It's crazy to think about, but the Badgers have already played five games this year. Five. That's just under half of the regular season. And so far, the Badgers are right where they hoped to be. They're 5-0 heading in their bye week, so while the team takes Saturday off, we need to figure out who to root for in the rest of Big Ten action, as well as a few key non-conference games.
Granted, last year's edition of the Bye Week Guide was a little more interesting. The Badgers were much deeper into their schedule, and were in the thick of what ended up as a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship.
Like last year, these games are definitely subject to interpretation. Picking them depends on what you think is more important: preserving the Badgers' strength of schedule, or seeing other Leaders Division teams lose. I am not overly concerned about the Badgers' strength of schedule right now, so you'll see that in my picks.
There are a few exceptions, but you'll have to click through to find out. As always, feel free to post your own picks in the comments - after all, we're in this bye week together. Let's make the best of it.
Let's get right to it.
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Big Ten Games
Minnesota (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) @ Purdue (2-2, 0-0) -- 11:00 CST (ESPN/ESPN3)
Ok, picking someone in this game might be a little mean. Minnesota is probably going to finish last in the Legends Division, and they only thing keeping Purdue from the same fate is probably Indiana. The Badgers play both these teams, too, and the way things are going they'll probably put up another grotesque amount of points on the Gophers and the Boilermakers. So in the grand scheme of things, this game probably doesn't matter. But still, old habits die hard. Badger fans might as well root for the Boilermakers - Minnesota isn't likely to win many more games, so giving Purdue an extra win helps the strength of schedule a little bit.
No. 19 Illinois (5-0, 1-0) @ Indiana (1-4, 0-1) -- 1:30 CST (Big Ten)
This is where it gets a little tricky. Illinois is the highest ranked team left on the Badgers' schedule, but they're also the biggest obstacle standing between the Badgers and the Leaders Division title. A loss to Indiana drops them out of the polls, at least for now. The Illini would still have a chance to creep back into the polls, because it's better to lose early than late. And hey, it's Ron Zook. The Zookster has a loss up his sleeve; we just don't know when it's going to happen. Root for Indiana, and the path gets a little easier for the Badgers.
Iowa (3-1, 0-0) @ Penn State 2:30 (4-1, 1-0) -- CST (ABC/ESPN)
This one is a little similar to Illinois and Indiana. The Badgers still have to play Penn State, and the Nittany Lions have a lot of talent, despite their struggles so far. They could be a threat if they ever figure out their quarterback position, but I'm not convinced Penn State can beat the Badgers at home this year. So in this instance, it's OK to root for a Leaders Division rival, and let them pad their record a bit before the Nittany Lions roll into Madison to close out the regular season. Plus, if all goes well for Penn State in the next few weeks, they could be ranked at the end of the year.
No. 12 Michigan (5-0, 1-0) @ Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) -- 6:00 CST (Big Ten)
This one can go either way, because the Badgers won't play either of these teams unless it's in the Big Ten Championship Game. On the one hand, it's fun to watch Michigan lose. On the other hand, it's never easy to beat the same team twice in a season - and a Michigan loss opens the door a little wider for Nebraska to grab the Legends Division and get a rematch with Wisconsin in Indianapolis. So the pick here is dependant on who you'd rather see the Badgers play, if they end up in the title game. Personally, I'd rather see the Wolverines in Indianapolis, so go with Michigan (as wrong as it may feel.) Nebraska is a good team, and they'd be tough to beat twice in one season.
Ohio State (3-2, 0-1) @ No. 14 Nebraska (4-1, 0-1) -- 7:00 CST (ABC)
This is the toughest game to pick, in my opinion. For one thing, the Badgers should want Nebraska to get back on track, if only to make their blowout win more impressive. On the other hand, losing again puts the Huskers in a bigger hole and decreases the chance of a rematch between the two Big Reds. But it could also give a still talented Buckeye team some momentum as they prepare to get their suspended players back. For now, at least, I think Badger fans should get on the other Big Red bandwagon - at least until they play Michigan on Nov. 19. A two-loss Nebraska team is still ranked at the end of the year, so the Badgers should cheer for their recently vanquished foe.
No. 17 Florida (4-1, 2-1) @ No. 1 LSU (5-0, 2-0) -- 2:30 CST (CBS)
This one should be obvious. The Gators don't stand much of a chance in Death Valley, where they'll be starting a freshman quarterback, but that doesn't mean Badger fans shouldn't karmically align themselves with Florida. And hey, Jeff Driskel needs all the good thoughts and prayers he can get - this is LSU's defense we're talking about after all. After they're through with Driskel, Jacoby Brissett is next in line. Welcome to the SEC, kid.
Vanderbilt (3-1, 1-1) @ No. 2 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) -- 6:00 CST (ESPNU)
Well, the Commodores don't really have much of a chance here. You know it, I know it, they know it, but that doesn't mean they can just skip the game. And you have to give the Commodores credit for it - facing what could be certain death in the form of Don'ta Hightower is worthy of recognition. Root for the little guys, and hope a miracle happens in Tuscaloosa.
No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) vs. No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0) -- 11:00 CST (ABC)
This one is a little tricky, too. If Texas were to beat Oklahoma, there's a small chance they could jump the Badgers in the polls. I'm not saying it's going to happen, I just wouldn't be surprised. Either way, both teams have difficult schedules ahead - they both play four ranked teams, with two games at home and two on the road. The thing is, I think the Sooners are the better team. I trust the Longhorns to lose a game after this one more than I trust the Sooners. As weird as it feels, I say root for Texas and wait for Texas A&M, or some other Big 12 team, to give the Longhorns a thank-you punch in the face for screwing up their conference.
Have a good weekend of football!