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The Times’ college football countdown: No. 15 Wisconsin

Wisconsin doesn’t need help winning Big Ten Conference championships, but it sure keeps getting it.

The combination of realignment and corruption within the ranks has beautifully positioned the Badgers for a third consecutive Rose Bowl run.

Sometimes, Bucky, you need to be lucky, good and placed in the Leaders Division.

To get to the Big Ten title game this season, Wisconsin really only needs to win the Big Four.

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FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this column stated Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina. He transferred from North Carolina State.


Two of the six teams in the Badgers’ division, Ohio State and Penn State, are on probation and not eligible for postseason play, and that includes conference title games.

Ohio State got hit with a one-year bowl ban in the aftermath of Jim Tressel. Penn State got four years in the aftermath of Jerry Sandusky. While that may not sound at all like a division of “Leaders,” Wisconsin becomes the clear beneficiary.

Consider: UCLA, with a losing record last year, took advantage of USC’s bowl ban and became the South Division’s entry in the Pac-12 Conference title game.

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Wisconsin has to only fend off Illinois, Purdue and Indiana, schools that were a combined 15-21 last season.

“That really won’t change our approach,” Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said between giggles at Big Ten media day.

Wisconsin has become the landing pad for disenfranchised quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson arrived last year from North Carolina State and led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl.

The latest import quarterback is Danny O’Brien, the former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year. He left Maryland after a rocky last year with new Coach Randy Edsall.

O’Brien, who graduated in three years, did not have to sit out a season and has two years of eligibility remaining.

The off-season wasn’t all roses for Wisconsin, though. On Aug. 1, star back Montee Ball was attacked on campus. He suffered a concussion and was held out of early workouts, although he was expected to return to practice this week.

Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, apologized this week to his teammates and promised not to be a further distraction.

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On defense, the Badgers need to improve after Oregon rolled up 621 yards in the last Rose Bowl. Wisconsin’s defense actually finished a respectable 15th in the nation last season before getting exposed by Oregon’s speed.

The unit retools around senior Mike Taylor and junior Chris Borland, two of the Big Ten’s best linebackers.

Wisconsin’s nonconference schedule includes a Sept. 8 trip to Oregon State’s Reser Stadium (capacity 45,674), which might throw the Badgers off as they wonder, ‘Where’s the rest of the stadium?”

The Big Ten opener is also a real test, at Nebraska, and Michigan State goes to Madison on Oct. 27 to play the rubber game after last season’s spectacular split.

It’s not Wisconsin’s fault the Big Ten was divided in two and Ohio State and Penn State ended up in trouble. The Badgers should have every expectation to win the division, and not have to apologize for it.

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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