Big Ten Team Previews: Wisconsin


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A majority of Big Ten writers believe Wisconsin will reach the Big Ten title game this season.

In a recent poll organized by cleveland.com, the Badgers were picked to represent the new West Division in this year’s conference championship game. Wisconsin received 15 first-place votes, ahead of both Iowa (11) and Nebraska (5).

“First I heard of that was when we got here last night,” head coach Gary Andersen said at the Big Ten Media Days in July. “So we're not worried about any of those expectations and where we're sitting. We have high expectations for ourselves.

“I think this football team will sit down and they'll write up their goals here when we report on Sunday and give us an idea of what their visions and what their care factor and want-to is for the season, which will be high, and we'll worry about what we can worry about.”

Wisconsin will have more than usual to worry about for 2014 after losing 13 starters — 10 of whom are on NFL rosters now — from a year ago. In 2013, Andersen’s first year at head coach, the Badgers went 9-4, including a 6-2 showing against the conference.

If Andersen and Company are to replicate last year’s success, they will likely do so in the normal Wisconsin fashion: by running the football.

The Badgers return five members of the offensive line that started at least six games in 2013. Last year, those offensive linemen helped set school records for total offense (480.8 yards per game), total rushing yards (3,689) and rushing average (6.62 yards per carry).

At running back, Melvin Gordon returns for his junior season after rushing for 1,609 yards a year ago, which ranked 10th in the country. Gordon, a former Iowa commit, has been pegged as a front-runner for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s best running back, and his name has even surfaced during some Heisman talks.

“I just want to play my best,” Gordon said. “If I don’t have a good game, so be it. But as long as we win, I’m OK.”

Wisconsin can expect to win a lot of games this season, as their schedule, on the surface, lacks the normal powerhouses from within the conference. The team opens with Louisiana State University and Bowling Green — which went a combined 20-7 in 2013 — in two of its first three games.

After that, the Badgers don’t play a team with a winning record in 2013 until Maryland in late October. The next toughest game: Nebraska, in mid-November.

“First of all, I think the schedule is challenging,” Andersen said. “LSU is LSU, one of the best in the country year in, year out. Bowling Green is picked to take their conference and was a great team last year, and then we get into the Big Ten.

“There are no easy Big Ten games. Anybody who thinks there is sadly mistaken, and I'll debate that with you as much as you want to debate it because you better strap it on and be ready every week in the Big Ten.”

Andersen’s players echoed that same mentality, saying that it’s nice to be a favorite, but that there’s still work to be done.

“It’s good to be looked at that way, but at the same time, that’s not true,” said defensive lineman Warren Herring. “You got teams in the Big Ten, every week, it’s going to be a battle. No team in the Big Ten is easy to beat. It just depends on who brings their A-game.

“Every week is going to be a challenge. That championship trophy is up for grabs.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news and analysis on the Iowa football team.

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