Utah State won just three games a season ago, and unfortunately for the Aggies, the bulk of experience from that team has moved on. That means one of the youngest teams in FBS will open its season against one of the most consistent programs in college football, the Wisconsin Badgers. To make matters worse for Utah State, they'll be facing the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers are coming off a season where – by most measures – they over-achieved. Paul Chryst's squad navigated one of the toughest gauntlets in the nation in 2016, finishing with an 11-3 record, a Big Ten West title and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Many of the key pieces are back, and Wisconsin is considered by most to once again be the front-runner in the division.
Utah State at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 1 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Wisconsin -28.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Wisconsin's offensive line
The Badger football program has become well known in recent years for churning out some of the finest individual linemen and offensive line groups in the country. The 2017 season won't be any different. The Badgers return four of five starters and a total of five linemen with significant playing experience up front. Watching them execute against an inferior Utah State defensive front will be a thing of beauty, especially football junkies who like to watch what is happening in the trenches.
2. Utah State's rushing attack
The ability of the Aggies to execute on the ground is the only real chance they have at keeping this one close. They have a couple of capable backs in Tonny Lindsey Jr. and LaJuan Hunt who are both capable of breaking big plays every time they touch the ball. The real weapon, however, is senior quarterback Kent Myers – one of the most underrated dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. His ability to read and find holes in a Wisconsin defense that might be taking a step back in 2017 will be key. If Utah State can move the ball consistently on the ground, the Aggies may be able to keep the score close heading into the second half.
3. The maturation of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook
The sophomore showed flashes of brilliance while sharing the starting role during his freshman campaign. Now that the job is fully his, look for a more confident Hornibrook to push the ball downfield more than any Badger quarterback in recent memory. He'll have two of the top targets in the Big Ten – wide receiver Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli – at his disposal when he looks to do damage through the air. If he can be efficient in the passing game behind a line that should also be opening gaping holes for the running game all night, then this one could get out of hand in a hurry.
The Badgers lost some top-notch talent on both sides of the ball, but they are still loaded with some of the best players in the Big Ten – if not the nation – at several positions. Utah State may have an athlete here or there who could give Wisconsin some headaches early on, but eventually depth will become a factor and the stage will be too big for head coach Matt Wells' young Aggies. After the rust and butterflies wear off in the first quarter, look for the Badgers to pull away on the back of a balanced offense that we haven't seen the likes of in Madison in quite some time.
Prediction: Wisconsin 52, Utah State 6
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.