Louisiana State Tigers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
NCAA Week 1
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3rd, 3:30pm ET
Where: Lambeau Field
by Evergreen, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LSU -10/UW +10 (Bet this and ALL college/pro football games at -105 odds at 5Dimes (It will save you TONS of cash!)
Over/Under Total: 44.5
Summer coming to an end is a tough pill to swallow. Back to school time is pretty widely despised, unless you are sending kids to school, and trading out the short sleeves for the hoodie is a tough sell that first time around. Sacrifice is the key to any great reward and I gladly swap seasons each year as it means football is here. Often times, Week 1 isn’t really something to get excited about but the kickoff to the 2016 NCAA Football season is ripe with big-time matchups. The LSU Tigers take an uncommon trip north to face the Wisconsin Badgers with historic Lambeau Field serving as the host for this prime non-conference clash. The Badgers give up a home game but will still maintain the crowd favor in Titletown, will that be enough to topple an LSU squad that has goals of a final four appearance? Let’s find out.
Without preseason games, it can be hard to predict what we will see from college teams. These two teams, however, are pretty much known commodities in what they bring to the table each game so we do have some solid concepts of how this one might play out. Of course, Wisconsin is going to lean on offensive line play to provide holes for talented running backs and the Badgers have a solid front seven on defense that makes opposing offenses earn it on the ground. Much of the same can be said for LSU as they are a run-first team, especially with Leonard Fournette coming off a sixth-place Heisman season, and the talent on SEC defenses is second-to-none. Les Miles, entering his 12th season as LSU’s Head Coach, is no stranger to big games and his teams perform in those big spots more often than not. Paul Chryst moves into his second year as Wisconsin’s coach and while he is likely the better developer of talent in this coaching matchup, he will be on the short end of the stick on the depth chart so he has also has to be the better tactician if he wants to stay competitive in this game.
The main story from Badgers camp is the battle for the starting quarterback spot. Fifth-year senior Bart Houston or redshirt-freshman Alex Hornibrook will be under center and no matter who wins the job, they will draw a tough assignment in LSU. Houston, who was actually recruited when Chryst was the OC in Madison, was in the same Elite 11 class that produced Jameis Winston. Bart got one start as an injury fill in last season and went 22-of-33 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a win at Illinois. That is the only sample set outside of mop-up duty for Houston but he does have familiarity with the offense and at least some experience which might be enough to get him the start. Plus, he is named after Bart Starr. If Chryst is superstitious in the least, he gives Bart the start in Lambeau. Hornibrook is a 3-star Pennsylvania lefty that appears to be the choice for next year and forward but fall camp could have him named the starter as he is going toe-to-toe with Houston according to camp reports.
The big news in Tigers camp surrounds the addition of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The 39-year old Aranda spent the last three seasons as the DC for Wisconsin imagine that turning the Badgers into a top-flight defense. Under Aranda, the Badgers were never worse than 9th in total defense, topping out at 2nd last year and ranked #1 in points allowed at 13.7 per game. The 3-4 scheme also had Utah State as a top-15 unit so expectations are high in Baton Rouge. Louisiana St. was not poor on defense but there is some room for improvement after ranking 41st in scoring defense and 65th in passing yards allowed. Nine starters return from 2015 and the thought of an improved defense is a main reason why LSU is ranked 6th in the preseason coaches’ poll and among the betting favorites to win the National Championship. They are currently 10 to 1 at most online betting sites.
This is the second half of a two-game, neutral site series between these foes. They opened the 2014 season in Houston with LSU pulling out a 28-24 win in come-from-behind fashion. Wisconsin jumped out to a lead early in the game and led 24-7 entering the final quarter before LSU got going. In a strange circumstance, then UW coach Gary Andersen wound up not having QB Joel Stave available for the game due to Stave developing what was described as the yips during warm-ups. Stave could not make simple throws to stationary targets and the Badgers had to go with Tanner McEvoy at QB for the game. McEvoy was scheduled to see some time at QB but was overmatched and overwhelmed in the second half and wound up competing just 8-of-24 passes with two interceptions. It is hard to say how things would have turned out if Stave was able to come in for relief but he would have had some impact on the game. As a freshman, Leonard Fournette carried the ball eight times for eighteen yards in the game which was dominated by defense with just 683 total yards allowed by both teams. Badger running back Corey Clement rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown in that game and it will be a good sign if Clement can outrush Fournette this time around.
The lead-up to this game has been dominated by potential distractions. I’m sure both coaching staffs are going to get sick of questions about the Aranda coaching switch and that comes on top of what those coaching changes mean for each team for their install and game prep. It is not common for non-conference teams to know this much about each other. In a very bizarre coincidence, LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye will be returning to Wisconsin for the first time since nearly losing his life in a car accident just south of Green Bay. Delahoussaye was attending a kicking camp and wound up surviving the incident that took the life of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz. LSU is also dealing with the tragedies stemming from historic flooding in the Baton Rouge area. College kids aren’t often prepared to deal with this kind of life-changing situation but LSU has seen this to some degree in the aftermath of Katrina. I’m sure Les Miles has a plan to keep the kids on task through all of these unusual circumstances but there are plenty of things surrounding this game that are more than odd.
Justin Wilcox is taking over defensive coordinator duties at Wisconsin. He comes from the same position at USC with stops at Washington, Tennessee and Boise State before that. He inherits a defense that is shaping up to be the best unit on the field come September 3. The Badgers were 4th in rushing yards allowed and 7th in passing yards allowed and I can’t imagine Wilcox trying to re-invent the wheel in year one. Fall camp reports have the Wisconsin D dominating the scrimmages with one report claiming that they allowed just two touchdowns in 100 plays. That could also suggest that the Badger offense is struggling to find a rhythm but UW should have a fair chance to limit LSU’s offense. Brandon Harris returns as QB for the Tigers and has some arm talent but LSU doesn’t throw the ball all that much. He averaged just 21 attempts per game last season, completing 54% of his passes for thirteen touchdowns against six picks. It doesn’t surprise anyone that LSU ranked outside the top-100 in passing offense, especially when you have a near 2,000 yard rusher in Fournette. It will be interesting to see how well Wisconsin can limit the talented runner. It will be a long day for Bucky if they can’t.
It will be a long day if the Badger run game isn’t improved either. After decades of success on the ground, Wisconsin fell to 94th in rushing offense last year, averaging just over 150 yards per game. Cory Clement dealt with injuries and off the field distractions on the way to a lost season in 2015 but returns for his senior campaign ready to make up for lost time. He has been named to the Maxwell and Doak Walker watch lists with a career average of 6.6 yards per carry. He and Dare Ogunbowale will tote the rock in Madison this year and good work from them will help ease the transition by either Houston or Hornibrook. Despite not running the ball well last year, the Badgers still managed to rank 5th in time of possession after Chryst helped the passing game to some of its best numbers in years. Alex Erickson was the key producer at wide receiver last year but he is now in the NFL so someone from a veteran but unproven WR group will need to step up. The Badgers have a rising tight end in Troy Fumagalli that appears NFL-bound so look for him to notch a play or two in this game.
I think it is clear that LSU has the talent advantage, especially on offense. Miles has a 7-4 bowl game record and the Tigers play many more big games each year than Wisconsin does. The Badgers do have a knack of playing up to competition, most recently clipping the more talented USC Trojans 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl. UW is also the more polished team. Wisconsin averages just over five penalties per game with LSU among the worst in the nation at eight flags on average. Penalties and time of possession don’t often matter in games decided by double-digits but those kinds of things could keep LSU from covering a hefty spread if Wisconsin can keep it close. I doubt anyone can slow Fournette to the point where it becomes difficult for LSU to score. Wisconsin should come out fired up, they will have the crowd and they will have a pretty good idea of what Dave Aranda is going to do against them but I don’t think that is near enough to turn the tide in their favor. LSU can stack the box, dare an inexperienced QB to throw and likely get sacks and turnovers if they get ahead by more than one score. Wisconsin is going to fight hard as they usually do but I would expect another game like the 35-17 result from UW’s opener last year against Alabama. Too much Fournette and not enough playmakers in red doom Wisconsin to a 27-16 loss.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: LSU minus the points! Bet your Tigers/Badgers prediction using your credit card and get a generous 50% sign-up bonus up to $1000 in free plays at one of the web’s best bookmakers: MyBookie!