With a stacked East, the Big Ten has one of the best divisions in college football. That’s just fine with the Wisconsin Badgers, who have owned the other half of the league and are favored to win the West again. As the East cycles through division winners, the Badgers are always at the top of the West, looking for their third division crown in four seasons. They weren’t expected to win it last season faced with a difficult schedule, but Bucky romped to 11 wins only to fall to Penn State in Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers have played in four of the six conference title games, but have come up empty in the last two.
2016 Record: 11-3 SU, 9-4-1 ATS, 6-8 O/U
2017 Regular Season Win Total: 10.5
National Championship Odds: +2500
Odds To Win Big Ten: +280
Faced with a schedule that included a non-conference tilt with LSU and cross-over games with Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, nobody was expecting the Badgers to put together an 11-win season. But that’s exactly what they did and they leaned on one of the best defenses in the country to produce their win total.
It all started with an upset of LSU in the opener. A 12.5-point underdog heading in, the Badgers stymied Leonard Fournette and the Tigers pulling out a 16-14 win. Fournette did get 138 yards on the ground, but the Badgers did everything else right in limiting LSU to 257 total yards. The defense was awesome all season ranking third nationally in rush yards allowed, fourth in points per game allowed and seventh in total yards. The group made up for many deficiencies on the offensive end.
Bucky rolled through its West counterparts, not losing a game within the division, and its only three losses on the season came against the East’s top teams, all by a touchdown. The Badgers saw their four-game win streak to open the season end with a 14-7 loss at Michigan and they fell 30-23 in overtime to Ohio State the next week. They ran the table to claim the West, only to fall to Penn State 38-31 in the Big Ten Championship. It was the only time all season they allowed more than 20 points in a regulation game.
The path to another West Division title got a little easier when the schedule came out. Michigan State and Ohio State are replaced with Indiana and Maryland, and there’s no top-10 team to deal with in the non-conference slate. Now all the Badgers have to do is go out and win those games.
The defense was the backbone last season and the unit suffered some serious losses. Sack leader T.J. Watt and interception leader Leo Musso are gone, and Paul Chryst is working with his third different defensive coordinator in as many seasons after Justin Wilcox departed for the head job at Cal. The group has plenty of assets for Jim Leonhard to work with and should make the transition a smooth one. The front seven remains loaded, led by Jack Cichy, who looks to fill the shoes of Watt on the outside.
With eight starters returning, the offense should be able to carry its weight. The Badgers got back to being the running team it’s known for last season, but still fell below its threshold. They averaged 203 yards to finish 39th in the country, but they’ve been much higher. Keep an eye on Pitt transfer Chris James, who followed Chryst to UW and sat out last season. He and Bradrick Shaw will split carries as they look to return Bucky to its ground churning ways behind a huge offensive line. The passing game doesn’t need to be lethal, just threatening. Alex Hornibrook made nine starts last year throwing for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns. He has the top two receivers back in Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli.
Week 1: Wisconsin vs. Utah State, Friday, September 1
Week 2: Wisconsin vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday, September 9
Week 3: Wisconsin, at BYU, Saturday, September 16
Week 4: OFF
Week 5: Wisconsin vs. Northwestern, Saturday, September 30
Week 6: Wisconsin at Nebraska, Saturday, October 7
Week 7: Wisconsin vs. Purdue, Saturday, October 14
Week 8: Wisconsin, vs. Maryland, Saturday, October 21
Week 9: Wisconsin at Illinois, Saturday, October 28
Week 10: Wisconsin at Indiana, Saturday, November 4
Week 11: Wisconsin vs. Iowa, Saturday, November 11
Week 12: Wisconsin vs. Michigan, Saturday, November 18
Week 13: Wisconsin at Minnesota, Saturday, November 25
|SEC Conference||Big 10 Conference|
|ACC Conference||Big 12 Conference|
|Pac 12 Conference||Big East Conference|
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