The Big Ten wins their third selection on our list—tops for any conference.
Apparently, the Big Ten teams are taking a queue from their SEC counterparts, and Wisconsin is this season's best example.
The Badgers open 2011 with a game against the Rebels of UNLV. The University of Nevada basically pins its football hopes on their Reno campus, not their Las Vegas campus, as the Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels went just 2-10 last season—a far cry from Nevada-Reno's 13-1, which included a thrilling overtime win against Boise State.
UNLV hasn't seen a winning season or bowl game since 2000, and since that time, UNLV has finished the season with two wins five times, and with never more than six wins (once, in 2003).
Wisconsin, the defending Big Ten co-champions, host Oregon State in week two. While the Beavers aren't the worst of all possible opponents, they are nowhere near the top of anyone's list of good teams from good conferences. In fact, Oregon State's claim to fame over the past few seasons is the fact that once in a great while they seem to pull an improbably win out of thin air, and upset conference favorites (such as their 2008 win over USC). But Oregon State has been complete unable to find any sustained success or any sense of consistency over the past two seasons, and 2010 definitely had the Beavers headed in the wrong direction, finishing with a 5-7 record.
Wisconsin's third opponent for 2011 is from the MAC. The Big Ten currently has a contract with the MAC that states each Big Ten team will play at least one MAC team each season. While that usually means guaranteed wins for the Big Ten, Wisconsin gets a fraction of a brownie point this season, as they drew Northern Illinois. The Huskies are favored again this season in the MAC-West, and are coming off of an impressive 11-3 2010 season.
Still, we're talking about a MAC team that was 11-3 going up against the defending Big Ten champion. Wisconsin will win this game, but at least the match up doesn't quite feel as pitiful as the others.
If you think that means Wisconsin is out of the woods in terms of weak opponents, you're sorely mistaken. The Badgers have a fourth-straight week of sub-par opponents, when they welcome in FCS South Dakota.
The USD Coyotes were 4-7 last season in just their third season in the FCS after making the jump from Division II. South Dakota is so new to the FCS that in 2011 they will still play one Division II and two NAIA programs. Yet last season they still only managed four wins (of course, one of them was against Minnesota, which is either really great for South Dakota, or really bad for Minnesota—probably both).
The Sept. 24 meeting between the Badgers and Coyotes could end up being one of those games where no one feels good about themselves afterward, as Wisconsin should win this game by 70 points, and the strength, speed and size differential between the two sets of players will be staggering.
Wisconsin's horribly weak scheduling of what we'll call three-and-a-half programs far below the level of play Wisconsin is expected to reach in 2011 is the reason they're at the top of our list of teams that really do play a 2011 preseason college football schedule.