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The Badger Herald

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The Badger Herald

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Fiammetta: Top 5 chances to see Badgers away from Madison

Just as students across campus are breaking out their planners and organizers as the semester begins, Wisconsin athletic teams are circling their calendars with the biggest games of the fall. With as many successful programs as UW boasts, there are quite a large number of matchups that fans won’t want to miss. Naturally, many will come on the road, away from the friendly confines of Madison.

The ability to succeed away from home is always one of the principal trademarks of a strong athletic team, and coupled with the reputation Badger fans have of being one of the best traveling fanbases in the country, fall 2011 could be a special season for several UW programs. Here are the top five away games of this season that we say you’ll definitely want to catch:

  1. Football vs. Michigan State; East Lansing, Mich., Oct. 22, 2011

By this point in the season, the Badgers could very well be undefeated. The non-conference schedule won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, though it is entirely manageable. After the Big Ten opener under the lights against Nebraska – arguably the game of the year – Wisconsin hosts Indiana the week before traveling to East Lansing.

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On the second day of last October, the Badgers made that same trip and left with what would remain even at the end of the season arguably the team’s worst showing of 2010. Despite forcing MSU to turn the ball over three times, UW failed to take advantage. The offense managed only 292 yards, while the defense allowed Michigan State to convert 2-of-3 fourth down conversations and hold the ball for 36:24, nearly 13 minutes longer than Wisconsin did. At the time, the loss had the effect of knocking the wind out of most of the BCS hopes the Badgers held at the time. Obviously, Wisconsin recovered to make the Rose Bowl.

  1. Football vs. Ohio State; Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 29, 2011

This season, the MSU game makes up the first of a brutal two-game stretch that is very likely to make or break UW’s season. One week later, Wisconsin travels to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Ohio State – also at night – and you can bet the Buckeyes will have revenge on their minds. One loss in Big Ten play shouldn’t doom Wisconsin this year, though two very well could derail the Badgers’ BCS hopes and present an obstacle too taxing to overcome.

Ohio State has undeniably tarnished itself and set up significant obstacles to overcome this season, but its still entirely possible for the Buckeyes to remain at the top of the conference. Fans throughout Madison – and beyond – have pegged the Badgers as definite contenders in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, but remember – Bucky will have to finish ahead of Brutus in order to top the Leaders Division.

  1. Men’s basketball vs. North Carolina; Chapel Hill, N.C., Nov. 30, 2011

While the football team will see significant time in the national spotlight this fall (Bret Bielema’s Badgers are pegged to play in four of the Big Ten’s seven primetime games to be aired on ESPN), Bo Ryan’s men’s basketball squad won’t exactly be forgotten. After making its first Sweet 16 since 2008, the men’s basketball team will be featured prominently come the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge in late November when the Badgers travel to Chapel Hill to face what very well could be the nation’s top team in the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The remainder of the men’s basketball schedule hasn’t yet been released, though it’s a safe bet that the UNC game – which is the headliner of the Challenge – will be the most widely anticipated.

  1. Men’s hockey vs. North Dakota; Grand Forks, N.D., Jan. 27-Jan. 28, 2012

Yes, this series technically falls at the beginning of the spring semester, but as a huge pair of games for a team that begins the season in the fall, we’ll count it.

The Badgers will face their WCHA brethren twice this season, once in late October and again in late January. North Dakota finished atop the conference last season with a 21-6-1 WCHA record and 32-9-3 overall record that had them playing deep into the Frozen Four. The Fighting Sioux ultimately fell to Michigan, 2-0, in the semifinals, despite being considered a favorite by many to win it all.

North Dakota has lost six of its top seven scorers from last season, but the Sioux still return a ridiculous amount of talent. For a Wisconsin team looking to pick itself up after finishing seventh in the WCHA and losing many of its key players (forward Craig Smith and goaltenders Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett, to name a few), this early season test will be a huge proving ground. Much can, and likely will, have changed since the time the Badgers and the Sioux first meet in Madison, Oct. 21-22, but a solid outing in the second matchup against UND will give UW a huge positive result late in the season.

  1. Women’s soccer vs. Illinois; Champaign, Ill., Oct. 16, 2011

After a third-place finish in the Big Ten last season, the Badgers are primed for a breakout season. The Fighting Illini finished right behind them with a 6-3-1 record for fourth place (the Badgers were 7-1-2), and in 2011, the two teams begin the season ranked the same in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll. Wisconsin gets both No. 1 Penn State (Sept. 17) and No. 2 Ohio State (Oct. 2) at home, meaning it will have to be sure to take advantage of a matchup that should favor UW.

Adding to the magnitude of the game is that after traveling to Champaign, the Badgers will have only three more games remaining in the regular season. The Badgers reached the NCAA tournament and managed to crawl by Milwaukee, 2-1, in the first round before falling to Marquette on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie. For a team that is undoubtedly looking for an even stronger finish, this last road game of the season will be vital for the Badgers.

Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Which games are you planning on making the trip for? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @bheraldsports for all the latest Badgers news.

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