Wisconsin's Dare Ogunbowale runs during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia State Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash
September 19, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) The Big Ten gantlet is here for No. 11 Wisconsin.

The Badgers must open conference play by facing three opponents ranked eighth or better in the AP Top 25 over the next three games. They face four ranked opponents over the next five games.

It starts this weekend with a visit to No. 8 Michigan State.

''We see the rankings of our opponents, but we're going to approach this Big Ten season like we always have,'' running back Dare Ogunbowale said. ''This is why we play at Wisconsin.''

It's hard to push around the Badgers (3-0), a program historically known for tough, hard-nosed defenses and a punishing running game.

The defense remains strong, though there is plenty of uncertainty in the offensive backfield going into Saturday's showdown at Spartan Stadium.

Out of the top four running backs on the depth chart, only Ogunbowale isn't on the injury report. Lead tailback Corey Clement is listed as questionable for Michigan State with a sore left ankle that he injured two weeks ago against Akron.

And it's unclear which quarterback will start handing off the ball to the running backs. Bart Houston is listed as the starter on the depth chart , but coach Paul Chryst on Monday left open the possibility that backup Alex Hornibrook could play as well, or even start.

Hornibrook, who lost a competition in training camp for the starting job, may have thrown the race open again for his performance last week against Georgia State. He relieved Houston in the middle of the third quarter and led what had been a struggling offense on three scoring drives. Wisconsin avoided the upset and beat the Panthers 23-17 .

''Both have to be ready to play, to be sure. I'm positive of that,'' Chryst said when asked if Houston was still the starter. ''I told them they'll be games when they're both going to play. You do it in hockey, you have two goalies.''

The Badgers could just be trying to keep Michigan State guessing, too.

Houston, a senior, has started all three games this season. He has completed 62 percent of his 71 passes for 527 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, has played against Akron and Georgia State. He has a 76 percent completion rate on 17 passes for 183 yards with two scores and one interception.

''We need both of them to keep going ... You know what, I'll let the week determine all this stuff - with who's going to play tailback, who's going to play left guard, who's going to play quarterback,'' said Chryst, running off a list other positions with depth questions.

As for the schedule , Wisconsin is embracing the challenge after a few years of getting some breaks because of Big Ten scheduling quirks.

After Michigan State comes a trip to the Big House to play No. 4 Michigan. The Badgers then get a bye week before hosting No. 2 Ohio State in prime time on Oct. 15.

There is still no letup after that game, with a trip to Iowa and a visit from No. 20 Nebraska following Ohio State.

The always even-keeled Chryst just wants his team to focus on the next game.

''You've got to approach each week as its own week,'' Chryst said. ''The best way for us to act and be is in the moment, so we're excited it's Michigan State week.''

NOTES: Besides Clement, RBs Taiwan Deal (right ankle) and Bradrick Shaw (right shoulder) are also listed as questionable, along with OL Jon Dietzen (right leg) and DE Billy Hirschfeld (left leg). ... Pass-catching TE Troy Fumagalli is not listed on the injury report after leaving the Georgia State game following Wisconsin's first drive with a right leg injury.


Online: AP College Football: http://collegefootball.ap.org/


Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP


This story has been corrected to show gantlet throughout.

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