 2013, especially following a disappointing recruiting class, as they find the Badgers on their schedule for the first time in three years.
It will likely be closer than many expect, but Wisconsin will do just enough to squeak by its rival, a rival that will hopefully be placed in the same division as the Badgers following realignment once Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten.
A rare midseason non-conference game finds itself on the Wisconsin schedule, and while it may be an unfamiliar opponent to the Badgers, it isn't to head coach Gary Andersen.
He comes from the state of Utah, and his Utah State Aggies faced the Cougars last season, losing in a low-scoring affair, 6-3.
That score was reflective of the way BYU played defense all season, finishing third in the FBS in points allowed. This game has all the makings of a defensive stalemate with two excellent defenses and mediocre offenses squaring off.
Since BYU is an independent, it plays team from all over the country throughout the season, hence the odd timing of this game for the Badgers. Breaking out of conference play may get Wisconsin out of its comfort zone, and the Cougars do have some talent on offense with freshman running back Jamaal Williams.
But BYU will also lose its two senior quarterbacks and only has one legitimate threat at receiver—albeit a good one—in Cody Hoffman. Andersen's familiarity with the opponent and Wisconsin's home field advantage will be enough to eek out another win.
Wisconsin has the pleasure of playing in the same division as Indiana, and will host the Hoosiers next season in what is sure to be a lopsided affair.
Indiana never manages to stay with the Badgers, but surprisingly, last season's matchup had some meaning because of Penn State and Ohio State being ineligible to win the Leaders Division. Apparently, that pressure was too much for the Hoosiers to handle as Curt Phillips led the Badgers to victory in his first career start at quarterback.
Typically, all the Badgers need to do against Indiana is pound the rock, and with the two-headed monster of James White and Melvin Gordon returning, another blowout is in the cards.
Gone is Marqueis Gray, and now the Golden Gophers will ride their sophomore quarterback Phillip Nelson the rest of the way after pulling his redshirt midway through the 2012 season.
Nelson will have to grow up quickly if his team wants to have a chance to knock off the Badgers in this late-season matchup. Minnesota is losing its best player and coming off a season in which its best win was at home against Syracuse, although the Gophers almost managed to take down Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The most success for Minnesota seems to come early in the season, and this game takes place in late November in a game that will probably have implications for both teams—a possible bowl berth for the Gophers and a run at a conference title for the Badgers.
It's been a one-sided rivalry as of late, and Wisconsin seems to take the battle for the axe a lot more seriously than Minnesota. Even with the game taking place at TCF Bank Stadium, the Badgers will return Paul Bunyan's axe and remain on track to reach a prestigious bowl game.
This could wind up being the game of the Big Ten conference season.
Penn State, a football program with three years of postseason sanctions remaining, was supposed to be an afterthought when it came to putting together a competitive football team during that time period. All it did was go 8-4 last season, and it followed that up with a top 25 recruiting class.
That's a testament to Bill O'Brien and the way he has turned a dire situation in Happy Valley into a positive one. Even though the Nittany Lions lose quarterback Matt McGloin and can't win the Big Ten, they can try and stop the Badgers from doing so.
Penn State has solid weapons in the passing game with Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, but Wisconsin's emotions will be running high on Senior Day with revenge on the mind. It will be interesting to see how 4-star quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg is used, if at all, next season, but assuming he isn't the second coming of Dan Marino, the Badgers narrowly take this one.
In Bret Bielema's first season as head coach at Wisconsin in 2006, the Badgers went 11-1 during the regular season. That's exactly how we project Gary Andersen's opening act to play out later this year.
When you look at the schedule, it plays out favorably for the Badgers, even with a couple of challenging non-conference games on the slate. Wisconsin doesn't have to play Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska, possibly the three best teams in the Legends Division.
Keep in mind that Wisconsin didn't lose a game by more than seven points in 2012. They were this close to winning the Rose Bowl and turning a dismal year into a special one, and some good fortune will return to Madison next season with the arrival of Andersen and more stability at the quarterback position, whether it's Tanner McEvoy, Joel Stave or Bart Houston at the helm.
Will Ohio State take the Leaders Division and go on to win the Big Ten? Perhaps, but Wisconsin could potentially land a BCS bowl berth by only dropping one game during the regular season.
Final Record: 11-1