Discussion Point: Should Northwestern really fear Wisconsin?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Are Wildcats fans giving the Badgers too much credit?

This is the latest post in our "Discussion Point" series, in which we ask you to respond to a topic based on chatter we've seen in our comments and on social media.

The Big Ten preseason polls came out this week, and unsurprisingly, Wisconsin is favored to win the Big Ten West. The Badgers won the conference three years in a row between 2010 and 2012, and they would have won the West Division last year had the conference been aligned this way. And since no other team in the West is clearly better than them, they're favored next year.

I get that, and I voted that way in the poll.

But what I don't understand is how many Northwestern fans see Wisconsin as such a major roadblock. A sampling:

From LP Wildcat: The only team in our division we should struggle with is Wisconsin ... Every other team is beatable

From NU'06er: Our levels of relative success/failure against Io_a and Wisconsin over the last decade plus ... make me believe Wisconsin will be good anyway while the Hawkeyes fail to win a third in a row over us in spite of their upswing (when was the last time they won three in a row against us... pre-Barnett?)

(Edit: Despite the comment, Iowa has not won three in a row against NU. The Hawkeyes are going for three wins in four years in that series this season.)

What's interesting is that the Iowa and Notre Dame games on the road will probably be tougher than the Wisconsin game, and depending on how Nebraska and Michigan turn out, those games could be too. Because when you look at Wisconsin objectively, they look pretty beatable:

  • The game is at home and early in the season, which benefits NU, since Wisconsin replaces far more players (NU returns a B1G-leading 18 starters, while Wisconsin returns a B1G-worst 10 starters)
  • The Badgers lost their entire front seven
  • Their quarterback play has been very mediocre, and UW loses its *only* wide receiver and tight end from last year (the leading returning receiver had 10 receptions on 18 targets last year)

Yes, Wisconsin will have a beast of a running game next year, and yes, the Badgers have recruited well. But what about that game screams "unwinnable," while the game at Iowa — which returns a lot more and gets NU at home — isn't worrying anyone?

Even the historic "Io_a sucks against NU, while Wisconsin destroys NU" narrative is a myth. Since 1990, NU is 10-12 against Iowa and 8-10 against Wisconsin. The Wildcats haven't lost at home to the Badgers since 1999, either.

So why all the Wisconsin fear?

The reason is likely recency. While the Wildcats beat Iowa in 2012 and 2010, they were destroyed by Wisconsin in their last two meetings. But college football is cyclical, and teams go through rebuilding cycles more often than you'd think (in 2008 and 2009, but NU and Iowa were better than Wisconsin).

Those last two games — 70-23 and 35-6 losses — will continue to haunt NU until the "streak" is broken, but considering how this season stacks up, this might be the year the Wildcats get their revenge.

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