In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale runs past Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber in Lincoln, Neb.
Nati Harnik/Associated Press/AP
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin could have a better team than it did in 2015. And a worse record.
The schedule is that brutal for the Badgers.
LSU. Michigan State. Michigan. Ohio State. And that’s just within the season’s first six games.
The Badgers, who finished 10-3 last season have heard the whispers, and they’re embracing the challenge.
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"A lot of people are counting us out. They’re saying our schedule is pretty tough," said running back Dare Ogunbowale. "We look on it as an opportunity to do some special things."
The talent is certainly there at Camp Randall Stadium in Paul Chyrst’s second year as head coach.
The backfield is loaded with the senior duo of Ogunbowale and Corey Clement leading the way. The offensive line figures to take a step up after injuries plagued the unit last season, forcing Wisconsin to rely heavily on younger players.
Wisconsin is looking for a new starting quarterback with Joel Stave gone, but either Bart Houston or Alex Hornibrook should benefit from having a year to study the system run by the offensive-minded Chryst.
On defense, the linebacking corps could be one of the Big Ten’s best, led by outside `backer Vince Biegel.
"He’s got great pass rush, he’s got great strike. He is instinctive," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "He’s got a lot of ability as a football player."
Biegel and his teammates will have to withstand the rigors of Wisconsin’s toughest schedule in years.
The final six games begin with a trip to Iowa and a night home game against Nebraska. November starts with a trip to Northwestern, which is always a tough place for the Badgers.
Six wins in the opening nine-game gauntlet of 2016 could be considered a smashing success for Wisconsin.
"We’re not looking at it like, `Damn, this is going to be a hard year,’" offensive lineman Dan Voltz said. "We’re looking at it as we have a lot of opportunities to beat a lot of good teams and set ourselves up to have a fantastic season."
Some other nuggets and notes on the Badgers:
Wilcox, the former Southern California defensive coordinator, has promised not to make major changes to the 3-4 scheme, though the Badgers do have to replace three starters in the secondary, including both safeties.
Clement is looking to rebound from a tough 2015 season, when he was limited by a sports hernia and the aftereffects of surgery, as well as an off-field issue in November. The spotlight isn’t as bright on Clement this preseason, and he won’t be needed to handle a big workload with Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal also likely to get snaps. But Clement, by far, is Wisconsin’s most explosive runner. A healthy, productive Clement will help an offense that will get a new starting quarterback.
Houston and the left-handed Hornibrook were competing to take over as the next signal-caller for the steady Stave, a four-year starter. Houston, a senior, as more experience than Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman.
"But the bottom line is that we have to get both Bart and Alex ready to play because one will be the starter and one will be one play away from being that guy," Chryst said.
The season starts with LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The Badgers also get the Buckeyes at night on Oct. 15 at what should be an especially raucous Camp Randall Stadium.
Sept. 3 at Lambeau against the Tigers is a marquee showdown on the first weekend of the season. Former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda makes his debut in the same job with LSU after leaving for Baton Rouge in the offseason.