The Wisconsin Badgers were ranked No. 9 when the first Associated Press Top 25 college football poll of the 2017 season was released on Monday, starting out right where they finished last year.
It was their second early top-10 ranking, after they opened at No. 10 in the preseason Amway Coaches poll earlier this month. Wisconsin closed 2016 with an 11-3 record and a 24-16 win over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, ending the season ninth in the AP Poll.
The last time the Badgers began a campaign as a consensus top-10 team was in 2007, Bret Bielema’s second season as head coach. That year, they debuted at No. 7 in both polls and won their first five games to move up to No. 5, before stumbling to a 9-4 overall record and a 21-17 loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, finishing just inside the polls’ top-25.
The Big Ten, projected to be one of the nation’s strongest leagues, starts the season with four teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three in the top 10. Perennial powerhouse Ohio State is at No. 2 (with three first-place votes), followed by defending conference champion Penn State at No. 6 (the Nittany Lions went 11-3 last year and played in the Rose Bowl), then Wisconsin and, just outside the top 10, Michigan at No. 11.
As usual, Alabama is at the top, proceeded by Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Clemson, Penn State, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State.
The Wolverines, a young and somewhat rebuilding squad, are the only ranked opponent on the Badgers’ seemingly easy schedule, and the two teams will clash Nov. 18 in the penultimate game of the regular season.
A look around other college football polls and media power rankings underscores the consensus that Wisconsin is one of the top 10 programs in the country. Sports Illustrated’s poll has the Badgers at No. 12; CBS Power Rankings have them No. 11; ESPN’s Football Power Index puts them ninth; Sporting News has UW at No. 13; and Bleacher Report ranks Wisconsin No. 10. Those rankings average out at 10.6.
Paul Chryst's team begins the 2017 season against Utah State on Sept. 1 at Camp Randall Stadium. That’s followed by another home game, hosting Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic Owls on Sept. 9, and the Badgers’ final nonconference game, on the road against BYU on Sept. 16.
After a bye week, Wisconsin begins its pursuit of a College Football Playoff appearance in earnest, with a couple of tough conference contests. The Badgers open the Big Ten season at home versus Northwestern on Sept. 30, then play at Nebraska on Oct. 7.
They host Purdue on Oct. 14 and welcome Maryland to Madison on Oct. 21, then have away games at Illinois on Oct. 28 and at Indiana on Nov. 4. Wisconsin closes the regular season at home against Iowa on Nov. 11, hosting Michigan on Nov. 18 and on the road at Minnesota on Nov. 25.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.