So it begins, the run of meeting the SEC to open the year and seeing if the Wisconsin Badgers are worthy. In LSU, it seems as if there's a perfect testing ground for Wisconsin. Both teams are bumping up against each other in the highly scientific Top 25 polls. Both have a cadre of talented running backs and veteran offensive lines going up against defenses full of fresh faces in the front seven. Both have multiple quarterbacks who are totally going to see the field. Both lost receivers who were the keys to the passing game.
It looks like it's going to be that sort of game that could well be a classic.
LSU's always made its bones on offense through the running game. Sure, last year Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham were taking passes from Zack Mettenberger. But most of the time, it's the cadre of running backs that Les Miles mixes and matches. Sure, last year Jeremy Hill carried most of the load, but the dropoff between Hill and Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will be minimal at most, and it will likely be only a matter of time before Leonard Fournette makes his presence felt. Though with the Tigers' considerations at wide receiver, I would expect the Badgers to see more of the former receiver (Magee) in the backfield.
That's not to say LSU's receivers aren't physically talented. Malachi Dupre has a five-star pedigree to him as a true freshman. Trey Quinn is smaller, but he has legitimate speed as a true freshman. Travin Dural made a couple of big plays as a redshirt freshman last year. Add to that a tall target in 6'4 Quantavius Leslie? On physicality alone, Wisconsin's secondary is going to have an interesting match-up.
That's not to say that the Badgers' back eight are going to wilt under the pressure, though. Sure, there will be some inexperienced spots, but this will be something more akin to the defense Dave Aranda ran at Utah State. You should have the linebackers of Vince Biegel, Derek Landisch, Joe Schobert and Michael Trotter as a healthy and attacking bunch. Sure, Lubern Figaro will be a true freshman, but he's got Michael Caputo as his tag team partner. Add in a solid line with Warren Herring front and center, and while you're not going to totally hold off the Tigers' offensive line (La'el Collins could be a top-15 pick after all), the Badgers' defense could stand with them.
Offensively, while UW seems to be going with Tanner McEvoy under center, Badgerball was successful against LSU's front seven. And while the Badgers might put in the read-option and some speed-option work, most of the deception for the Badgers will be that ever-loving jet sweep. Wisconsin might also have a rushing upgrade in Corey Clement. I'm not saying James White wasn't more versatile, but Clement and Melvin Gordon should get theirs if Andy Ludwig doesn't get too cute.
That being said, the aspect where LSU could possibly shut Wisconsin down is in the cornerback vs. receiver game. Sure, the Badger freshmen had good camps, but with little help, Jalen Mills, Tre'Davious White and Jalen Collins are a very strong batch of corners. Add to that the upside of Dwyane Thomas, and it becomes integral that at least one of Sam Arneson, Austin Traylor and Derek Watt make their presences felt.
All in all, this is going to be a game that, barring something previously unseen, neither team is going to run away with. Run-on sentences aside, the Badgers are going to have to do the classic sports speak of controlling the clock and winning the turnover battle to get the win. Even if they lead late, the Tigers' have a way to pull it out because Les Miles is a Dadaist genius.
On the other side, Gary Andersen won nine games last year playing it Bret Bielema-style, and he always finds a way to punch teams in the mouth that no one expects. It's gonna be that proverbial barn-burner.
Football's here. It's gonna be fun.