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Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. LSU Tigers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date and Time: Saturday, August 30, 9pm ET
Where: NRG Stadium Houston, TX
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WISC +5/LSU -5
Over/Under Total: 50
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The long wait for College Football is over as the season is fast upon us and while we always have to deal with the end of summer at this time of year, the kickoff of NCAA Football helps to ease that transition. Among the very best matchups in Week One features the Wisconsin Badgers against the LSU Tigers from Houston, Texas. The game is officially labeled the 2014 Texas Kickoff Classic and will be nationally televised on ESPN, starting at 9pm ET.
You could not ask for more similarities between two teams heading into the season and it starts with the rankings as Wisconsin comes in as the No. 14 in the nation with LSU ranked one better at No. 13. This cross conference clash will be the first salvo fired in the new College Football Playoff system and the winner will place a large feather in their cap while the loser may eliminate any chance for a playoff berth after just one week.
LSU opened as a four point favorite but early betting has pushed the Tigers to five point favorites as we enter game week. The over/under total for the contest is pretty universal at 50 but you can find 50.5 here and there. Les Miles has not been the best against the spread in his career with just a 54-60-5 ATS record overall but has gone 23-18 against the spread in non-conference games.
Again, the similarities between these squads reach near absurd levels as both teams have youth and depth issues at wide receiver and will replace large portions of very successful defenses. Both possess fantastic run games with dominant offensive lines but also feel like their defensive fronts are strong against the run. Neither team is really set on QB heading into the game with LSU most likely planning on playing two with Wisconsins coaching staff saying they may not know until they hit the field Saturday night. Strength against strength with plenty of opportunities for youngsters to thrust themselves into a national spotlight, who could ask for more out of an opening week tilt?
Chances are, Tanner McEvoy will take the snaps for the Badgers as the more mobile option is better for what Gary Anderson wants to run on offense. McEvoy spent time at QB after his JUCO transfer last year but ultimately wound up as the UW starting safety. He has improved his throwing accuracy in camp and provides a running dynamic that will test opposing defenses gap control. Melvin Gordon returns for his junior campaign and is a Heisman hopeful coming off a 1,609 yard rushing effort in 2013. He teams with Corey Clement in the Badger backfield for what is likely the best tandem in the country and the addition of McEvoys legs in that mix should have the Badgers in their usual spot as one of the best rushing offenses in the land. Wisconsin will need someone to step up at wide receiver or tight end to be a reliable target at some point this year but if the Badgers can run against LSU early, dont expect too many pass attempts overall.
LSU is excited for what Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings can both do under center and will play them both on Saturday although no real plans have emerged for division of playing time. Jennings has slightly more experience as a sophomore but Harris appears to have the higher ceiling and is the more dynamic of the two. Dont expect too many pass attempts here either as LSU will lean hard on their backfield of Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette. Magee was second on the team in rushing last year, gathering 626 yards and 8 touchdowns on just 56 carries. Fournette is the top recruit of 2014 and should see some touches immediately to see just how good he is. I doubt he will be used all that often but a package is surely in place to give him the best chance to succeed early. LSU brings in a couple of highly touted freshman at receiver but like their counterpart, early run success will likely limit the pass attempts.
There are potential soft spots in each defense but with so much emphasis on the run game, they play into each others strengths as the front lines for each should be strong. Wisconsin limited opponents to just 102 rushing yards on average last year and feature a 3-4 scheme that has given LSU some trouble in the past. The Tigers know that Gordon and Clement will get the ball and will undoubtedly scheme to make after contact yards as tough as possible to come by. LSU has feasted on inexperience of the opposing QB so McEvoy will be up against his toughest test of the year right off the bat. If he finds some success, he should be the real deal.
Neither team experienced too many injuries through camp but S Vonte Jackson is out for the year for the Badgers with a knee injury and LSU will fight some depth issues with DTs Quentin Thomas and Trey Lealaimatafao both dealing with injured biceps.
It can be difficult to handicap games this early in the season but these teams have such a pedigree that it does make it a bit easier as it feels like they will both be similar units to what we saw last year. Expect both running games to have modest success, at least enough to stay with the run and a few play action opportunities may be key. The relative lack of tape on Tanner McEvoy is likely a small edge for Wisconsin as there will be things seen for the very first time and Bucky uses that to get out to an early lead. It should be close throughout with LSU eventually asserting a bit of that SEC strength and carving out a win but I dont think they can cover the five points. There are enough playmakers on the Wisconsin defense to keep the Tigers from getting too far away at any point and the Gordon/Clement tandem has enough breakaway talent to put up points. LSU 30 WISC 27
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