When the Badgers run out onto the field Saturday to face Michigan State, will they be ready?
For years now, the Wisconsin Badgers have been scheduling weak out-of-conference games to powder puff their way into Big Ten conference play.
Some would argue this hasn't been beneficial.
The other day, I was listening to a Bill Simmons "B.S. Report" podcast, and one of his guests picked their Super Bowl teams, suggesting that one of them would be 9-7 or 10-6 on the NFL season, and sneak in as a lower seed and blow everyone away.
Now, why was it he reckoned that the low seeded team would blow everyone away? He predicts that the teams who would normally go about 11-5 or so, that face a tough schedule, will lose a few games due to the grind of their year.
He also suggests that the team will be better prepared for the later season games and the playoffs, if they have a tougher schedule, provided that they get through their schedule and into the playoffs.
Simple enough argument, right?
It's not hard to see where Simmons' guest is coming from, either.
Just a few years ago, the New York Giants ran through the playoffs and beat the "Best Team in the NFL", the 18-0 (including playoffs) New England Patriots in the Super Bowl which was one of the biggest upsets of all time.
Why is it that the 10-6 Giants, who started the 2007 season 6-2, and stumbled into the playoffs going 4-4 the remainder of the year, were so able to perform against the Patriots, while other teams failed?
Strength of schedule, which is beaten to death in college football discussion shows, will illustrate this nicely.
The Giants' opponent record that season?
Tied for the eight hardest in the NFL, at .514 percent winning percentage by the season opponents.
Simmons' guest believes that the Giants played better teams, and lost games they would have won against weaker teams, and were better off for it.
In the college football world, there are two schools of thought.
Either schedule the Weak Kneed Nuns of Holy Father Seminary Catholic School, and win by 80, or you could spend these early games in the season playing legitimate teams who could challenge and push players to earn every yard, score, or tackle.
I'm not in any position to pass judgment on others here, but that's exactly what I'm about to do.
The University of Wisconsin Athletic Department and Barry Alvarez need to start scheduling real tests for the Badgers in out of conference play.
The Badgers proved very little in beating Austin Peay 70-3, the largest win in school history.
What did the team learn, besides the fact that you could put up numbers found only playing the video game NCAA Football 11?
Nothing, because the team was on autopilot from the first snap.
Look, I'm not saying for Wisconsin to schedule Alabama, Texas, Boise State as your out-of-conference tune up games.
More accurately, I'm suggesting the staff in the Athletic Department at UW should consider better opponents.
Maybe schedule a team like Connecticut, a team who is for the most part turning their team around.
Or schedule LSU or another SEC team to get some early respect in the polls. LSU, because they aren't exactly title contenders like a few years back, but they are still a respectable team in the tough SEC.
The Badgers played four teams this out of conference season, totaling a combined record of 6-10 this season.
Yeah, that's going to impress a whole bunch of people.
Especially when you tell them that not a single team you've played so far has a winning record, and that you've nearly lost twice.
I understand the need to beat up on smaller schools. Fine. How about actually doing it though?
The Badgers should have been winning by 20-plus points in all of their out-of-conference games, but struggled to get in rhythm at times, and the running game hasn't been as dominant as expected coming into the season.
Sure, John Clay and Co. are doing well with running the ball, but I'd have expected bigger numbers against such soft competition.
This should be a cautionary tale, as the Badgers enter Big Ten play against Michigan State on Saturday.
It'll be their first real test of the season, and I'm assuming the coaching staff doesn't want to have unpreparedness rear its ugly head in the first important game.
To be fair, the Badgers have had some significant injuries this season, with Chris Borland, a stud linebacker out for the rest of the season and quarterback Scott Tolzien not having two of his better passing options in Nick Toon and David Gilreath, the latter being out again for this week.
However, that means other players need to step up and make their presence felt in the absence of these players.
The lack of a player stepping into their shoes and making an impact should be a concern for the Badgers.
Back to the main point though. If the Badgers want to do well in conference and bowl week play, they better start scheduling (and playing better against) tougher opponents.
For coach Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers, the 2010 season is really starting this Saturday.
If the team has any hopes of going far this year and ascending the ranks of the elite teams in the BCS standings, they better start playing like BCS contenders, or they'll do as they've always done; start the season hot, and limp to the finish line.