So here's the thing: LSU is pretty good. Yet anyone who has followed college football over the past few years knows that the Tigers are in a tough situation.
Imagine being this really good athlete on the playground of your middle school. You've been the best player in your grade for a while, and there's one kid who is really talented, but he can't put it all together. Then his mom starts dating this new guy, and he's the best coach around. Suddenly, the kid starts beating you in everything. You've gone from being the best to suddenly the afterthought. You do everything the other kid does, but he's just a little bit better. Your girlfriend leaves you for the other kid, and you settle for her best friend who's slightly less good looking and takes more selfies. That's LSU.
Les Miles has put together talented teams at LSU for the past decade. Burdened with being in the same division of the same conference as Alabama, he won a national championship in 2007 but has fallen short in most of their meetings. This, however, hasn't stopped LSU from being a heavy hitter in recruiting, as the Tigers annually field as heralded a lineup as anyone—except, maybe Alabama. This leads to the Tigers being a breeding ground for the NFL.
Nothing has changed in 2016. Truthfully, the Tigers might have as much future NFL talent as any team in the nation this year.
This isn't good news for the Badgers. For the third year in a row, Wisconsin will face a team that, at least in star ratings, is far superior in recruiting. Wisconsin will be lining up against multiple future NFL players on both sides of the ball on Sept. 3, and here are a few to keep a closer eye on.
QB Brandon Harris, 6'3, 218 lbs. (JR)
A former four-star recruit in 2014, Harris started all 12 games last year (the opener was cancelled due to flooding in Louisiana) and is 9-4 in his career as a starter. He threw for 2,165 yards in 2015 with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Harris is very much a game manager for the Tigers, as Fournette is the obvious focus, but he can hurt teams with his legs as well. Harris has a big arm and is athletic, but has a bit of refinement to go as a collegiate passer. He's mostly a deep-ball specialist, but will likely get a good, long look from the NFL.
RB Leonard Fournette, 6'1, 235 lbs. (JR)
The former No. 1 overall recruit in the nation in 2014, Fournette has lived up to the hype during his career in Baton Rouge. As a sophomore in 2015, he ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. Fournette is a man among boys at the collegiate level, and even in this stacked running back class is widely considered to be either the top, or one of the top runners in the country.
Playing Fournette this season will be much like facing Derrick Henry last year for Alabama: he's going to get his. He'll likely end up with north of 150 rushing yards and a touchdown or three... but you have to try to contain his bursts. He's extremely dangerous as a runner, and once he gets a big run, it seems to be contagious. Wisconsin has to be extremely disciplined on defense and gang tackle, as one man likely won't do the job consistently.
RB Derrius Guice, 5'11, 212 lbs. (SO)
A former Wisconsin offer, Guice was a high four-star recruit in the 2015 class. While he plays second fiddle to Fournette out of the backfield, Guice averaged 8.5 yards per carry last season and is extremely dangerous as a return man. The Badgers need to be extremely aware of when Guice enters the game, as he's a threat to take any touch to the house.
WR Malachi Dupre, 6'3, 195 lbs. (JR)
A former five-star recruit in 2014, Dupre led the Tigers in receiving in 2015 with 43 catches for 698 yards and six ouchdowns. One of Harris's favorite targets, Dupre combines a long, lanky physique with precision in his route running, and despite having less than eye-popping (context) numbers, enters the 2016 college season as a highly regarded NFL prospect in his true junior season. He'll be a chore for the Badgers' smaller cornerbacks, 5'9 Sojourn Shelton and 5'11 Derrick Tindal.
WR Travin Dural, 6'2, 207 lbs. (RS SR)
Dural, unlike most of the players on this list, is a fifth-year senior who was a lowly three-star recruit in 2012. Especially dangerous on jet sweeps and end-arounds, Dural is known as one of the fastest players on the Tigers and reportedly runs a sub-4.40 40-yard dash. He caught 28 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns in 2015.
Dural, like Dupre, suffers from LSU's run-heavy offensive approach, paired with erratic quarterback play, so they should be taken more seriously than their statistics would indicate.
C Ethan Pocic, 6'7, 309 lbs. (SR)
Another former Wisconsin offer, the Lemont, Ill., native will be starting his third season on the offensive line for LSU. The former four-star recruit started at right guard in 2014 and at center in 2015, where he'll return this season. Pocic is the Tigers' best lineman and a vital piece of the run game, opening holes for Fournette inside. Pocic could be a second-day pick in the draft, as he's likely the best center prospect in the nation.
DL Lewis Neal, 6'2, 272 lbs. (SR)
A former three-star recruit, Neal will be starting his second season for the Tigers. After playing the strong-side defensive end a year ago in a 4-3 front, he'll be playing the role of five-technique for Dave Aranda, the Badgers' former defensive coordinator. Neal will play the role of Chikwe Obasih in LSU's front, as a reference point for Wisconsin fans. He'll likely be getting a call from NFL teams next May if he builds upon his eight-sack season a year ago.
DL Davon Godchaux, 6'4, 299 lbs. (JR)
The former four-star recruit is another member of this loaded 2014 recruiting class. Godchaux had six sacks a year ago, good for second on the Tigers. He has drawn comparisons to former LSU great Glenn Dorsey, and his ability to penetrate from Aranda's three-man base front will wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines all year. Godchaux is a likely candidate to declare early for the next level.
LB Arden Key, 6'6, 238 lbs. (SO)
Another former four-star recruit, Key started the last nine games as a true freshman and managed five sacks. Key, who was offered by Wisconsin during his recruitment, will be moving from the weak-side defensive end position to the "Buck" linebacker position, or the position that Vince Biegel played in Aranda's scheme. Key is a phenomenal prospect who would likely be a high draft pick if he was eligible to declare, but he has to wait another year to enter the 2018 NFL draft. Key will give Wisconsin tackles fits.
LB Kendall Beckwith, 6'3, 247 lbs. (SR)
A former high four-star recruit, Beckwith will be starting his second full season at inside linebacker for LSU. He had 84 tackles a year ago as the middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme the Tigers ran before Aranda. I tweeted a few weeks ago comparing Beckwith to a Spartan Laser in Halo; for anyone who hasn't played Halo, the Spartan Laser is a one-hit kill weapon, but it takes a second or two to charge up before firing.
Kendall Beckwith is the human embodiment of a Spartan Laser in Halo #NFLDraft #analysis— Owen (@RieseDraft) July 28, 2016
Also, watching Beckwith earlier, LSU's 2015 linebackers couldn't be more conflicting in style.— Owen (@RieseDraft) July 29, 2016
Beckwith is a thumper, and should be a better fit as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 than he was previously. He'll be flying around with reckless abandon inside.
CB Tre'Davious White, 6'0, 197 lbs. (SR)
A former five-star recruit, White will be starting his fourth season at cornerback for the Tigers and will likely line up across from Robert Wheelright all game in Lambeau. White has four interceptions in his career, and may be even more dangerous as a return man, with two return touchdowns in his career. He also wears No. 18, which signifies the team's leader both on and off the field for LSU.
CB Kevin Tolliver II, 6'2, 193 lbs. (SO)
Another true freshman who made a significant impact for LSU in 2015 and a former five-star recruit who started eight games a year ago at cornerback across from White. Tolliver managed to acquire 46 scholarship offers while in high school, including one from Wisconsin and Aranda. He's long and lanky, but an elite athlete and will likely line up across from Jazz Peavy. Tolliver lacks a little polish at cornerback but makes up for it with sheer athleticism.
S Jamal Adams, 6'1, 213 lbs. (JR)
Coming into his second season as a starter at strong safety, Adams is a former five-star recruit. He finished last season with 67 tackles, including an impressive 47 solo stops. Adams also had four interceptions and is an impressive tackler. Regarded as probably the best strong safety prospect in this year's class, Adams will be patrolling the secondary looking to take heads off. He'll likely be a second-day pick in next year's NFL draft.
The Badgers will have their hands full against the Tigers on Saturday, but don't let the recruiting rankings intimidate you heading into this game. Wisconsin has made its reputation on competing with and beating teams that are "better" at recruiting.