A year after steamrolling through one of the toughest schedules in college football, the Wisconsin Badgers should have an easier path this year. Just one of the three teams to beat the Badgers last year is on the schedule this time around, but a potentially nasty nonconference matchup with BYU and road games against Nebraska and Minnesota should make for compelling football. Read on for our FOX Sports Wisconsin's ranking of the Badgers' 2017 opponents.
12. Oct. 28 at Illinois
The Illini took a step back on both sides of the ball in their first season under head coach Lovie Smith, winning just two games after winning five in 2015. Illinois returns just eight starters, and shouldn’t present many problems for the Badgers.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
11. Sept. 9 vs. Florida Atlantic
Owls head coach Lane Kiffin gives this matchup a little more flavor than you’d expect. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson joins the team after being dismissed at Florida State. Sophomore Devin Singletary and senior Greg Howell lead the Owls’ backfield, and could do some damage on the ground.
USA TODAY SportsScott Sewell
10. Sept. 1 vs. Utah State
Senior quarterback Kent Myers and senior running back Tonny Lindsey return to lead the Aggies a year after going 3-9. Lindsey averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns last season, while Myers threw for 2,389 yards. An inexperienced defensive line could lead to plenty of rushing opportunities for Bradrick Shaw and Chris James.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Swinger
9. Oct. 21 vs. Maryland
Ty Johnson was a 1,000-yard rusher last season behind a strong offensive line. He set a school record last year, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, while then-freshman Lorenzo Harrison averaged 7.2 yards per attempt. Maryland went 3-6 in the Big Ten in their first season under D.J. Durkin, making the Quick Lane Bowl.
8. Oct. 14 vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers’ brass hired former Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm in December to help guide Purdue into the future, part of a new commitment to revitalizing their football program. Junior David Blough threw for 3,352 passing yards and 25 touchdowns last season, and returns alongside a group of talented running backs. The Badgers have 11 straight wins against Purdue.
Associated PressMichael Conroy
7. Nov. 11 vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes won eight games a season ago and fell 30-3 in the Outback Bowl, but rivalries are rivalries, and it’s hard not to get pumped up for a meeting with the Hawkeyes in Madison. The attack is led by new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who has the unenviable task of replacing C.J. Beathard. Junior Tyler Wiegers and sophomore Nathan Stanley will compete for the starting job. They’ll have help in the form of last year’s top-rated offensive line and star running back Akrum Wadley.
USA TODAY SportsAaron Doster
6. Nov. 4 at Indiana
Quarterback Richard Lagow was one of the Big Ten’s most productive passers last season. The support they’ll get from the run game is in question however, after two-time 1,000-yard rusher Devine Redding left for the NFL. Turnovers were a problem for Indiana last season, and capitalizing on those miscues will be key for Wisconsin.
Associated PressDarron Cummings
5. Nov. 25 at Minnesota
The addition of sparkplug coach P.J. Fleck elevates this game. Fleck's bombastic personality is reason enough to tune in, but his Gophers are a legitimately intriguing group that is perhaps a few years away from making some noise. Running back Rodney Smith is a contender to lead the conference in rushing after racking up 1,158 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last year, while Shannon Brooks averaged 4.7 yards per carry. A young defense and a big vacancy at quarterback are major holes for Fleck to fill, but you can bet that Mr. Row the Boat himself has a spot cleared on his mantle (next to all those oars) for Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Associated PressStacy Bengs
4. Sept. 30 vs. Northwestern
Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats may not be a traditional Big Ten power, but these 'Cats are built to be a surprise competitor in the Big Ten West. Quarterback Clayton Thorson returns alongside running back Justin Jackson, who has rushed for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. NU has experience on both their offensive and defensive lines, while the receiving and defensive back corps return almost fully intact. Taken together, the Wildcats' mixture of experience and talent -- coupled with a tendency to show up for games against the Badgers -- should be a little worrying for Wisconsin fans.
USA TODAY SportsJerry Lai
3. Oct. 7 vs. Nebraska
The Badgers could very realistically be 4-0 by the time this game rolls around, lending some extra stakes to a battle between these Big Ten powers. Tanner Lee is both the biggest question mark on the team and its potential salvation. A transfer from Tulane, Lee has drawn rave reviews this summer and will be called upon to lead an offense that lost three of its top four receivers and its leading rusher from last year. Former Connecticut boss Bob Diaco is here to shake up the Cornhuskers’ defense.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
2. Sept. 16 at BYU
The Badgers are the third top-25 opponent in a string of early challenges for BYU, who face LSU and Utah before hosting Wisconsin. The Cougars went 9-4 a year ago but lost all four games by three points or fewer, suggesting that there is perhaps more to this team than an appearance in the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl. Jamaal Williams, BYU’s all-time leading rusher, is gone, and will be reportedly be replaced by a committee early on.
1. Nov. 18 vs. Michigan
It doesn't get much bigger than this in Madison. Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines (and his khakis) come to town, and while this is a younger group, but they still have the potential to win 10 games. Last year’s top-ranked defense lost 10 starters, including Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers and star cornerback Chris Wormley, while on the other side of the ball receivers Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are gone too.