Let's get one thing out of the way quickly – the Wisconsin Badgers can win the national championship this season.
Is that the expectation of fans across the state and the team itself? Probably not.
But there has to be some excitement about the possibility when you look at several key factors, none of which has to do with a play call or a play on the field.
The Badgers begin the season ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25. Unfortunately, this means more than it should, but being in the top half of the rankings will help the Badgers move up quickly should they play well, or teams above them pick up a loss or two.
The Bowl Championship Series loves the Big Ten. While the Southeastern Conference gets a lot of credit for BCS titles won – deservedly so – the Big Ten has sent two teams to the four BCS bowl games 10 of the 14 years the BCS has existed.
The Big Ten. Even though the Badgers have crossover games with Michigan State (No. 13) and Nebraska (No. 17), they are in the Legends Division – along with No. 8 Michigan. The Badgers' division includes Penn State and No. 18 Ohio State, which are ineligible for postseason games, leaving only Illinois, Purdue and Indiana as contenders for the Big Ten title game.
The schedule. Beginning with this week's season and home opener against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Northern Iowa, the Badgers will play seven times in Madison at Camp Randall.
Here is the rest of the Badgers schedule, beginning Week 2:
- Sept. 8 – at Oregon State (3-9)
- Sept. 15 – Utah State (7-6)
- Sept. 22 – UTEP (5-7)
- Sept. 29 – at Nebraska (9-4)
- Oct. 6 – Illinois (7-6)
- Oct. 13 – at Purdue (7-6)
- Oct. 20 – Minnesota (3-9)
- Oct. 27 – Michigan State (11-3)
- Nov. 10 – at Indiana (1-11)
- Nov. 17 – Ohio State (6-7)
- Nov. 24 – at Penn State (0-4)
- Dec. 1 – Big Ten Championship game, Indianapolis, Ind.
The Badgers have an excellent chance at setting the all-time program record for consecutive wins at Camp Randall this Saturday with 17 straight, which started on Halloween night, 2009.
The streak should reach 21 before the Spartans roll into Madison in late October. That leads me into the one element of the Badgers season that could prevent them from winning a national title: The schedule.
Wisconsin should be undefeated (yes, I see them beating Nebraska on the road) leading into its game against Michigan State, but that game follows the Spartans' road contest at rival Michigan.
Either Sparty is riding high as well, or coming off an emotional loss and needs a win to get back into the BCS picture. Either way, that will prove difficult for the Badgers – even at home.
Two weeks later comes in Ohio State, which will be playing the role of spoiler all year long because of its bowl ban. There will be no pressure, and the Buckeyes could be dangerous if they've already gotten the best of Michigan State and Nebraska earlier in the year.
The regular season finale is at Penn State. No one is sure what will happen on the field with the Nittany Lions this year, especially since they lost several players in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
But, this was a nine-win team last year and shared the Leaders Division title with the Badgers, and it's the last home game of a tumultuous year. Emotions will be running very high, and the Nittinay Lions will be looking for a positive to take into the 2013 season.
I don't think anyone will say the Badgers have the best collection of players in the country – maybe even the Big Ten – but they are gifted enough to win when they should, and beat the tougher teams on their schedule.
All of the peripheral stuff is why Bucky Badger may be dancing in the end zone at the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in the Orange Bowl.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.