Wisconsin: QB Bart Houston
By Saturday, it will have been 735 days since Wisconsin had a quarterback making his first career start. The opponent 735 days ago? LSU. The location? Neutral. The result? Hopefully different this time around.
Tanner McEvoy started that 2014 season opener and struggled his way to 8-of-24 passing, 50 yards and two key interceptions. Houston enters his first start with slightly more Division I quarterback experience (29-of-51, 259 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions) but with the same task as McEvoy: take care of the ball and make the right decisions against an extremely talented LSU defense. In a perfect world, the fact that Houston is a fifth-year senior helps him adjust to the game and make the right reads against Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme. On top of that, he doesn’t turn the ball over and makes a few key throws to keep the Badgers moving offensively.
If Houston succeeds in doing that, he will be among some pretty rare company. As Fox Sports' Dave Heller notes, a strong performance by a Wisconsin quarterback in his first start against Power-Five competition has been hard to come by. If Houston is more Brooks Bollinger than McEvoy, the Badgers will have a much better chance at beating the Tigers.
LSU: QB Brandon Harris
Anyone who has remote interest in this game knows that Leonard Fournette is the biggest name that will play Saturday. Most articles on B5Q have mentioned him, every college football preview brings him up, and you’d better believe the ABC broadcast will praise him at every turn. Is it warranted? Absolutely. Could Fournette dominate and virtually decide the game on Saturday? Certainly. As a matter of fact, take a look at Fournette’s 2015 Game Log:
Plain and simple: no more than 108 yards and 4.8 yards for per carry in losses. By now, you’re probably thinking that Harris’s mention in this article was a clear typo. However, let’s look at his performance last season:
Harris threw the ball more in each loss to Arkansas and Mississippi than in any other single game. The typical thought process here is that LSU was losing and Fournette was not his usual self in those games. However, if you combine all threel osses, Harris completed just a touch above 50% and threw four of his six interceptions on the season. Was he facing better defenses in those losses? Definitely, which brings us to my point: if Harris can improve upon last year and carry more of the load, he can win the Tigers the game. Whether or not Harris can "take that next step" is one of the biggest question marks entering LSU's season. Fournette is undoubtedly Plan A and Plan B; the question is, can Harris be a reliable Plan C? If yes, it will be impossibly difficult for the Badgers to overcome.
Only time will tell which quarterback will step up, or if either of them will even need to; the game could certainly be decided on the ground, through special teams or in a number of other ways. However, no other aspect of this matchup can keep this game close or open it up like Houston and Harris.