I was talking with my dad over the summer and as conversations between father and son tend to go, sports became the topic. More specifically, the season opener between Wisconsin and Alabama.
Long story short, he thinks Alabama's going to win. And by a lot. Last season's iteration of Joel Stave doesn't have a lot of trust with the paterfamilias of the Rosin family.
Truth be told, I can see it, too. Alabama is going to have the most talented front seven Wisconsin will face. Defensive end A'Shawn Robinson is going into the season graded as a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The other two starting defensive linemen, end Jarran Reed and tackle Darren Lake, as well as linebacker Reggie Ragland, all have grades in the second or third rounds. With the Badgers replacing three starters and having a fall camp riddled with injuries on the offensive line, the game in the trenches could swing considerably in the favor of Alabama. And if the Crimson Tide can completely hold down the Badgers' running game, Alabama will win by three scores or more.
Wisconsin's two most important positions on the offensive line are both experienced and have professional futures, however. Put it this way: If the veterans lead and the Badgers' offensive line can hold up, this game gets real interesting on paper.
The Badgers will likely lean on the left side of the offensive line to get Corey Clement rushing yards, as the Badgers liked left guard Michael Deiter enough to risk burning his redshirt on last season's conference championship. They might also, for the first time since Paul Chryst was last here, have a passing game with multiple consistent targets.
More on the Game
More on the Game
I know, it sounds crazy. But Alex Erickson returns as a consistent presence and Tanner McEvoy is the breakout candidate of the summer who is a tall and physically gifted receiver who can make plays on an Alabama secondary that is physically gifted, but tends not to ballhawk. Troy Fumagalli did miss time due to an ankle injury over the past week, but he has returned to practice and will join Austin Traylor as a viable tight end target.
Here's where I'm going to go out on a limb: If the offensive line doesn't keep the Badgers in 3rd-and-long for most of the night, the passing game seems in better shape than Alabama's. Amari Cooper is now looking like the one good thing on the Oakland Raiders, and with the graduations of DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, tight end O.J. Howard is their leading returning pass catcher with 17 grabs.
Yes, ArDarius Stewart is a potential breakout candidate, and the trendline of this post is that the Crimson Tide are physically gifted, which should really translate into high levels of performance, but the Badgers might have a paper advantage for two reasons. One, the secondary is finally a strength of the team on paper with all sorts of veteran experience. (And don't sleep on Leo Musso, either, he went down to the wire two seasons ago with Michael Caputo, and losing out on him is no shame.)
Two, an inexperienced receiving corps is never going to be helped by a quarterback situation in flux. Right now, the Crimson Tide is still not ready to name a starter at QB. You could call it gamesmanship but for the fact that they've got a two-man rowing team at the top of the depth chart.
Anyway, whether it's Jacob Coker, antagonist of my teen movie spec script Cooper Bateman, or someone else, expect the bulk of the offense to be between running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Henry is 242 pounds of big-back thunder and Drake provides the lightning in space. And while we trust Dave Aranda's defense, the Alabama offensive line has strong talents in left tackle Cameron Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. It's going to be interesting to see what happens as the game develops as while the Badgers have a physically gifted linebacking corps and a tough defensive line, between inexperience and some potential offensive issues, holes could develop as the game goes on.
If you're entertainment purposes inclined, the betting line's vacillated between 10 and 11 since it was put on the board. And it makes sense. While the Badgers have enough to make this game interesting for a while, the path to victory for Alabama is pretty simple. Take advantage of a beat up and inexperienced Badger offensive line and be patient running the ball.
That said, the path to the upset doesn't have as much previously unseen as one might think. I think I can do it in one sentence, in fact. If the Badgers can contain Alabama's running game to the point where they have to go for three instead of six and if Tanner McEvoy is heroic enough at receiver to keep Alabama's front seven from playing downhill, then the Badger's have a potential upset stew going.
I still think Alabama wins. But this is going to be a rockfight. The Badgers do well in games like this.