The Wisconsin Badgers close out their non-conference schedule with a home game in Camp Randall Stadium this week against the BYU Cougars. The Big Ten West favorites look poised to go into conference play without a loss and with Jonathan Taylor already proving to be a Heisman Trophy contender. Can BYU give the Badgers a battle on the road?
BYU is coming off a forgettable season but is showing some signs of being more competitive this season. After splitting its first two games, BYU is hoping to play spoiler against a playoff hopeful. Getting out of Madison with a win will be difficult, though, as the last non-conference opponent to exit Madison with a win against the Badgers was UNLV in 2003.
BYU at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -21.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Another big day for Jonathan Taylor?
It feels too obvious to note, but Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is always going to be a key for Wisconsin. The nation’s rushing leader after two weeks with 398 rushing yards and five touchdowns, Taylor should have an opportunity for another productive game against BYU.
The Cougars rank 83rd nationally in rushing defense, allowing 156.5 rushing yards per game and an average of 4.29 rushing yards per attempt. Last week against Cal, BYU gave up 184 yards on the ground. Last year against Wisconsin in Provo, BYU was gashed for 235 yards, including 128 yards from Taylor in his third college football game as a freshman.
2. Can Badgers get rolling early?
Wisconsin has won its first two games by a combined 62 points, yet there could be some slight concern about the team's sluggish starts on offense. It has not cost Wisconsin yet, but it might be reassuring for Wisconsin fans if the Badgers could get a foot on the gas pedal from the start of the game in the first quarter this week.
Wisconsin has outscored its first two opponents 10-7 in the first quarter but has turned things up in the second quarter with a 24-0 scoring advantage. There is something to be said for taking control into halftime, and Wisconsin has done that. But getting things started on a better foot in the first quarter is what the top playoff contenders have done this season against inferior opponents. If Wisconsin is going to be a playoff contender, it needs to prove it can do the same.
3. BYU defense struggles to get off the field
Two games are a small sample size, but BYU has had a problem getting the defense off the field in third-down situations. Through two games, the Cougars rank 118th in third-down defense, giving up 14 first downs in 30 third-down situations. BYU has also allowed three of four fourth downs to be converted this season.
This week, BYU will go up against one of the nation's most efficient third-down offenses. Wisconsin ranks 10th in the nation in third-down conversions with a 59.1 percent conversion rate. The Badgers have also converted their lone fourth-down attempt this year.
There is little reason to believe that Wisconsin won't enter its Big Ten schedule with a clean 3-0 record. Jonathan Taylor, behind a strong offensive line, should be difficult to stop, even for a BYU team that is improved from last season’s disaster. Getting pressure on Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum will be a focus for the Badgers defense, as he is likely to turn the football over at some point. Causing turnovers and letting Taylor lead the ground attack are the keys to Wisconsin’s formula for success, and that formula should once again be on display this weekend in Madison.
Prediction: Wisconsin 36, BYU 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.