The Wisconsin Badgers only just concluded their 2009 season, but many Badger fans (myself included) are already looking forward to the 2010 season. And why shouldn't we? With their returning starters (especially on offense), Wisconsin looks like they will be as good or better than last year's version.
Not only do they have a great team coming back, but their schedule is also very favorable and a BCS bowl is certainly in the picture. Here's a very early preview of their 2010 schedule and how things could play out next season.
Wisconsin opens the 2010 season in Sin City with a bout against the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. Although UNLV certainly isn't a powerhouse in the Mountain West, this game could pose problems for Wisconsin.
The Rebels have a high-powered offense that averaged almost 25 points during their 5-7 2009 campaign. Wisconsin's defense may be rusty to begin the year and a good offense could take advantage of that. There's also the fact that this game is on the road and the last time Wisconsin played in Las Vegas, in 2007, UNLV almost pulled the upset. Only a late Tyler Donovan touchdown scramble preserved the win for Wisconsin.
That said, last year's Rebels gave up 32 points a game. An early-season shootout could be in the works.
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Doing battle in the WAC, the San Jose State Spartans were one of the worst FBS teams in the nation last year. They finished the season at 2-10 and many of their losses weren't even close, including a 62-7 loss to Nevada.
They had little offense and even less defense and unless they improve drastically over the course of the offseason, Wisconsin's home opener shouldn't be close.
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Wisconsin's only premier non-conference game of the 2010 season comes in the form of a Week Three matchup against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Arizona State, coming off a disappointing 4-8 season, will be a good challenge for Wisconsin nonetheless. They don't score a ton of points, and are losing their starting quarterback, running back, and both receivers. However, they have a stingy defense that held USC to only 14 points last year.
The Devils should be a good test for Wisconsin as they head into their Big Ten schedule.
As has been the case for the past three years, Wisconsin once again has an FCS team on their schedule.
In 2010, the Badgers welcome the Austin Peay Governors of the Ohio Valley Conference for their last non-conference game of the season. Austin Peay finished 2009 with a 4-7 record, so naturally you would assume that the Badgers would wipe the floor with the Governors.
However, the Badgers have had some significant troubles against some of their past FCS opponents, including being taken to overtime against Cal Poly in 2008.
Photo courtesy of apsu.edu.
If Wisconsin hasn't determined the quality of their defense by the Big Ten opener, they'll find out when they head to East Lansing.
Michigan State, coming off a 6-7 season, will be looking to compete for a Big Ten title after a disappointing 2009 campaign that saw multiple players suspended for their bowl game against Texas Tech.
Although the Spartans' defense is lacking, their offense certainly isn't. Led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, Michigan State put up almost 30 points a game last year and 2010 shouldn't be any different.
As was the case in 2009 (UW 38-MSU 30), this one could be a shootout.
Despite having what looked to be one of their best teams in recent memory, Minnesota is coming off a discouraging 2009 season. With their loss to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl, the Gophers finished below .500, something they certainly didn't anticipate going into the year.
In 2010, Minnesota will be without star wide receiver Eric Decker and quarterback Adam Weber will be need to find a different target to throw to. Weber is coming off a year in which he threw 15 interceptions with only 13 touchdowns, so he will certainly have his work cut out for him without his main target.
However, no matter the difference in quality between the two teams, the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe always comes down to the wire, and you can expect that to be the case once again in 2010.
With two potential undefeated teams doing battle, this game could possibly be one of Wisconsin's most important games in years. That is assuming, of course, that the Badgers are 6-0 at this point.
Whatever the case, when Ohio State comes to Madison on Oct. 16, Camp Randall Stadium will be one of the loudest and rowdiest places in the country. In 2008, the Buckeyes came to Wisconsin and managed to sneak out with a win after Terrelle Pryor's last-minute heroics.
With BCS hopes on the line, this game will probably have huge implications for both teams. OSU's immovable defense against Wisconsin's unstoppable offense. Although it's too early to tell, this matchup looks like it could be a game for the ages.
While the Week Seven matchup against Ohio State could have enormous implications, a win would make the following week's game against Iowa even bigger. Iowa also has the potential to come into this game undefeated, with many of their defensive stars returning for 2010.
Wisconsin has had anything but success in Iowa City and going against a potential top five team in the Hawkeyes makes it that much more difficult.
When I looked ahead to the 2010 schedule and saw this game, it was the only one where I said to myself "Wisconsin is probably going to lose this game." This two week stretch will go a long way in determining Wisconsin's Big Ten chances, that's for sure.
After a bye in Week Nine, the Badgers will head to West Lafayette to take on an up-and-coming Purdue squad that finished 2009 5-7 despite an atrocious start.
Wisconsin absolutely destroyed the Boilermakers in 2009, but that was in Madison. It's never an easy task beating Purdue at their place. Just ask Ohio State.
Purdue's offense will challenge the Badger 'D,' but luckily the Boilers may still be adjusting to a new quarterback after the departure of Joey Elliott. The Wisconsin defensive backs better keep a close watch on wide receiver Keith Smith, who finished 2009 with 91 catches and six touchdowns.
Probably the worst team in the Big Ten in 2009, Indiana can go virtually nowhere but up. The Hoosiers finished 1-7 in the Big Ten, with their only win coming against Illinois.
However, they do return much of their offensive production, including quarterback Ben Chappell (17 TDs) and running back Darius Willis (690 yards).
Wisconsin just squeaked by Indiana in 2009, 31-28, but I don't see this one being that close.
After two disappointing seasons under Rich Rodriquez, the Wolverines will be looking to rebound in 2010. A bowl invitation would be an accomplishment for this team, though with the Big Ten looking pretty strong next year, that's anything but a guarantee.
Although Wisconsin matches up better on paper than Michigan, they've always had trouble in Michigan Stadium. The last time the Badgers were in Ann Arbor, in 2008, they blew a 19-0 halftime lead en route to the loss that basically sent their season into the gutter. Wisconsin should certainly be wary of this game, despite how Michigan may stack up.
Coming off one of their most successful seasons in recent memory, Northwestern will have somewhat of a rebuilding year in 2010. The Wildcats lose quarterback Mike Kafka and their top two receivers to graduation after they led the team to an 8-5 record in 2009.
The 2010 team will still be competitive, but they won't have the firepower that last year's squad did. The Badgers fell to Northwestern last year, but that was in Evanston. Home-field advantage plus the fact that the Wildcats should be a weaker team give the edge to Wisconsin.