Nine wins. Surprised?
Don't be. I might be the only person predicting that many wins this year, but it's really not out of the question.
Why? Because, the schedule isn't incredibly easy, but it is incredibly favorable.
When Northern Illinois and Hawaii were originally put on the schedule for 2009, superstars Garrett Wolfe and Colt Brennan were getting Heisman hype and both teams were possible BCS busters. Now they're just busters.
Wisconsin also skips Illinois and Penn State this season. Meanwhile, three of the Badgers four road games are at Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern. Those aren't exactly Big Ten powerhouses.
For a team searching to rebound from a disappointing season, the Badgers couldn't have asked for a better schedule. Let's cruise through it:
Sept. 5, Northern Illinois: Win
The Huskies are one of the better programs from the MAC, the Big Ten's minor league. The reason I call it the Big Ten's "minor league" is because MAC teams love to come to Big Ten stadiums and give those teams solid non-conference competition early in the season. You also see players transfer between the Big Ten and the MAC all the time. The overrated recruits in the Big Ten (Dex Jones) transfer to the MAC after a season or two and the underrated recruits in the MAC transfer to the Big Ten after a season or two (J.J. Watt and Chris Maragos). It's almost like calling up a player to the majors and sending another player down.
Consider NIU Wisconsin's little brother. The Huskies will give UW a good game, but Wisconsin will be fine at home.Sept. 12, Fresno State: Win
Still have questions about UW's front seven? Be prepared to see those questions answered week two, good or bad. The Bulldogs have one the deepest rushing attacks in the league with Ryan Mathews, Anthony Harding and Lonyae Miller. Like Northern Illinois, Fresno State is a decent team that could make a run at their conference title, but this is still a game the Badgers should win at home.
Sept. 19, Wofford: Win
Wofford is a good FCS opponent, but they are probably not as good as Cal Poly. Wisconsin learned its lesson a year ago and this should be a blowout.
Sept. 26, Michigan State: Win
This is the kind of game that Bret Bielema can't afford to lose. Everyone seems to love the Spartans, but I actually think they are slightly worse than a year ago after losing Javon Ringer. Remember how many carries they were forced to give him? How are they going to be better without the work-horse? Still, the Spartans are a good team, but one the Badgers have to beat on their home field.
Oct. 3, at Minnesota: Loss
The Badgers have a five-game win-streak in this series, but Minnesota has been creepingly closer to a win every year. The new stadium finally gets the Gophers over the hump and the Axe returns to Minneapolis.
Oct. 10, at Ohio State: Loss
A 1-0 Big Ten start will quickly become a 1-2 start. A win in Columbus isn't completely out of the question, especially if UW can pull off a win in Minnesota, but predicting said win right now would be foolish. This is too tough of a game for this Badgers squad.
Oct. 17, Iowa: Win
This game is very similar to the Michigan State game and is definitely a must-win for Bielema. I group UW with Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois as decent teams that are dark-horses in the Big Ten. The Badgers have the edge in that group because they don't have to play Illinois and they get the Spartans and the Hawkeyes at home. They need to go 2-0 and should go 2-0 in those games.
Oct. 31, Purdue: Win
I might be the Boilermakers toughest critic. I have them pegged for a 2-10 season with a 1-7 Big Ten record. This isn't the one conference game I have Purdue winning.
Nov. 7, at Indiana: Win
The Hoosiers won one Big Ten game last season. They might win zero this year. Badgers win.
Nov. 14, Michigan: Win
College football experts can't help but drink the Rich Rod Kool-Aid. I'm not buying it... yet. It's very possible Rich Rod never turns it around in Ann Arbor. Odds are he will, but not this season.
Nov. 21, at Northwestern: Loss
In this scenario the Badgers go to Northwestern with a 5-2 Big Ten record (8-2 overall), which means they might be playing for a share of the conference title. That's too bad. The Kitty Cats will be decent again (I have them pegged for eight wins overall) and I think they have the edge over Wisconsin in Evanston, Ill.
Dec. 5, at Hawaii: Win
This once looked like a tough game. Now it is looking very similar to the blowout win the Badgers had in Honolulu in 2005.
Overall outlook: 5-3 Big Ten, 9-3 overall
Mark it down. Wisconsin will go 7-0 at home this season. Bielema has a great home record (20-2) with both of those losses coming last season to Ohio State and Penn State. Those teams were clearly better than the Badgers. I don't see any home games like that this season. The home wins haven't always been pretty (i.e. Illinois in 2006, Minnesota and Cal Poly in 2009), but Bielema's teams have always found a way to get the job done at home against the teams they should beat. I think that continues this season.
A 5-3 Big Ten record (with a 9-3 overall record) would most likely put UW third in the Big Ten bowl pecking order. I don't think the conference will be sending two teams to the BCS so that means a return to the Outback Bowl would be in order. Personally, I am rooting for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Wisconsin has exhausted its stay in Florida in recent years and the Alamo Bowl will be played Jan. 2 this season. It also might be the last year the Big Ten has ties to the Alamo Bowl.
Your thoughts? Throw out your predictions for the 2009 season below!