Key stretch: Wisconsin

Fourth in a series that looks at stretches of games that can make or break the 2010 season for Big Ten teams.

Next up, Wisconsin.

Key stretch: at Michigan State (Oct. 2), Minnesota (Oct. 9), Ohio State (Oct. 16), at Iowa (Oct. 23)

Breakdown: Can Wisconsin take the next step in 2010 and put itself among the nation's elite? We should find out once Big Ten play begins. The Badgers should have little trouble starting 3-0, but they'll be tested at the start of the league schedule. A trip to Michigan State won't be easy, as the Spartans beat Wisconsin in East Lansing in 2008. Wisconsin then takes on rival Minnesota, a team that needs to win a trophy game in the worst way. Those Minnesota players don't want to go through their entire careers without ever hoisting Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin then faces fellow Big Ten frontrunners Ohio State and Iowa in consecutive weeks, and Bret Bielema's team really struggled offensively against both the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes last year. If Wisconsin wants to put itself in position for the Rose Bowl, it can't afford more than one loss during the stretch and has to beat either Ohio State or Iowa.

Prediction: The Wisconsin coaches and the team's veterans remember what happened in 2008. The team earned preseason accolades, started 3-0 and surged into the top 10. Then Wisconsin went to the state of Michigan, blew a big lead in the Big House and never fully recovered. Sound familiar? The Michigan State trip absolutely huge for Wisconsin, and the Badgers will need a complete performance to beat an improved Spartans team. I like Wisconsin to start 2-0 during the stretch, but the last two games will be very tough. Wisconsin is dominant at Camp Randall Stadium, but Ohio State's recent run of Big Ten dominance has been built on impressive road wins. A rivalry game against Iowa follows, and the Badgers need a healthy John Clay and better play from the secondary against Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes. I don't see Wisconsin sweeping the stretch, but 3-1 isn't a bad bet.

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