"It's just unfortunate how the schedule lays out," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said Thursday. "We just have a brutal, brutal October all in a row. You talk about having to be physical and hold up, just the physicality of those games will take its toll. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and I know (coach) Paul (Chryst) will be smart enough to alter how he practices."
After beating then-No. 8 Michigan State, Wisconsin's October looks like this: at No. 4 Michigan, bye week, vs. No. 2 Ohio State, at 2015 Big Ten West champion Iowa, and vs. No. 15 Nebraska. Alvarez said he hopes Big Ten athletic directors rethink scheduling in the future.
"I remember when that schedule came out (in 2013) and I thought, 'How the hell did you kick out something looking like that?" Alvarez said. "But it's cyclical. I look around and Nebraska had a bad draw when they came in. I think maybe that's something we've got to look at down the road -- equity for everybody. I can't complain about it because other people went through the same gauntlet in past years.
"I think you could take a look at the general strength of some programs and split them up. Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State have been good for a long time. Penn State normally is in that group. Just make sure someone doesn't get all three year in a year. That's hard to do. That's something the ADs are going to have to talk about some day."
Wisconsin is the first guinea pig to learn the implications of the Big Ten shifting from eight to nine conference games, meaning six division and three cross-division games. In the past two years, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State have been the Big Ten's strongest teams and they're all in the East.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said no one could have predicted when Wisconsin's 2016 schedule was made that Michigan would rise from a losing record in 2014 into a top-five team, and that Michigan State would become a top-10 program. Switching to nine games allows every Big Ten player to face every Big Ten opponent over a four-year period.
Until this season, the Badgers had not played Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State in the regular season since 2013. Now they face all three, including Saturday's top-10 showdown in Ann Arbor for the first Wisconsin-Michigan meeting since 2010. How long has that been? Bret Bielema and Rich Rodriguez were the coaches in 2010.
"We hoped (the schedule change) would enhance our television appeal," Delany said. "We hoped it would enhance the appeal at the gate. We hoped it would impress the selection committee. We also knew that we would win fewer games and have fewer bowl-eligible teams. I wouldn't be against looking at it down the road, but I think we have to let it play out."
As Alvarez acknowledged, Wisconsin benefitted from the Big Ten schedule in recent years. In 2014 and 2015, the Badgers drew Rutgers and Maryland from the East. That helped Wisconsin win the West in 2014 before losing 59-0 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
As the Big Ten improves, some of its teams' schedules are starting to look like those the SEC often touts. For instance, Tennessee is in a stretch of four straight weeks against No. 23 Florida, No. 25 Georgia, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama. Next week, Alabama starts a five-week stretch against No. 20 Arkansas, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 9 Texas A&M and LSU with a bye before the Tigers.
If the Badgers survive this October without too many losses, they could be very attractive to the College Football Playoff committee, Delany said.
"If they win them all, we know what's going to happen," Delany said. "If they lose one and win the (Big Ten) championship, we know what's going to happen. Who knows? They'd be a pretty appealing 11-2 team as well because they may have more wins against teams in the top 10 than anybody else in the country."
For now, though, it's survival mode at Wisconsin, which would have liked an easier October. Fellow Big Ten West teams Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota combine to play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State just twice. Minnesota doesn't play any of the three East powers.
"If I was an AD, I would probably be saying the same thing (as Alvarez)," Delany said. "If I was a football coach, I know I would."