Both No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 13 LSU enter Saturday in Texas with a strong track record in season openers, with playoff aspirations and conference bragging rights on the line.
LSU has won 45 nonconference games in a row in the regular season and 11 straight openers, but this time, Les Miles' team has to answer questions under center and hope that an ultrahyped freshman can effectively take on the Badgers' defensive front right away.
Not to be outdone, Wisconsin has a 43-3 nonconference record in that same span and has won 16 straight openers. But yes, Gary Andersen in his second year is throwing a former safety under center to see what happens.
Something has to give. Before one of Saturday's marquee showdowns, here is a look at the important details.
When: Saturday, August 30, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 50
- Spread: LSU (-6.5)
Team Injury Reports
|Nate Hammon||S||08/04/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||legs|
|Vonte Jackson||RB||08/22/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||knee|
|Derek Straus||FB||08/25/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against LSU||Questionable||shoulder|
|Davon Godchaux||DT||08/24/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Wisconsin||Questionable||disciplinary|
|Trey Lealaimatafao||DT||08/02/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||arm|
|Jalen Mills||CB||08/26/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Wisconsin||Questionable||disciplinary|
|Quentin Thomas||DT||08/24/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Wisconsin||Questionable||biceps|
Injury reports via USA Today.
The Biggest Question Marks
For both teams, this classification directly applies to under center.
Despite the presence of junior Joel Stave, who completed 61.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, the Badgers coaching staff has decided to switch gears and roll with Tanner McEvoy in the opener.
According to Tom Oates of Madison.com, the decision likely came down to the former safety's ability to run with the football:
It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Andersen has spoken often of his preference for a dual-threat quarterback and Stave is purely a pocket passer while McEvoy can both run and throw.
It’s likely the decision is based in large part on McEvoy’s ability to run. Andersen has talked throughout the offseason about having more big-play threats on offense and having a quarterback who can run the option and scramble adds to the arsenal.
The decision is not so simple for Miles.
Clearly, as he has announced, the team will go with a two-quarterback approach for the time being. Fans will remember sophomore Anthony Jennings for his 99-yard, game-winning drive against Arkansas last year after Zach Mettenberger succumbed to injury, but Brandon Harris is a wildly similar player who simply needed to learn the playbook.
Miles has kept the job up in the air so much that he has prevented either signal-caller from meeting with the media so as to not become a vocal leader.
It doesn't seem like a strategy to keep the Badgers on their toes, either; Miles, more than anyone else, understands that the preparation for both players is nearly identical. Chalk it up as just another wrinkle in one of the year's most intriguing matchups.
Fans of more traditional, gritty football won and lost at the line of scrimmage will get a nice ode to the days when that sort of thing was the only football around when these two clash.
Fans know about Wisconsin. The program churns out top-flight offensive linemen better than anywhere else, and with it comes some gaudy statistics from any and all backs who line up behind them.
Heisman contender Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement give the Badgers perhaps the most potent rushing attack of all this season, as last year's numbers help to foreshadow:
|Melvin Gordon||206||1609||7.8||80 (TD)||12|
|Corey Clement||67||547||8.2||75 (TD)||7|
Considering the Badgers ran wild (293 yards) on an SEC defense in the Capital One Bowl some months ago against South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney, one is safe to presume the attack can do so once again Saturday. As an added caveat, the team now has a dual-threat quarterback in the mix.
That does not mean the Tigers cannot counter, though.
Miles has two ground-efficient quarterbacks at his disposal, and after a mountain of hype thanks to 7,619 rushing yards and 88 touchdowns in high school, Leonard Fournette is set to take the collegiate world by storm. His bid to do just that comes against a solid Badgers 3-4 scheme.
Fournette is so talented, in fact, that he even has Gordon's attention, as captured by Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:
He's getting a lot of hype, man. I can only imagine the pressure. It seems like he's a hard worker. When you're getting praise from your head coach, saying all these great things about you, you have to be doing something right. We'll see how good of a player he is. I'm sure he'll put up a performance. But I hope not too well against us.
Normally, a reliance on such a young player on a huge stage would be a detriment, but running back is one of those rare positions that typically provides a seamless transition to any level if the talent in front of him is of quality, which it is in Baton Rouge.
Again, something has to give.
The only real crack in the armor for either side in this match comes in the form of Wisconsin's critical replacements.
Which team wins?
Andersen has made quite the interesting call under center, and while it is one that could very well make him look like a genius in hindsight, right now, it is hard to get behind the idea of a player with no career attempts to his name.
Add in the fact defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme is getting an overhaul at literally every spot on the front seven, and Saturday seems a bad time to test things out.
When all else fails, because picking out an advantage for either side seems impossible, the safest bet is to go with the most talent overall. That happens to be LSU at the moment, but Wisconsin won't go down without a fight.
Prediction: LSU 24, Wisconsin 20
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.