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GAME THREAD: Utah State vs. Wisconsin

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Game day. Drink it in, man.

The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers kick off their 2017 season against the Utah State Aggies on Friday evening under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium.

Head coach Matt Wells’ team is coming off a 3–9 record but has a new offensive coordinator in David Yost. How they match up against first-year defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and the Badgers’ defense will be intriguing.

Here’s who and what fans should watch on Friday night.

Between Lubern Figaro and Dontye Carriere-Williams, who plays as the third cornerback in Wisconsin’s nickel package?

On Tuesday, Leonhard mentioned to reporters that there hasn’t been a decision as to who will play as the third cornerback, so that is position is not set yet.

With Utah State’s new coordinator, tempo or “pace” should be expected from the offense led by quarterback Kent Myers. If the Aggies go with three or four wide receivers in certain sets, subpackages out of the Badgers’ base 3-4 scheme could be expected to contain any spark Utah State tries to create.

That makes Figaro’s and Carriere-Williams’ roles key. Leonhard said he liked how both played during fall camp, noting how Figaro played a lot for the defense in Natrell Jamerson’s absence. Leonhard likes what Carriere-Williams can do with his versatility and having the ability to play on the inside slot or the outside cornerback spot, but also wants him to lock in play in and play out.

The transfers, Nick Nelson and Chris James

The two had to sit out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but they could provide huge impacts for this year’s team.

Nelson has drawn rave reviews for his play throughout spring and fall camps. He could ascend to lockdown-corner status at 5’11 and 208 pounds opposite senior Derrick Tindal. The duo could form the conference’s best corner tandem.

You shouldn’t just watch Nelson on defense, however. Named the team’s punt returner, the Hawaii transfer could be a treat to watch with the ball in his hands.

James has the speed and agility to become a threat rushing or receiving the ball. If there’s an opportunity for him to catch a pass out of the backfield, watch out. His potential in Paul Chryst’s offense, combined with the skills and potential of both Bradrick Shaw and true freshman Jonathan Taylor, could make Wisconsin’s backfield its most potent since one Melvin Gordon took over the 2014 season.

Troy Fumagalli and his chemistry with Alex Hornibrook

Fumagalli has earned preseason All-American nods from several publications this offseason. He put together key performances against the likes of LSU, Ohio State, and Western Michigan in 2016, and he could be even more special starting on Friday.

How the former walk-on and current team captain continues to evolve with Hornibrook will be something to take note of not just this week, but throughout the season. Fumagalli is just one of the playmakers in this offense for opposing coordinators to scheme against, but he can be used in vertical and short-yardage opportunities.

With Hornibrook’s improvements from last season—notably the hint more zip on his passes and continued progression in the playbook—this could be a special combination.

Out on the edges, both at left tackle and outside linebacker

Starting on offense, maybe the biggest move heading into fall camp was redshirt junior and team captain Michael Deiter bumping out to left tackle as redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz progressed enough to be the starting center. There’s been an adjustment period for Deiter, and he admitted on Monday that “it’s finally all coming together” and it’s starting to feel like his true position for this year, though he thinks there are still aspects he needs to improve upon.

Deiter will have to face opposing edge rushers now, rather than mostly interior linemen at guard or center. However, he faced the likes of redshirt seniors Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs during camp.

Both appeared to have more-than-solid camps and will be relied upon to try to match or surpass the production from T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel (a combined 15.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss in 2016). Jacobs is a physical freak of nature, and if he can continue his progression at outside linebacker, he could have a break-out season.

The depth at this position is also a must-watch—in a concerning light. With redshirt sophomore Zack Baun now out for the season, Leonhard mentioned on Tuesday that the plan is for a three-man rotation between Dooley, Jacobs and redshirt junior Andrew Van Ginkel. If injuries rear their ugly head or production isn’t there, can walk-on Tyler Johnson and Alabama transfer Christian Bell answer the call if needed?

True freshmen watch: How many will see the field on Friday?

Four found themselves on the depth chart in UW’s release on Sunday. Three could very well see some snaps: Taylor, wide receiver Danny Davis and long snapper Adam Bay.

Bay for sure will, as he secured the spot at No. 1 long snapper and needs to continue the strong precedent set by his predecessor, Connor Udelhoven (53 games played). It’s often one of the least glamorous positions on the team, but a vital and necessary one.

Taylor earned his co-starter label at tailback alongside Shaw and James, which popped out immediately once Wisconsin released its depth chart on Sunday. The number of snaps or carries are to be determined, but based off of teammates’ descriptions of some of his plays, particular in a scrimmage format, it could be the start of a promising collegiate career for the New Jersey product.

Davis was named the back-up behind Quintez Cephus with injuries to George Rushing and Kendric Pryor, though he showcased his playmaking abilities in fall camp often. How long Rushing and Pryor are out could factor into the number of snaps he receives later this season, but the former four-star wideout has a shot to make an early impression against Utah State.

Then maybe the most intriguing question out of these four is No. 2 quarterback Jack Coan. Named the back-up to Hornibrook last week by Chryst on an ESPN Madison radio show, the head coach noted on Sunday that he wasn’t worried about his young signal caller’s redshirt.

If Wisconsin is up by a significant margin later in the game, it would be a great time to let Coan get his feet wet in real, game-time situations in front of the fans at Camp Randall.

That’s all for now. Now sit back, relax, and watch the game along with us in the comments below!