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MnB B1G Preview: Wisconsin's potential run through the West

A West division in the Big Ten is ripe for the picking, and the Badgers will still be poised to take another shot at the conference title.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

After winning nine games in 2013, the Badgers lost yet another bowl game to finish the season. Wisconsin hasn't won a bowl game since beating the Miami Hurricanes 20-14 back in 2009. Since then they've had three consecutive Rose Bowl losses and then gave up 438 yards to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl presented by Some Big Company. Does their 2014 schedule keep them at the front of the pack in 2014?

8/30 LSU (in Dallas)

You just never know what to expect when you go up against the Mad Hatter, so this could be fun. Wisconsin ranked 9th in the country in rushing yards per game (283.8), while the Tigers were 8th in stopping the run (101.62). The key here is the LSU rush defense; they kinda had some problems with teams who liked to run in 2013. Against Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama, the Tigers allowed 622 yards on the ground. With Wisconsin being the better defensive team overall, and certainly the better team on the ground, this could be an exciting match-up--and whether you're a Wisconsin fan or not, it would be great for a Big Ten team to beat the snot out of an SEC team. It's just too bad it couldn't be in Madison.

9/6 Western Illinois

The Leathernecks have been offering themselves up to the Big Ten gods for a few years now, and there's no reason to think that they'll be even remotely competitive in Camp Randall. I mean, even Purdue beat the Leathernecks...but by only ten points in 2010!

9/20 Bowling Green

Dave Clawson had a 7-6 first season as the head coach in 2009, but went 2-10 the following year. His teams steadily improved after that, going 5-7, 8-5, and 10-3. Clawson was promptly hired by Wake Forest, opening the way for Dino Babers. In two years at the helm at Eastern Illinois, Babers won two conference titles. So it seems that Bowling Green is going to be a decent team, but even decent teams lose.

9/27 South Florida

Remember when South Florida was a team making a pretty good run? If I remember correctly they had reached the #2 spot in 2007. That was a long time ago. After a relatively successful 8-5 season in 2010 the Bulls have won 5, 3, and 2 games in the years since. The Bulls are now on their second coach since 2010; Willie Taggart moved over from Western Kentucky, and the team bumbled their way to the two-win season in 2013. This one could be ugly.

10/4 @ Northwestern

Those pesky Wildcats! Northwestern is 4-4 against Wisconsin since 2000, and I can't think of a team that gives folks in Madison more fits than those dudes in purple. In fact, a fellow at work was talking about how awesome Wisconsin will be this year, so I mentioned this game. He just stared at me. I'm pretty sure I saw a tear and clenched fists.

10/11 Illinois

Great, another excuse for people from Illinois to come to Wisconsin and muck up the driving situation with their super-fast driving and disregard for all other rules of the road. That's not the only thing they'll screw up this particular weekend; the Badgers' defense just won't allow Wes Lunt and a potentially potent offense to gain much. Wisconsin should end this quickly so all of the FIBs can get back home.

10/25 Maryland

With a -7 turnover margin last year, the Terps had some issues holding onto the ball. A rebuilding Wisconsin defense may be able to turnover the Terps and keep their distance on the scoreboard. The Terps have talent on offense by way of guys like C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs, so even though the Badgers will win, it may be closer than the diehards would like to see.

11/1 @ Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights had the fourth-ranked rush defense. What?! Yeah, that's right. But wait; heading into 2014, it appears as though no one likes Rutgers' chances to do anything other than lose. Welcome to the B1G!

11/8 @ Purdue

In the most shocking development of 2014, the Wisconsin Badgers will walk into West Lafayette cocky and confident that they will beat Purdue into the ground. The Boilermakers will come out inspired and will shock the Badgers by...still losing, but only by a touchdown. Okay, not really, but I tried to say something nice 'bout them Boilers.

11/15 Nebraska

539. That's how many yards Nebraska gave up to the Badgers the last time they played. That's a poop-load of yards. Both teams are returning top-ten rushers from last year in Ameer Abdullah (9th) and Melvin Gordon (10th). Wisconsin ranked 5th in run defense, while the Huskers were ranked 19th in rushing in 2013. For the Huskers to win, they'll need a mistake-free game on the road.

11/22 @ Iowa

I think Iowa has a chance to be a very good team next year, which is going to make this game pretty exciting. It's hard for me to admit that they'll be a good team, so I'll just let that link speak for itself and move on.

11/29 Minnesota

The Gophers haven't beaten the Badgers since 2003 and only four times since I graduated from high school...21 years ago. As someone who "moonlights as a Minnesota fan" as Big House Jack has said of me, that stat hurts my insides. But, Kill and Co. are doing their best to become contenders. With last year's good run and a win over Nebraska, no one should feel safe in the West. Minnesota may not be a powerhouse, but they do have the talent on the field and on the sideline to make themselves a legitimate threat.

The Outlook

  • Sure Thing -- Western Illinois, South Florida, Bowling Green, Purdue
  • Probable -- Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota
  • Toss-up -- LSU, Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa

Without go-to receiver Jared Abbrederis pulling in everything that comes within his event horizon, Joel Stave will need to be as solid as they come with a receiving corps that also lost Jacob Pedersen; you can still expect Tanner McEvoy to get his shot to lead the Badgers at some point. Ten wins and a potential shot at the Big Ten title seems a probable path for Wisconsin. When it comes right down to it, the game against Iowa on November 22 will be the most important one on the schedule, with Nebraska close behind. The Hawkeyes and Badgers will be at the top of the pack in the West, with the winner taking a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. Even if the Badgers were to be stunned by the Gophers to end the season, a win against Iowa will be the one to make the season either a success or a failure. A strong showing and win against LSU to start the season, and Wisconsin could go on a nice little tear.