Football practice is underway, and we're just weeks away from kickoff. To get you ready, we're bringing back our series looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team in 2014.
Do not view these as predictions in any way shape or form. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.
Let's get things started with the Wisconsin Badgers:
"This," Melvin Gordon tells a throng of media, "is why I came back to school."
Gordon utters these words in Arlington, Texas, at the press conference leading up to the 2015 national title game. It's been a dream season for the Badgers and Gordon, who won the Heisman Trophy a few weeks earlier after rushing for 2,000 yards.
Wisconsin's season fittingly begins and ends in Texas. The year starts with an upset win over LSU in Houston, as the running game and revamped defense were enough to nip the young Tigers by a score of 28-27. That Week 1 victory propelled the Badgers into the Top 10. And from there, as expected, Gary Andersen's team waltzes through the next couple months of its schedule.
Gordon follows up his 150-yard, three-score performance against LSU with four 200-yard days, while backfield mate Corey Clement piles up over 1,000 yards on the season as well. Quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy form a productive tandem, with McEvoy providing a new running threat from under center.
Wisconsin is barely tested until Nebraska comes to Madison on Nov. 15, and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig unleashes a new game plan on the Huskers that leads to a second straight 70-point showing vs. Big Red. The Big Ten title is on the line the following week at Kinnick Stadium, and the hard-fought contest brings back memories of 2010 when a perfectly-executed fake punt leads to a clinching Gordon touchdown. The Badgers roll past Minnesota yet again and then oust Michigan State in the Big Ten title game on a Hail Mary touchdown pass from McEvoy to Kenzel Doe.
Barry Alvarez doesn't need to convince the selection committee that a 13-0 Wisconsin deserves a spot in the four-team field, especially since LSU has gone on to win the SEC title. Seeded No. 2 in Pasadena, the Badgers are matched up against surprise Pac-12 champions Arizona State. The game is tied when Stave is tackled at the Sun Devils' 10-yard line with what appears to be no time left. But the officials huddle and decide that one second should be put back on the clock. Jack Russell kicks the game-winning field goal. The dog from "Frazier" barks in celebration from his spot on the Rose Bowl sideline.
Few are giving the Badgers much of a shot to beat defending champion Florida State in the title game. But it hardly matters. The program has already taken a major step forward and announced itself as elite, and five-star recruits are eager to sign on for Andersen. Also, Arkansas goes 0-12 and fires Bret Bielema.
The preseason hype around the Badgers -- which includes a No. 14 ranking in the coaches' poll -- seems unjustified considering the heavy personnel losses in the defensive front seven, the questions at quarterback and receiver and the lack of depth on the offensive line. And those issues are quickly exposed.
A young but athletically gifted LSU blows out Wisconsin by three touchdowns in the opener. The Tigers load up against the running game and hold Gordon to just 70 yards; the Badgers passing game can't make the defense pay, as Stave throws a pair of interceptions and McEvoy is ineffective.
Wisconsin regroups to win its next three at home against overmatched opponents, but a resurgent Northwestern squad pulls off an upset win on Oct. 4 in Evanston. Andersen's team continues to juggle quarterbacks and seek receiving threats until Maryland uses its high-powered offense to register its first marquee Big Ten victory in Madison on Oct. 25.
The Badgers rebound to beat Rutgers and Purdue on the road, but Nebraska proves too fast and too motivated in a two-touchdown Huskers win on Nov. 15. Now staggering, Wisconsin loses the next week on the road at Iowa and finally falters against Minnesota. The Gophers are so happy that they don't just chop down one Camp Randall goal post. They keep going until they've turned State Street Brats into mere kindling. Minnesota goes on to win the Big Ten title.
A 6-6 record and that rough finish puts Wisconsin in Detroit for bowl season. Arkansas makes a startling turnaround to win the SEC title, as Bielema claims national coach of the year honors. LSU buys out of its return game to Lambeau Field. New Glarus closes its doors, relocating to Minneapolis.