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July 29, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
Gary Andersen hasn't shied away from playing tough non-conference games during his tenure as a head coach. Andersen's Utah State Aggies played at least one major non-conference opponent in each of his four seasons in Logan, narrowly losing to Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Wisconsin in turn.
Granted, a non-BCS team like Utah State has to play tough road games to get extra exposure and pocket some money for their athletic departments. But if Andersen doesn't backtrack down the road it sounds like the Badgers will make a habit of playing tough non-conference games, even though BCS level teams like Wisconsin usually take on the role of Goliath in early September.
The Badgers are already scheduled to play Alabama in 2015 and are expected to play LSU next season, with both games taking place at neutral sites. When asked about his scheduling philosophy at the Big Ten media days last week, Andersen said the Badgers are going to have to adapt to the changing world of college football.
"I think scheduling has changed because of nine games, I think scheduling has changed because of the landscape of college football, and it has gotten a bit more competitive. But I'm ok with that," Andersen said. "Playing those SEC games earlier in the year, do I want to do that? There's a big part of me that wakes up and says 'We absolutely want to do that.' And then there's a part of me that wakes up and says 'What in the heck are we doing?'"
And with the College Football Playoff set to take over for the Bowl Championship Series in 2014, Andersen said it's more important than ever to play top-tier games to improve a team's strength of schedule early on in the season.
"You have to look at the real world," Andersen said. "LSU, Alabama, whenever we play those guys somebody's going to lose. Do I think we're going to win? Yeah, I think we're going to walk in to those games and they're going to have to deal with the consequences of losing an early game.
"But you've got to be able to understand the college environment and the landscape. I'm fortunate because I have an athletic director that gets it. He knows a lot more about that playoff system, he knows a lot more about all of the stuff that's taken place in those areas."
Andersen also said he likes playing top-tier non-conference games earlier in the season, just in case a talented team loses early on in the season.
"You play those games early in the year and it is good for recruiting," Andersen said. "The opportunity to play against the best of the best whoever wins, it's great. But whoever loses you want to play that game early so you have a chance to recover if you have that special year after that loss. You don't want to play those games in game seven eight or nine, because you can't recover."
As for the Big Ten's ban on teams playing FCS games, Andersen said he's ok with the change as long as everyone in the conference faces opponents from the same division.
"[The] ideal for me is everyone in the conference being on the same page," Andersen said. "That's the key for me. If nobody is going to play those I-AA teams, that's fine with me. As long as [it's] fair, we'll do it."
Andersen also said that playing a top-tier team from the SEC and travelling out west for a game with a team from the Pac-12 might not happen in every season, but Andersen said he wants his teams to be tested against top competition as often as possible, with the Big Ten moving to nine conference games and just three non-conference games.
"For us to play a game on the west coast and a team from the south, it would be great," Andersen said. "That's 11 games, and there's one left. Maybe you're going to play two other teams where you're 'supposed to win' or whatever, but scheduling is getting tougher and tougher, especially if you eliminate the I-AA teams.
"[My] ideal schedule is to play the nine [conference games], I'm good with that, play another team from the west coast or the south, and then sprinkle in two other teams and give them an opportunity to come and play in a great environment like we did."
At the very least, Andersen's comments provide a window in to which teams the Badgers could add in to their non-conference schedules for the next few seasons. And when compared to seasons past that saw the Badgers play the likes of Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, and Hawaii, Andersen's willingness to take on college football's other Goliaths should be a welcome sight for fans looking to get more bang for their season ticket bucks.