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Wisconsin Badgers vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction

Paul Chryst

Paul Chryst

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It’s not often the Wisconsin Badgers make a trip to the Mountain Time Zone. In fact, in the Badgers’ 130-year history, they’ve only played eight games in the Mountain Time Zone. This Saturday will mark the ninth against a BYU team that is still struggling to find any sort of positives on the offensive side of the ball.

For BYU (1-2), this is its first time hosting a Big Ten team in Provo, and it’s the first time the Cougars have been a double-digit home underdog since they hosted the USC Trojans in 2004. Wait, those games were vacated so they don’t count, right?

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst is looking for his No. 10 Badgers (2-0) to play a complete game on both sides as this is the final tune-up before Big Ten play kicks off in two weeks.

Wisconsin at BYU

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Wisconsin -17

Three Things to Watch

1. Badgers’ run game hasn’t lost a step

What else is new in Madison? The Badgers and a great running game go together like the state of Wisconsin and cheese. It’s just a great match.

Wisconsin lost Corey Clement from a season ago, but Bucky’s crew already has found the heir to the Wisconsin running back throne in true freshman Jonathan Taylor, who like Clement and Badger legend Ron Dayne, also hails from the state of New Jersey. The Garden State has been kind to Badger football.

Taylor has 310 rushing yards through two games and is currently averaging an eye-popping 8.9 yards per carry.

2. Who will play quarterback for BYU?

In the final play of last week’s loss to Utah, Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum suffered an ankle injury that had him limping off the field.

Mangum’s status for this week against Wisconsin is now up in the air. BYU coaches and players have neither confirmed nor denied if Mangum has practiced at all this week.

Behind Mangum is sophomore Beau Hoge. The son of ESPN analyst and former Pittsburgh Steeler, Merill Hoge, Beau is a QB whose strength is running the football. He’s still a developmental prospect as far as passing goes, but he’s a very good athlete.

BYU’s offense is looking for any spark it can get after averaging just 11.0 points per game through three games.

3. Injury status of Wisconsin’s interior offensive linemen

Starting offensive guards Beau Benzschawel and Jon Dietzen are question marks entering Saturday’s game against BYU.

Both players have been banged up through the first two weeks of the season. Benzschawel and Dietzen have started 22 games between them. Can BYU’s improved defensive line find success if either or both Benzschawel or Dietzen are out for this game?

Final Analysis

It’s hard to find anywhere in this matchup where BYU has an advantage over Wisconsin. The Badgers are a top-10 team and could be a College Football Playoff participant this season. They are talented and this game won’t be close. Wisconsin’s ground game will overwhelm a BYU defense that has been exhausted the past two weeks due to the inept play of the Cougar offense. Expect Jonathan Taylor and Chris James in the Badger backfield to have big days on the ground and QB Alex Hornibrook to air it out to his favorite target, tight end Troy Fumagali, to give the Badgers balance on offense as they cruise to a solid win in preparation for Big Ten play in two weeks.

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Prediction: Wisconsin 33, BYU 10

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.