CHICAGO — Some thought Wisconsin wouldn’t win more than six games in 2016. No way were the Badgers going to make it through an early season gauntlet that had them facing LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska all within the first eight games of the season. But they did more than just make it through. They vastly exceeded expectations, going 4-2 against those teams on their way to earning a Big Ten West title and a victory in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan.
With 15 starters back on a team likely to start the year in the top-15 in the country, the script of questions at the start of Big Ten Media Days this week in Chicago had gone in the complete opposite direction from where they were a year ago. They were still still about the schedule, but instead of which games can the Badgers win, the questions were more focused on which games — or perhaps game — could trip them up?
There is no Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State or SEC team on this year’s slate, and that’s led oddsmakers to put their over/under win total at 9.5 games. If they don’t win north of that number with what many are calling an easy schedule, some fans may lose their minds over what would surely be a disappointment in their eyes.
“That’s just an outsiders view,” junior linebacker T.J. Edwards said Monday on ‘The Camp’. “At the end of the day, every team we play is going to be a good team. If we don’t come out ready to play, they’re going to let us know [how good they are] by beating us.”
Coach Paul Chryst seemed adamant about not allowing his guys to think like outsiders do, especially after they so often had to answer the negative questions last summer.
“It’s the same talking points. It’s just flipped,” he said. “If you were going to buy into that last year, and agree you can’t worry about what’s said, now you can’t all of a sudden start reading and saying, ‘This is right.’ They know better. We’ve got to make sure they do.”
While the Badgers are the favorites to win the Big Ten West — 31 of 38 voters in a preseason media poll picked them — they aren’t expected to end up as conference champions. Most think that’ll be Ohio State or someone else from the East Division, which is thought to be much stronger than the one Wisconsin resides in and has won twice in the last three years. But Chryst is consistent in his thoughts about that outside noise.
“[I] certainly have a ton of respect for Ohio State and Coach [Urban] Meyer and the players they have,” Chryst said. “[But] that’s what is great about this season. You have to go play it. And all the talk doesn’t really matter.”
Finally going to happen
It’s looking like Wisconsin will be playing in more professional football stadiums in the near future.
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday morning that the Badgers and Notre Dame were in talks to play a game at Soldier Field. Then, at the team’s annual shareholders meeting later in the morning, Green Bay Packers team president Mark Murphy told reporters they were getting close to a deal that would have the teams play at Lambeau Field, too.
“We’ve been working on that for a while, and I would hope very soon we’d be able to announce something soon,” Murphy said, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “Obvious [that] a Notre Dame-Wisconsin would be pretty special.”
Until it is announced, we won’t know the exactly details, but it seems likely that it will look similar to the series the Badgers had with LSU, playing at NRG Stadium in Houston in 2014 and then at Lambeau Field in 2016.
Wisconsin and Notre Dame have long been mentioned as potential opponents, especially with former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez’s time there as an assistant before he came to the Badgers in 1990. Former coach Bret Bielema had also been pushing for a game with the Irish.
“It means we’d play Notre Dame,” Chryst said with a laugh when asked what it would mean to play Notre Dame. “It was neat for our players to play in Lambeau. That was a good experience.
“I don’t know where all those [conversations] are at, but I think it could be pretty cool.”
The two teams haven’t played each other since 1964, and Notre Dame leads the series 8-6-2 all-time.
Wisconsin will report to fall camp on Friday, with their first practice coming on Saturday, which more than a week earlier than they started last year. Why? Well, a new rule put in place by the NCAA has made it so you can no longer hold two-a-days — a name for when there are two practices in a single day.
The Badgers started camp in 2016 on Aug. 8, 26 days before they opened the season. With things getting underway on Saturday, they will have 34 days before they play Utah State on Sept. 1.
“You try to come up with a good plan and be ready to adjust it if you need to,” Chryst said of tackling a more drawn out preseason. “In my mind, how do you take what used to be fall camp, which was kind of fun — it was a grind — and now make it more fall practice? How do you space it out?”
The idea behind the change was made with player safety in mind, though no one has anyway of knowing whether limiting the number of practices per day will also limit injuries, especially because there will be an additional week of practice thrown in. It was also thought that most players would be in favor of it, and maybe they are. But one Wisconsin player says he’s not a fan.
“I think if you can have camp shorter, but get the same amount of practices in, I think it benefits the team,” Edwards said Monday on ‘The Camp.’ “Once you get camp over you can really stretch out the time and get guys rest.”
Still, Edwards admitted he wasn’t sure what would really change.
“It’s not a huge deal. It’s still going to be camp,” said Edwards, who has missed much of the last two summers due to injury. “It is what it is. You’ve got to attack it no matter what.”