2011 schedule analysis: Wisconsin

Let's continue the breakdown of each Big Ten team's 2011 schedule with the Wisconsin Badgers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 1: UNLV (2-11)

Sept. 10: Oregon State (5-7)

Sept. 17: vs. Northern Illinois (11-3)

Sept. 24: South Dakota (4-7)

Leaders division games

Oct. 15: Indiana

Oct. 29: at Ohio State

Nov. 5: Purdue

Nov. 19: at Illinois

Nov. 26: Penn State

Crossover games

Oct. 1: Nebraska

Oct. 22: at Michigan State

Nov. 12: at Minnesota (protected)

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Gut-check game: At Michigan State. Although the Nebraska game will provide Wisconsin with a good barometer, the Badgers must show they can win tough games on the road. Wisconsin's only regular-season loss in 2010 came at Spartan Stadium, and this contest provides the first true road test for new starting quarterback Jon Budmayr. A trip to Ohio State looms the next week, so Wisconsin needs to end its recent struggles in East Lansing.

Trap game: Purdue. This falls between Wisconsin's showdown against Ohio State and its Nov. 12 rivalry matchup on the road against Minnesota. The Badgers eviscerated Purdue 37-0 the last time the teams met in Madison. While Wisconsin will be and should be confident at home, it can't look past what could be an improved Boilers team.

Snoozer: South Dakota. These are the same Coyotes who stunned Minnesota last year in Minneapolis, but I can't envision Wisconsin's defense folding like the Gophers' did. The Badgers' running backs should have a big day.

Non-con challenge: The Oregon State game jumps out to most folks, but I'm going with a neutral-site matchup against Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field. The Huskies are now coached by Dave Doeren, who left his post as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator after the Rose Bowl. Doeren knows the Badgers and leads a team that boasts a talented quarterback in Chandler Harnish. Wisconsin could be tested in Chi-town.

Key stretch: The month of October looms large in Wisconsin's quest to repeat as Big Ten champion. Wisconsin opens Big Ten play against Nebraska in a game that will receive a bunch of national attention. After a bye week and a home date against Indiana, the Badgers face back-to-back road tests against Michigan State and Ohio State. Wisconsin has dropped three straight in East Lansing and two straight in Columbus.

Analysis: Budmayr and the other new starters should benefit from having five of the first six games at home and no true road contest until Oct. 22 against Michigan State. Although Nebraska will provide a stern test and Penn State should be a better team, Wisconsin's home schedule doesn't look overly daunting. The big question is whether Wisconsin can overcome its recent woes in East Lansing before heading to Columbus. Who knows what type of Ohio State team will be waiting for the Badgers on Oct. 29? If Wisconsin can survive October, it should have a chance to make some noise in the division down the stretch.

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