Well, we are getting Big Ten football in 2020, even if it looks a bit different.
After the Big Ten’s original 10-game conference season was postponed, the conference will play football the fall of 2020 in the form of an eight-game schedule. It will remain an all-conference slate and each team will play a ninth game against its divisional counterpart (No. 1 in West vs. No. 1 in East, No. 2 in West vs. No. 2 in East, and so on) on Dec. 19.
The Badgers lost a number of key players from last year, including linebacker Zack Baun, center Tyler Biadasz, wide receiver Quintez Cephus and running back Jonathan Taylor, all taken in the NFL draft, and will start redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz after incumbent Jack Coan suffered a foot injury in preseason practice. Still, this is not the first time Wisconsin has lost key contributors to the draft or had uncertainty at QB in the Paul Chryst era. Expect a stout defense once again and for running backs Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson to get significant work out of the backfield.
As far as its 2020 schedule, Wisconsin will miss Ohio State and Penn State – two of the best teams in the conference – in the regular season. The Badgers were originally supposed to play Maryland and Rutgers in its 10-game schedule but is now scheduled to only play Michigan and Indiana from the East division.
Here’s how Wisconsin’s 2020 Big Ten opponents shake out, in order of easiest to hardest.
- Purdue (home, Nov. 7)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Purdue 45-24 at home last season.
Wide receiver Rondale Moore originally decided to opt out but will now play in 2020. That will certainly help Purdue and sophomore signal caller Jack Plummer, who was very average as a freshman, throwing for 1,603 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in seven games. The Boilermakers do have incredible defensive end George Karlaftis but it is not like this is one of the better rosters in the conference.
- Northwestern (away, Nov. 21)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Northwestern 24-15 at home last season.
The Wildcats were absolutely putrid in 2019. There is no other way to put it. However, considering the recent success Pat Fitzgerald has brought to the program, one can expect Northwestern to bounce back to at least a .500 level. Fitzgerald’s Wildcats almost always have a good defense and Indiana grad transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who started seven games and completed 68% of his passes for 2,454 yards with 13 touchdowns and five picks for the Hoosier in 2019, should make the offense respectable.
- Illinois (home, Oct. 23)
Last matchup: Illinois defeated Wisconsin 24-23 in Champaign, Ill., last season.
The Illini were feisty last season as Badgers fans know all too well. With quarterback Brandon Peters returning for his redshirt senior season there is no reason to think Illinois won’t be a tough out in 2020. Last season Peters threw for 1,884 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight picks and ran for 213 yards and three scores, so if he can improve on those numbers then Illinois will be an even tougher out.
- Nebraska (away, Oct. 31)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 37-21 on the road last season.
Is this the year for Scott Frost and Nebraska? With new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, it could be what Adrian Martinez (10 TD, 9 INT) needs to improve after his disappointing sophomore season. The Huskers will also need their defense (27.8 points, 388.8 yards per game allowed in 2019) to take a step up if they want to compete in a real way.
- Indiana (home, Dec. 5)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Indiana 45-17 on the road in 2017.
These isn’t your father’s Indiana football team! Coming off an 8-5 season and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten East, the Hoosiers are not the easy out they used to be. Tom Allen’s squad won eight games for the first time since 1993 and a big part of it was because of dynamic quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 68.8% of his throws. He will be back for his redshirt sophomore year after playing just six games in 2019, so it will be interesting to see how a healthier and more experienced Penix performs in this shortened season.
- Iowa (away, Dec. 12)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Iowa 24-22 at home last season.
The Hawkeyes will probably have the same type of hardnosed, giant-killer type team that they usually do in 2020. They will lean on ball control and good defense, which will be extra important for them this season with Nate Stanley now off to the NFL. Iowa limited opposing teams to 308.5 total yards and 14 points per game (fifth-best in the nation) but lost A.J. Epenesa, Michael Ojemudia and Geno Stone in the 2020 NFL draft. If it can overcome their absences on defense then the Hawkeyes should be in good shape regardless of who is under center.
- Michigan (away, Nov. 14)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Michigan 35-14 at home last season.
Michigan will have to replace Shea Patterson but the Wolverines return talented skill position players, including running back Zach Charbonnet and wide receiver Ronnie Bell. That should make things easier for whomever wins the starting quarterback job. Michigan should have a good defense once again even though it lost some players to the NFL, including linebacker Josh Uche in the second round. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is also in his second season with the Wolverines, so Michigan’s offense should operate better in its second year in the system.
- Minnesota (home, Nov. 28)
Last matchup: Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 38-17 on the road last season.
If wide receiver Rashod Bateman had decided to opt out for the entire season then the Gophers would not be at the top of this list. But he chose to come back, which means the Gophers will have the best receiver Wisconsin plays in the regular season and Tanner Morgan, who is arguably the best quarterback it will go up against. Bateman is an excellent deep threat, catching 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last season (20.3 yards per catch), so him being back for 2020 will open things up for a high-powered Minnesota offense that has continuity and also returns running back Mohamed Ibrahim (5.3 yards per carry).