Aaron Rodgers, king of the Hail Mary, probably didn’t need a kiss from the scheduling gods to win big in 2016. But he got one.
The Packers’ slate, according to last year’s records, is the easiest in the NFL. Only five of Green Bay’s 16 games are against playoff teams. Only one foe (Seattle) actually won a playoff game.
Yes, it’ll be a good year to be a Packer.
Unfortunately, in order to maintain balance in the universe, somebody in cheese country had to pay the price. I think you know who.
Bucky Badger’s first nine games are the closest thing in college football to an NFL schedule.
“I committed to the University of Wisconsin to play in big-time games like this,” senior linebacker Vince Biegel said. “I think the young men in our locker room feel the exact same way.”
They’ll get no shortage of chances. Behold the torture chamber:
» Sept. 3: vs. LSU at Lambeau Field. It’s not as tough as last year, when Wisconsin opened against Alabama, but the Tigers are projected as a top-10 team with the nation’s top running back, Leonard Fournette.
» Sept. 10 and 17: Akron and Georgia State. Wisconsin can take a breath, but not a deep one. Both opponents were in bowl games in 2015.
» Sept. 24: at Michigan State. The past six years, only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Stanford have more wins than the defending Big Ten champs, who should start the season in the top 15.
» Oct. 1: at Michigan. The Wolverines, another certain top-10 team in the preseason polls, have quickly adopted Jim Harbaugh’s swagger. Wisconsin and Michigan haven’t met since 2010.
» Oct. 8: Bye. (The Badgers should finally be favored.)
» Oct. 15: Ohio State. Urban Meyer lost 12 players to the NFL draft! Yet the Buckeyes reload. They’ll start 2016 in the top five.
» Oct. 22: at Iowa. Rivalry game. This is the fourth straight 10-win opponent for Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes should open in the top 20.
» Oct. 29: Nebraska. It’s not much of a compliment, but the Huskers were the best six-win team in the country last year — and a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West in 2016. Catching Wisconsin in late October couldn’t be any better for NU.
» Nov. 5: at Northwestern. Yet another team that won 10 last year. The Wildcats boast one of the nation’s top defenses.
You can identify the laziest college football prognosticators by how much they focus on schedules — I’m guilty, too. And yet, when you study Wisconsin this year, how can you focus on anything else?
By the time the Badgers reach the cushioned part of autumn — Illinois, at Purdue and Minnesota — they’ll be too beaten and bruised to “Jump Around.” They’ll be navigating the sideline with crutches and ice packs.
Makes you wonder if anyone in the Big Ten office pays attention to this stuff.
The past two years, the league wanted to expose all those East Coast college football fanatics to the Big Ten’s marquee brands. So it made Maryland and Rutgers face the big dogs in the West — Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa. As a result, with the exception of NU-Michigan State, we were deprived of top-notch cross-division clashes.
It’s progress to see Wisconsin facing Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. But all in the same season? In consecutive games? It looks like punishment, especially when Minnesota, for instance, doesn’t meet any of the East’s Big Three.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who’s breaking in a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator, was asked at Big Ten media days if this was the toughest schedule he’d faced in 16 years of Division I coaching.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” said the never-quotable native son.
Give him credit. Unlike those chest-beaters in the SEC, Chryst doesn’t draw attention to his obstacle course. With big challenges, he said, come great opportunities.
“They’re big games, but they’re big games because of us as well,” running back Dare Ogunbowale said.
The biggest, at least from a Badger fan’s perspective, comes day one in Green Bay. Wisconsin practiced at Lambeau in the spring, enabling Packer fans like Ogunbowale to “get all my tourist feelings out.”
“When I go back home,” said Biegel, a Wisconsin native, “that’s definitely the main topic. Everybody wants to talk about how’s the game plan for LSU going. Are we nervous?”
The Badgers are too proud to be nervous or scared. But when Leonard Fournette takes the first handoff on Sept. 3, it kicks off the toughest two months in Wisconsin history.
You don’t think they can sneak Aaron Rodgers into a red uniform, do you?