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Wisconsin gets final non-conference game before daunting Big Ten slate

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A look at what's at stake for the Badgers as September rolls by.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into their final non-conference tune-up, the Wisconsin Badgers have been staunch defensively in 2016, giving up 133.5 yards through the air and 107 on the ground per game. They also have the 14th-ranked scoring defense at 12 points allowed per game; they were first in the NCAA in 2015 at 13.

Offensively, the Badgers are starting to find their footing, scoring 54 points against Akron in a game in which four different players found paydirt. Running back Corey Clement and wide receiver Jazz Peavy each scored twice; the two for Peavy were the first of his collegiate career.

Clement, who left Saturday's game against Akron with a leg injury, will be back participating fully in practice this week and should be full-go against Georgia State. Clement cracked the century mark against the Zips, rushing for 111 yards for the first time in nearly a year, doing so most recently on Oct. 31, 2015.

Quarterback Bart Houston, who played well apart from a couple of miscues against LSU, looked good against Akron, completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 231 yards and his first two touchdown passes of the season, despite playing only in the first half.

Now, they say you shouldn't look ahead at the upcoming teams on your schedule, but it would be hard for anyone to not look ahead at the Badgers'.

Following their game against Georgia State, the Badgers will travel to East Lansing, to take on No. 12 Michigan State. The following weekend, they go to Ann Arbor to take on No. 4 Michigan.

They will then get a week off, and will return home to host No. 3 Ohio State, under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 15. The following week, they head down to Iowa City, to play, No. 13 Iowa.

Not once in the past 11 seasons (2005-2015) have the Badgers had to play four ranked teams in a row. In 2010, the Badgers finished off the season against three straight ranked programs, defeating No. 19 Penn State in their final regular season game and No. 17 Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game before falling to No. 5 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

While this schedule is a difficult one, it will likely be the norm in the coming seasons. The Big Ten is becoming one of the better conferences in the NCAA and most of the teams seem to be trending upward.

For instance, in the two seasons prior to hiring Jim Harbaugh, Michigan finished 7-6 in 2013 and 5-7 in 2014. In Harbaugh's first season, the Wolverines went 10-3, including a win against No. 19 Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Now in 2016, they are the fourth-ranked team, after outscoring their first two opponents 114-17.

With that recent improvement, the Big Ten East gets just that much more difficult, where instead of two juggernauts, there are now three, in Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Normally, Wisconsin would not have to deal with the brunt of the Big Ten East, but in 2016 all three of their crossover games feature the cream of the crop. Wisconsin will face the same fate again in 2019, hosting Michigan in September and Michigan State the following month before visiting Ohio State.

Wisconsin's crossover games in 2017 will be Maryland, at Indiana and at home against Michigan. In 2018, they will be at Michigan, at Penn State and at home against Rutgers.

Back to present day—before the Badgers can play their Big Ten opponents, they will host Georgia State, who is coming in 0-2 after losing to Ball State 31-21 and Air Force 48-14. According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), the Badgers have a 98.4 percent chance of defeating the Panthers.

Wisconsin will then have a 66.5 percent chance to defeat the Spartans before things turn bleak (at least, according to the FPI) as the Badgers have a 19.2 percet chance of defeating the Wolverines, 39.8 percent chance to defeat the Buckeyes and a 45.6 percent chance to defeat the Hawkeyes.

You might be wondering what's at stake here with such a difficult schedule? Well, to recite a common cliché, if they win, they're in. Meaning if they Badgers cannot just survive their remaining schedule, but thrive and win out, they would undoubtedly be a lock for the College Football Playoff.

While it may seem like a long shot, stranger things have happened and, after all, this same Badgers team was double-digit underdogs against LSU and still scratched and clawed its way to victory.

Look for the Badgers to continue to scratch and claw the rest of the season as they attempt to prove the doubters wrong.