When LSU and Wisconsin kick off on Saturday in Week 1 at Lambeau Field, SEC versus Big Ten pride will be on the line bringing in average football fans from across the country. While the matchup on paper seems inviting, the end result may be anything but.
The idea of playing LSU to open the season might sound good, especially after the Badgers could have easily beaten the Tigers in the 2014 season opener (lost 28-24), but could the first game of the season be any worse for Wisconsin? LSU is a national title contender and the Badgers are coming off of a smoke-and-mirrors 10-3 team in 2015, a campaign that was helped greatly by avoiding Big Ten giants Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. After four years of instability at the head coaching position, the Badgers are starting to show some wear and tear on offense.
LSU heads north for Wisconsin with a full head of steam returning 17 starters and a lot of insider information. Besides facing Wisconsin just two seasons ago, LSU’s new defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, held the same position in Madison last year. Who knows Paul Chryst’s offense better than Aranda?
Chryst has a tough opener to try to reestablish the Badgers running game, which slipped to a paltry 150 yards per contest in 2015. Losing running back Corey Clement at the start of the year did not help. The good news is Clement is back, as are three offensive line starters from last year. The bad news is that the starters from last year were average at best and now face a hungry and experienced LSU defensive front.
Les Miles' team needs to establish two things in Week 1: a solid passing attack and Aranda’s new 3-4 defense. If all else fails, Heisman Trophy Award contender Leonard Fournette will be on hand to carry the load.
LSU owns the all-time series at 3-0. The first two meetings were in 1971-72 and the last was in 2014.
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Green Bay, Wis.)
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3, at 3:30 p.m. E.T.
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: LSU -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback Play
LSU fans will find it tough to fathom another program as uncertain about their potential play under center, but Wisconsin can match. On Aug. 24, Chryst announced senior Bart Houston will get the start at quarterback against LSU. Houston completed 27 of 47 passes last season for 281 yards with three touchdowns against two picks.
Tigers starting quarterback Brandon Harris has been put through the proverbial wringer about his play, or lack thereof, in the pocket. In theory, both coaches would love to establish their passing game early to raise the confidence level of their guys.
2. Wisconsin’s Defense
As mentioned, the reins to the number two defense in the nation from a year ago has been passed over to Justin Wilcox from Aranda. Wilcox is USC’s former defensive coordinator and thus accustomed to prepping for big games against top talent.
Despite all the recruiting star talent USC gets each year, the Trojans were very average on defense in 2015 and downright horrible at stopping the pass. The Badgers only return five starters from last year’s stout defense. Can they find their form from a year ago against LSU?
The Badgers have two stud linebackers to bang heads with Fournette, Jack Cichy and Vince Biegel. Cichy is a 3-4 outside linebacker and Biegel is an inside playmaker. News got worse for Wisconsin on Tuesday with the announcement that returning leading tackler, linebacker T.J. Edwards, will miss the game still suffering lingering effects from a foot fractured this summer.
3. The Youngins vs. The Veterans
While LSU has 17 returning starters on the roster, Wisconsin has 19 players on the two-deep that are sophomores and freshmen. Experience and physical maturity counts for a lot in football. Will Wisconsin be able to keep up with the depth of experienced talent LSU will throw their way for four quarters?
The Badgers are not your usual Wisconsin team from over the past 20 years. Chryst is in a rebuilding mode and has a heck of a Big Ten schedule this year with all of those giants back on the docket. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has to get Clement back into a flow while finding a rhythm for Houston in the pocket with a very young offensive line. Life on defense is not any easier for Wilcox. Five starters are back with just one (Biegel) being a senior. Wilcox has a tough road to hoe learning his personnel in Week 1 against LSU.
Having Dave Aranda on the LSU sidelines has to help the Tigers game planning. Who could know all the strengths and weaknesses of the Badgers better than Aranda?
Preseason watch lists are not the end all be all, but LSU has helped fill out a lot of them, especially on defense. Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith is as good as any other in the nation. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is entering his fourth year as a starter. Safety Jamal Adams might be the best at his position in the nation. Pushing the issue up front for the Tigers is nose guard Davon Godchaux, a preseason Outland Trophy nominee. In all, LSU has nine starters back on defense giving Aranda another salty defense to guide for a second consecutive year.
Prediction: LSU 35, Wisconsin 14
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.