Does Wisconsin have easiest 2014 schedule in Big Ten?

Spring practices are all over, and that means across the Big Ten all attention focuses on the fall. One of the big things people turn to is the actual schedule and trying to figure out who has advantages and where. However, Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin went to work figuring out ease of schedule based on 2013 opponent records in conference play.

According to Temple, here is how it all shakes out:

Wisconsin: 22-42 (.343 winning percentage)
Iowa: 23-41 (.359)
Nebraska: 28-36 (.437)
Northwestern: 28-36 (.437)
Michigan State: 29-35 (.453)
Minnesota: 29-35 (.453)
Ohio State: 29-35 (.453)
Penn State: 31-33 (.484)
Illinois: 33-31 (.515)
Purdue: 33-31 (.515)
Michigan: 34-30 (.531)
Indiana: 35-29 (.546)
Maryland: 40-24 (.625)
Rutgers: 41-23 (.640)

It’s one way to look at the schedule, but there are some serious flaws in declaring that UW has the easiest schedule in the Big Ten by just looking at raw data.

Chief amongst the flaws are the assumption that 2013 records predict just how good a team will be in 2014. Exhibit A is Northwestern, who saw a massive scourge of injuries happen in 2013; leading to a 1-7 Big Ten finish. If anyone thinks that team is going to repeat that woeful performance, I’ve got some awesome oceanfront property in Tennessee for you to buy.

Exhibit B is Minnesota, who ended up with a 4-4 record in Big Ten play and an 8-4 regular season record overall. Assuming that the Gophers will or won’t do better or worse in a division that doesn’t have Michigan or Michigan State in it is a bit of leap either way.

Now, do the Badgers catch a break in avoiding the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State? You bet.

Yet, assuming both Penn State and Michigan are going to be serious contenders this season is a bit of leap. What part of a 7-5 team (Michigan) or one that doesn’t have full-scholarship players across the two-deep (Penn State) says they’re on the same playing field as a team that was 24-0 in the last two regular seasons (OSU) or the reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions (MSU)?

Lastly, let’s take a look at away games in the Big Ten for a moment, shall we? Wisconsin takes on Northwestern, Rutgers, Purdue and Iowa on the road. While the records would say UW has it easy, with the four schools finishing a combined 8-23, history tells us a different story.

UW playing at Northwestern hasn’t been all that fun in recent times, with the Badgers losing all three of the meeting in Evanston since the turn of the century. Purdue is historically a booby trap for UW too, with the Badgers owning just a slight 19-17-3 overall edge in West Lafayette. Iowa, well we all know that playing there hasn’t been fun long-term for the Badgers. Wisconsin is just 4-3 since 2000 in games played in Iowa City, not exactly setting the world on fire.

Sure, UW is on a four-game win streak at Purdue, but that’s the longest since a five-game streak from 1947 to 1957. However, that’s historically great against the Boilermakers and the rest of the history we just gave you tells us that UW could have a major challenge on its hands in three of those four road games.

On paper, Rutgers and its 2-5 finish in the American tells us UW should be winners. However, traveling to a place no one has played in or coached in is a big unknown. Assuming that UW will just walk through the Scarlet Knights is a dangerous, as we’ll point out for you in our upcoming focus “Badger Opposition Research.”

It’s also interesting that Temple only looked at conference schedules to declare the Badgers schedule the easiest out there. Playing Temple’s game, UW’s nonconference opponents were a combined 26-21 last season, with two 10-win teams on the slate.

Here’s how the rest of the Big Ten shakes out in nonconference games (from easiest to hardest):

1. Michigan: 18-31 (.367)
2. Maryland: 19-30 (.387)
3. Penn State: 20-29 (.408)
4. Purdue: 23-26 (.469)
5. Northwestern: 26-25 (.509)
6. Iowa: 27-23 (.540)
7. Rutgers: 28-23 (.549)
8. Wisconsin: 26-21 (.553)
9. Michigan State: 29-23 (.557)
tie-11. Minnesota: 30-21 (.588)
tie-11. Ohio State: 30-21 (.588)
13. Illinois: 31-18 (.632)
14. Nebraska: 36-15 (.706)

Notice a different pattern between the two divisions this time around? In the easiest half of the nonconference schedules are four of the members of the East Division — with three of those East Division teams having the easiest nonconference schedules. Three of the most difficult nonconference schedules belong to West Division.

It begs the question of which division is going to be more battle tested come conference play?

As for the Badgers, they have one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the conference, especially if you remove the FCS opponents from the mix. Wisconsin would have the fourth toughest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten.

In fact, Wisconsin is just one of two Big Ten teams (Indiana is the other) to play multiple FBS teams with 10 or more wins in nonconference play.

The overall point is, don’t fall in to the trap of looking on paper at wins and losses from one season in a vacuum in April and assume UW has the easiest schedule out there. When one takes a step back and understands UW historically and in the present day its schedule isn’t so easy after all.

When taken overall, the Badgers schedule is likely to be right in the middle of the pack. Given it’s recent history of competing for Big Ten titles, that makes life a bit easier for sure.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, as well as Publisher of Big Ten site