Badgers' Non-Conference Schedule: Taking A Trip Down Memory Lane (& Looking Ahead)

By: Rex Sheild

Doctors, nurses, and the like constantly stress that excessively eating sweets, particularly cupcakes, is not a good habit to partake in. However, that has not stopped members of Automatic Qualifying (AQ)/Power-Five (P5) conferences from excessively divulging in their own form of cupcakes year after year. The Wisconsin Badgers are no exception.

As such, the team’s previous non-conference opponents were far from stellar dating back the last 15 years or so. Bucky would play host to teams like Cal Poly, Wofford, and Austin Peay while traveling to UNLV, Hawaii, and Fresno State, among others.

My personal favorites were those late-season games against the Rainbow Warriors, watching Ron Dayne or John Clay (or really whatever running back was at the helm for that particular year) run for a million yards, more or less, against an inferior defense.

Of course, over that same time span, the Badgers played teams from the traditional powerhouse conferences. For instance, they had home-and-home series with three Pac-12 teams: (1) Oregon, 2000 and 2001; (2) Arizona State, 2010 and 2013; and (3) Oregon State, 2011 and 2012. Not to mention, in direct correlation to the advent of the College Football Playoff, UW upped its game so to speak and began scheduling perennial powerhouses.

The Badgers played LSU at NRG Stadium in Houston in 2014, played Alabama at AT&T Stadium in 2015, and played LSU at Lambeau Field in 2016. While the latter game may not have helped Paul Chryst’s squad as much as they would have thought at the time, because LSU started the season in the top five and never cracked the top 12 after that game, the outcome still presumably put a feather in their cap in terms of the eye test for the CFB Playoff Committee.

Altogether, all three games stood as a win-win proposition regardless of the outcome. Lose the game? That was expected. Win the game? Praise the heavens above; the Badgers are a CFB Playoff sleeper! 

This year, for whatever reason, there were no win-win propositions during the non-conference slate. As you know, the non-conference slate did not churn out a perennial powerhouse or even a Power-5 program for that matter. Further evidence that this year’s slate was more of a misnomer relative to recent history: Saturday’s contest at BYU marked the first time since 2010 that the Badgers played a true road game against a non-P5 program.

On that scorching September 2010 night in Sin City, UW beat UNLV, 41-21. If you include the game against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in 2011, one that featured the Badgers as the road team, it was still six years since UW traveled to play a non-P5 program.

Instead, UW shelled out an obscene amount of money for the measly opponents to travel to Camp Randall Stadium. And as far as the 2017 regular season is concerned, Badgers paid $1.2 million to both Utah State and FAU, totaling $2.4 million. UW is not alone in that regard, either, as other P5 programs will spend roughly $150 million for “guarantee” games when the regular season is all said and done, according to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz.

Regardless, Badger fans will have to come to terms with the following four scenarios related to future non-conference games over the next eight years, though this may be subject to change:

(1) Ten home games against non-P5 teams, which are all destined to be 11:00am kickoffs;

2018: Western Kentucky, New Mexico, BYU

2019: Central Michigan, Kent State

2020: Southern Illinois

2021: Army

2022: Hawaii

2023: Buffalo

2025: North Texas

(2) Two road games against non-P5 teams;

2019: South Florida

2024: Hawaii

(3) Three home-and-home series against P5 teams that are currently either somewhat decent (Virginia Tech and Washington State) or quite bad (Syracuse); and

2020 and 2021: Syracuse

2022 and 2023: Washington State

2024 and 2025: Virginia Tech

 (4) Two neutral-site games against Notre Dame

2020: Lambeau Field

2021: Soldier Field

While I am not a medical professional by any means, that schedule seems like a health scare waiting to happen. And from a fan's perspective, it may seem even worse.