Finally, football is back. The Wisconsin Badgers will meet the No. 5 LSU Tigers for the Lambeau Field College Classic, presented by Carmex (no, we’re not getting paid to say that) at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will air on ABC.
This will be the second time the Badgers and Tigers have met on a neutral site to open the season since 2014, when both teams met at NRG Stadium in Houston. Wisconsin started fast and built a 17-point lead by early in the third quarter, but the bizarre disappearance of Melvin Gordon (Barry Alvarez still seems to blame Gary Andersen) seemed to foster the wheels falling off of Wisconsin’s offense while LSU climbed back for a 28–24 win.
This year, things are a little different. For one, Wisconsin is unranked while LSU enters as the No. 5 team in the nation. By most oddsmakers, the Tigers are 10 or 11-point favorites, despite the Badgers’ “home-state advantage.” Wisconsin does return much of its strong defense, which ranked first in scoring (13.7 points allowed per game) and second in yardage (268.5 yards allowed per game) in 2015, but it lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU of all places. Offensively, the Badgers are breaking in a new quarterback (Bart Houston) and a relatively young but battle-tested offensive line.
LSU, meanwhile, enters with all the hype you’d expect from a top-five team returning Les Miles as head coach (despite a bizarre failed “coup” of sorts) and Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette at running back. The Tigers also might have the most NFL-ready talent in college football this season, and having this game played in the state of Wisconsin might be the only reason the Badgers are less than two-touchdown underdogs. All-time, LSU is 3–0 against Wisconsin.
When and where is the game?
Kickoff between LSU and Wisconsin is set for 2:30 p.m. CT at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. You probably knew that by now.
How can I watch?
The game will air on ABC, with Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Todd McShay on the call.
How can I stream the game online?
By using the WatchESPN app on iOS or Android, or by visiting WatchESPN.com.
How can I listen to it on the radio?
Nationally, on Westwood One. Locally, on the Badger Sports Network, where you’ll find the usual and terrific grouping of Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher and Patrick Herb. On satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 84 / XM 84. Otherwise, head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching WIBA.
What can I expect to see?
by Dylan Deich
Wisconsin (Depth chart)
Last year: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten), finished No. 21 in AP Top 25
AP Top 25: Not ranked, received 42 votes
Returning starters: 11 (five on offense, six on defense)
Head coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (10–3)
LSU (Depth chart)
Last year: 9-3 (5-3 SEC), finished No. 16 in AP Top 25
AP Top 25: No. 5
Returning starters: 17 (nine on offense, eight on defense)
Head coach: Les Miles, 12th season at LSU (112–32)
When LSU has the ball: It doesn’t take much more than a casual college football fan to know that conversations about the LSU offense begin and end with Leonard Fournette. The Heisman favorite ran for over 1,900 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago, and will be the focus of everyone at Lambeau Field on Saturday. The LSU offense isn’t limited to the ground game, though; it also features two large, talented wideouts in Malachi Dupre (6’4, 195 lbs.) and Travin Dural (6’2, 207 lbs.). The two combined for 71 receptions and 1,231 yards in 2015, and will place stress on the Badgers inexperienced secondary.
Despite their obvious strengths, the Tigers do have some question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Brandon Harris returns as the starter after a 2015 season that brought mixed results. While improvement on that campaign is expected, the Badgers will try to make Harris beat them.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox starts his tenure at Wisconsin with a tall task. Luckily for Wilcox, he has the tools up front to have a chance. He has a young but experienced defensive line backed by a deep and talented linebacking crew. Assuming the Badgers can force Harris to throw the ball, top pass-rusher Vince Biegel will be looking to take advantage of the LSU offensive line shuffle off the edge. Sophomore T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin’s leading tackler in 2015, will miss the game (foot injury) at inside linebacker will be replaced by Jack Cichy.
While Wilcox does bring some continuity with a 3-4 scheme like Dave Aranda’s, his personnel isn’t without unknowns. The secondary returns only one starter (cornerback Sojourn Shelton) and the group will need to gel early. If Fournette is limited by the Badger front but the secondary lets Dupre and Dural go wild, the effort will be wasted.
When Wisconsin has the ball: Nothing new here—the Badgers are going make their money with the ground game. Running back Corey Clement returns from an injury-plagued 2015 to lead the charge on the ground. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale figure to give Clement some breaks against the formidable Tiger defense.
If the Badgers’ o-line and backs can’t establish the ground game, they will be in for a long night. Bart Houston will make his first start at quarterback, having thrown less than 30 passes in his career. When called upon, he’ll be throwing the ball to a wide receiving corps that has a lot to prove and replace. With 2015 leading receiver Alex Erickson gone, someone will need to step up and Robert Wheelright is largely viewed as the leading candidate alongside Jazz Peavy.
As if facing the No. 5 team in the nation at Lambeau Field wasn’t enough of a storyline, Aranda will be coaching his first game at LSU. His 3-4 scheme led the Badgers to elite status during his three years in Madison, and he hopes to continue his success with a bevy of talent in purple and gold including two returning all-SEC performers, Tre'Davious White and Jamal Adams, in the secondary, which could spell trouble for the Badgers’ largely unproven wide receivers and inexperienced quarterback. Aranda’s scheme is known for creating confusion for opposing offensive lines and putting pressure on the quarterback. Sophomore linebacker Arden Key will look to build on his five-sack 2015 season by harassing Houston all afternoon.
While success is expected under Aranda, questions do remain about how (and how quickly) LSU’s front seven will adjust to the scheme change. Those questions, combined with injuries to lineman Christian LaCouture and linebacker Corey Thompson, create an interesting storyline on the defensive side of the ball for Aranda and co. I don’t think Badgers fans need a reminder that if the Tigers struggle to stop the run, they’re going to have a tough time against Wisconsin.
Special teams: This is the area that could determine how this games goes. The Badgers return kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who has garnered positive reviews through camp. Punter Anthony Lotti will get his first start on Saturday, as will Peavy in the return game. If the Badgers are going to have a chance in this game, they’ll need zero mistakes from these units.
LSU has had its share of special teams success and failure in the past. The Tigers finished 2015 last in the SEC in punt coverage, making several crucial mistakes down the confernece season stretch. On the flip side, no one has implemented special teams gadget plays like Miles at LSU. The Tigers will look for more consistency from their kickoffs and Colby Delahoussaye (field goals/PATs), as well as freshman punter Josh Growden. Experienced returners should put pressure on the Badgers’ special teams units.
Luke Mueller: LSU 28-13
Mike Fiammetta: 31-17 LSU
Drew Hamm: 28-17 LSU. Lambeau Leaps? Sadly, 0.
Phil Mitten: 27-13 LSU
Joseph Brown: 24-17 LSU