Wisconsin stands 10 days away from opening its 2021 football season.
The beginning of their schedule will prove to be the toughest, as the team must face a ranked Penn State team Week 1, travel to Chicago to face Notre Dame Week 3, return home to play Michigan and have a sneaky-tough out-of-conference game against Army soon after.
Overall, though, it’s an extremely manageable schedule. They avoid a crossover game with Ohio State and every tough game before Minnesota is either at home or at a neutral site.
Related: Three Wisconsin Badgers will miss the 2021 season due to injury
Since we’re now 10 days away from kickoff, I’m here with game-by-game score prediction for Wisconsin’s 2021 football season:
Apr 17, 2021; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin looks on during the Penn State spring practice at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Alberti-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin and Penn State enter Week 1 with a similar profile.
Both teams have quarterbacks that have shown great play, and also struggled at times. Both teams had rough 2020 campaigns—Wisconsin 4-3 and Penn State 4-5. And, most importantly, both enter the year with significant expectations of a bounce-back year.
Big matchups to watch in this one include Penn State wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington against the Badger secondary, Wisconsin running backs against P.J. Mustipher and the Nittany Lion defensive line and the overall play of quarterbacks Graham Mertz and Spencer Petras.
Wisconsin will be around 3.5-point favorites in this contest and boast a huge home-field advantage with Camp Randall set to be at full capacity.
It think both offenses find real success in this one and both teams answer a lot of questions about their poor 2020 seasons. But in the end, Wisconsin’s defense comes up with a few huge takeaways and the Badgers pull away with a victory.
Final Score: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 23
Sep 14, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Eastern Michigan Eagles head coach Chris Creighton reacts during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin shouldn’t have much trouble with this one after opening their season with a pivotal matchup.
Final Score: Wisconsin 34, Eastern Michigan 7
Nov 21, 2015; Madison, WI, USA; A general view of nnow covered seats in the stands of Camp Randall Stadium prior to the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2021; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Jack Coan (17) runs the ball in the first half of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
The Jack Coan revenge game looks like a pivotal game for Paul Chryst’s team, but it isn’t nearly one of the Badgers’ most important. It’s out-of-conference and will be a great test, but the path to Indy and beyond won’t be affected much by the outcome in Chicago.
That said, I see Coan showing more than people expect in Notre Dame’s offense this season. Pair that with talent everywhere and a team fresh off the playoff, and signs point towards a loss for me in this one.
Final Score: Notre Dame 27, Wisconsin 21
Nov 14, 2020; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Chris Evans (9) is tackled by Wisconsin Badgers safety Eric Burrell (25) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
This game doesn’t scare me that much.
Michigan hasn’t won in Madison in two decades, Jim Harbaugh is still in search of a quarterback and the Wolverines have been physically dominated by the Badgers during the last few contests.
Final Score: Wisconsin 30, Michigan 21
Oct 20, 2018; Madison, WI, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Ricky Smalling (4) rushes with the football after catching a pass during the second quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
It’s lining up to be a rough first year at Illinois for Bret Bielema, though he does have a few things going for him: quarterback Brandon Peters returns and the offensive line is littered with experience.
On defense, though, it should be more of the same for the Fighting Illini.
Wisconsin lost the last matchup in Champaign in heartbreaking fashion. I think that loss still haunts those who were on the 2019 team and they will be set on avoiding a repeat performance.
Final Score: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 14
Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
While this screams close contest, something tells me Jim Leonhard will have the day of his life stopping Army’s triple-option attack.
If Wisconsin’s offense is healthy, I don’t see Army being able to stop their versatility and multi-dimensional attack. Though we saw Jeff Monken’s team take Michigan to overtime a few years ago, this is a defense that Graham Mertz and company should not have much trouble with.
Final Score: Wisconsin 24, Army 13
Oct 31, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Owen Carney Jr. (99) sacks Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell (16) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Weird stuff happens in West Lafayette in October.
This is probably the biggest trap game for me on the schedule, with a crucial, likely Big Ten West-deciding contest looming against Iowa.
Quarterback Jack Plummer figures to have a solid season, wide receiver David Bell is as dangerous as anybody and defensive end George Karlaftis is one of the conference’s best.
I think Wisconsin wins, but it will test the heart rates of every Badger fan.
Final Score: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 24 (OT)
Dec 12, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; The line of scrimmage between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
As mentioned, this game will most likely decide the Big Ten West.
Similar to the Penn State game, Iowa enters the year with much of their success riding on the arm of an up-and-down quarterback in Spencer Petras.
But Iowa again will have one of the best offensive lines in the conference led by Tyler Linderbaum, running back Tyler Goodson is dangerous and the Iowa defense is the Iowa defense.
While Wisconsin–Iowa contests often come down to who wins up front, it’ll be a Graham Mertz vs. Spencer Petras matchup here with each team great in the trenches.
Final Score: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 21
Oct 12, 2019; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Donavan Hale (6) catches a ball that is ruled out of bounds against Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Avery Young (2) during the second quarter of the game at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
While Greg Schiano is poised for a second-year jump at Rutgers, I can’t predict a let-down loss in this spot.
The Big Ten West at this point will be down to the Badgers, Hawkeyes and Minnesota Golden Gophers, with Wisconsin having a shot at controlling their own destiny with two of three wins down the stretch.
They’ll get one here at Rutgers.
Final Score: Wisconsin 31, Rutgers 20
Nov 21, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats wide receiver Riley Lees (19) runs with the ball as Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Leo Chenal (45) tries to tackle him during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
I’m up on Penn State, Rutgers, Iowa and Minnesota. That said, I’m extremely down on Northwestern this season.
Hunter Johnson could finally turn into a solid player at quarterback, but the amount of high-end talent the Wildcats lost after last season will prove significant.
If Graham Mertz can avoid Brandon Joseph in the Wildcat secondary, the Badgers should be able to muscle themselves to victory. Yes, I’m saying that knowing that Wisconsin—Northwestern contests are always way too close for comfort.
Final Score: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 14
Nov 27, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) and Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) in action against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Another year, another spot for Wisconsin’s running game to absolutely dominate the Cornhuskers.
Unless Adrian Martinez takes a massive step, the Nebraska defense finds an answer against the Badgers up front and Scott Frost turns things around quickly, it could be a Big Ten West-clinching win for the Badgers.
Final Score: Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 24
Wisconsin players celebrate with the Paul Bunyan Axe after they defeated Minnesota in overtime of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
While it sounds crazy, this will be the first true road test of Graham Mertz’s career.
I’m pretty high on the Gophers this year, that assuming their defense can’t go anywhere but up. But Tanner Morgan still has Mohamed Ibrahim in the backfield and Chris Autman-Bell on the outside, and P.J. Fleck didn’t suddenly forget how to coach.
I think Wisconsin will have the West locked up by this point thanks to Iowa having one or two losses and the Gophers losing to Ohio State and either Indiana or Iowa.
So, while it sounds crazy, I think Minnesota catches the Badgers looking ahead and takes Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Final Score: Minnesota 28, Wisconsin 20
Final Record: 10-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
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Big Ten football power rankings after Week 4: Goodbye Wisconsin
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Wisconsin stands 10 days away from opening its 2021 football season.