Big Ten West Could Be Wisconsin's To Lose in 2014
After the Big Ten announced that it was adding Maryland and Rutgers as its 13th and 14th members, the conference also decided to approve divisional realignment for football, discarding the "Leaders" and "Legends" divisions in favor of geographical "East" and "West" divisions.
The West Division will consist of Purdue, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin, while the East Division will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
When you look at where each of these programs stand heading into 2014, there’s no questions that the East Division is far superior to the West, leaving the door wide open for the Badgers to potentially reach their third Big Ten Championship Game in four years.
Though Wisconsin kicks off its season in a highly anticipated showdown against LSU in Houston, the rest of its schedule isn’t nearly as grueling. In fact, the Badgers’ conference schedule will be the easiest in the Big Ten.
Their eight conference opponents had a combined record of 22-42 (.343) in conference play last season, which is great news for a Wisconsin team that has a few glaring holes to fill before they take the field at Reliant Stadium to take on Les Miles’ Tigers.
In addition to playing their six fellow members of the Big Ten West, the Badgers will also face off against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. This means they will avoid going up against four of the conference’s best teams that are in the Big Ten East: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.
This isn’t to say that Wisconsin’s conference schedule will be a cakewalk, because that will never be the case, regardless of what eight teams from the Big Ten they are playing in a particular year. They will still have to take on a couple of very solid teams that figure to be in the mix for the Big Ten West title as well, being Nebraska and Iowa.
After welcoming the Cornhuskers into Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin is 61-7 (.897) since 2004, on November 15, the Badgers will travel to Kinnick Stadium on November 22 to go up against the rival Hawkeyes. These two teams have each won four games in the series since they started playing for the Heartland Trophy in 2004, though Wisconsin has won the previous two, both of which were played in Iowa City.
So despite all the questions about player personnel (choosing a starting quarterback, finding a consistent kicker, identifying legitimate receiving options), the road to a Big Ten championship isn’t as daunting as it could have been for the Badgers.
Nobody is handing them the division title yet, especially considering that Iowa and Nebraska have the second- and third-easiest conference schedules, respectively, but that doesn’t mean Wisconsin fans shouldn’t have high hopes for Gary Andersen and his team entering the 2014 season.