Football season is finally back, and optically it doesn’t get much better than the first FBS game ever played at Lambeau Field.
But will the Tigers and Badgers match up well enough to put together a performance capable of matching the surroundings?
LSU: Junior Brandon Harris is the wild card who will determine how successful the Tigers are this season. He started all 12 games last season and played in nine as a freshman in 2014, so he’s certainly got the experience to take the next leap.
Wisconsin: Fifth-year senior Bart Houston is making his first career start, meaning he couldn’t beat out interception-prone Joel Stave for the job in the past. In no way is that a good sign for the Badgers.
LSU: Leonard Fournette
Wisconsin: Not Leonard Fournette
LSU: Malachi Dupre (43 catches, 698 yards) and Travin Dural (28 catches, 533 yards) each showed what they’ve got to offer last year. Keep an eye out for junior D.J. Chark, who has turned heads in camp.
We’re also told LSU carries tight ends on the roster.
Wisconsin: Last year’s top target, Alex Erickson, is gone. Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy and Reggie Love will try to pick up the slack left by his 77 receptions. Tight end Troy Fumagalli does provide Wisconsin with a steady safety blanket, which Houston will likely need.
Edge: LSU (receivers), Wisconsin (tight ends)
LSU: Most people would tell you that at the very worst, tackle/guard Maea Tehuma is LSU’s second-best offensive lineman. He’s not starting mostly because of a slow recovery from a camp injury, but also because the other four guys around center Ethan Pocic played so well.
Wisconsin: Traditionally a strong spot for the Badgers, this year’s offensive line is green with no seniors in the mix. Junior college transfer Rob Ramczyk is making his first career start at left tackle and figures to be tested. However, the four sophomores joining him did all play last year.
Edge: LSU, by a nose
LSU: The Tigers took a big hit when tackle Christian LaCouture was lost for the season to a knee injury, but are bolstered by the addition of 356-pound transfer Travonte Valentine in the middle. Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux will also cause trouble on the ends of the new 3-4 scheme.
Wisconsin: Junior end Chikwe Obasih had six tackles in his first career game against LSU and is poised for another big performance. The Badgers will need a big effort from 340-pound nose tackle Olive Sagapolu to slow down Fournette.
LSU: Inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith could have gone to the NFL, but came back for his senior season. Outside linebacker Arden Key, the type of hybrid player needed in a 3-4, has a goal of 20 sacks this year. But the other two linebacker spots figure to see a boatload of guys in and out of the rotation before the perfect combination is found.
Wisconsin: Undoubtedly the biggest strength of this team is its linebacking corps headed by senior Vince Biegel on the outside (66 tackles, 14 TFL, 8 sacks). Inside linebacker Jack Cichy, a former walk-on, came on strong with nine tackles and three sacks against USC in the Holiday Bowl. And you may be familiar with the lineage of outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
LSU: Strong safety Jamal Adams is a likely Top-10 draft pick. Corners Kevin Toliver a nd Tre’Davious White are the real deal, but they need to force more interceptions than last year’s eight by the secondary.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have to find a way to make up for the six interceptions Tanner McEvoy took with him as he attempts to make the Seahawks roster as a wide receiver.
LSU: Colby Delahoussaye is back in the saddle after a year backing up Trent Domingue, who transferred to Texas. Freshman Josh Growden makes his debut as LSU’s latest Aussie punter. The Tigers may put Fournette deep on kickoffs alongside Derrius Guice.
Wisconsin: Brazilian junior Rafael Gaglianone has one of the more interestingly shaped bodies in college football, and is already Wisconsin’s all-time leader with three game-winning field goals. Like LSU, Wisconsin is debuting a new punter in freshman Anthony Lotti. In addition to leading Wisconsin as a receiver, Erickson was also their top punt returner last season and must be replaced.
Edge: Wisconsin (kicking), LSU (returning)
This won’t be a game for the faint of heart, or Big 12 fans. It will be a fitting game for Lambeau, though, with two run-oriented teams slugging it out and one or both defenses figuring to make a game-changing play.
Hickey’s Pick: LSU 27, Wisconsin 13