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Key stretch: Wisconsin Badgers

We'll be neck deep in college football soon enough. In the meantime, we need conversation starters. So for the past week, we've been taking a closer look at the schedules for each team in the Big Ten, identifying the most critical stretches, explaining their importance and predicting the outcomes.

Up next: Wisconsin

Key stretch: Iowa on Oct. 3, at Nebraska on Oct. 10, Purdue on Oct. 17, at Illinois on Oct. 24

Breakdown: After the Sept. 5 opener against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, the Badgers’ schedule looks manageable. Yes, Paul Chryst’s first team faces fellow Big Ten West contenders Nebraska and Minnesota on the road. But its East Division foes, Rutgers and Maryland, while bowl teams a year ago ... well, they’re not Ohio State and Michigan State.

Unless Wisconsin gets to Indianapolis on Dec. 5, it won’t play on consecutive weeks all season against teams that won more than seven games in 2014.

The format of this topic won’t allow me to pick Nov. 28 -- and that day alone in Minneapolis -- as the Badgers’ key stretch. For the record, I believe it will rate as the game of the year in the division. I’ve already insulted Rutgers and Maryland, so that two-game stretch is out, which leaves a four-week run of games that starts the first weekend of October.

Iowa played Wisconsin close last season, and its physical style is not ideal the week before a visit to Lincoln. As long as Corey Clement doesn’t shred the Huskers like his predecessor, the Badgers may leave Memorial Stadium a bit bruised and bloodied. Purdue showed improvement last season, playing competitively at Michigan State and Minnesota. And Illinois on the road, in the eighth week of 10 games without a bye to open the season, could offer a trap.

Prediction: 3-1. Wisconsin will stumble somewhere in October. Most likely, it'll happen at Nebraska. The Huskers won in Lincoln in 2012, sandwiched between blowout losses to the Badgers, so there’s a precedent for Nebraska to move quickly past the 59-24 loss last season in Madison. First-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley is a longtime mentor to Chryst, but it will probably mean next to nothing when they meet in October. The Badgers figure to enter the month in full stride, and Iowa is trending down. That’s a Wisconsin win. Purdue, despite what I wrote above, isn’t ready to win at Camp Randall. Illinois is the wild card here, a candidate to catch the Badgers at a bad moment, though Wisconsin’s strong secondary matches well against Wes Lunt and the Illini.