Wisconsin and LSU will finally face each other Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston for the 2014 season-opener. The matchup is one of the top games of the entire college football season, and especially of Week 1. For the Badgers and Tigers (especially the Badgers), the game stands apart from the rest on their respective schedules.
A win for Wisconsin strikes back a slew of various "Big Ten vs. SEC" narratives, and more importantly, sheds that label of "not being able to win the big games" after its four straight bowl losses. For LSU, a win goes a long way toward establishing a young team as a power in the SEC.
Wisconsin and LSU have each been among the best college football teams in non-conference play over the last several years. The Badgers are 43-3 in non-conference regular-season games since 2002, a winning percentage of .935 that's second only in that period of time to the Tigers, who went 45-1.
Over the course of this week, the B5Q staff has been working hard to preview the game and cover every update as thoroughly as possible. You can view every piece of Wisconsin-LSU content in our Week 1 StoryStream; one interesting development from Friday night came in the form of various reports that revealed four LSU players didn't travel with the team to Houston for a variety of reasons. Less than 24 hours before kickoff, that news seemed especially surprising and concerning for Tigers fans.
Below are our main previews of the game, with a few key excerpts. The game thread will be up at 7 p.m. LET'S GO.
LSU faces a rebuilding year after losing talent across the board. Many of the Tigers' key players have departed, as the Bayou Bengals saw nine of their own drafted in 2014. Luckily, the Tigers will be bringing in the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com. Many of these talented recruits will be asked to step in and contribute immediately.
LSU sophomore Anthony Jennings will start at quarterback vs. Wisconsin on Saturday, a source tells NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter. Jennings apparently beat out freshman Brandon Harris after a strong week of practice.
As a freshman last year, Jennings appeared in nine games and started in LSU's Outback Bowl win over Iowa. He went 13-of-29 for 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception over those nine games. Harris, meanwhile, came to LSU as the class of 2014's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Composite. We ran through the competition between Jennings and Harris in more detail last week.
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.
The defense's personnel losses from last year include eight players in the front seven of Aranda's 3-4 defense. Gone are Chris Borland, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and Dezmen Southward -- all now competing in the NFL -- among others who helped make the Badgers' defense a top-10 squad in rushing yards per game (fifth) and total defense (seventh).
Though there are questions for the untested defense -- the projected front seven has a combined 11 starts -- there are a few that return who've made significant contributions. Back are senior linebackers Derek Landisch, who's played in 38 games, and Marcus Trotter, who filled in for an injured Borland at Iowa and Illinois in 2013 and led the team in tackles both games.
Lubern Figaro, a true freshman, has yet to play a Division I football down, but he expressed confidence Wednesday with his comments about the familiar Big Ten vs. SEC comparisons, as well as how he thinks Wisconsin stacks up against LSU.
"You should feel disrespected," Figaro said when asked if he feels disrespected by all the attention paid toward the SEC. "We all know the Big Ten is better than the SEC."
The 6'0 safety from Everett, Massachusetts, said he isn't worried about LSU's speed on offense in preparing for Saturday.
"We match their speed," Figaro said. "We are way more physical than them. This is Wisconsin."