No.13 LSU and No.14 Wisconsin will face off in one of the biggest non-conference games of the 2014 college football season. The two teams will go head-to-head on opening weekend, as both powerhouses look to start off the year on the right foot.
Both teams are entering the new season with high expectations. In the BCS, it might be difficult for either team to make a run at winning a championship, considering the conferences in which they play. However, the institution of the college football playoff system gives both teams a legitimate chance to compete for a title.
On Saturday, LSU will be led by running back Leonard Fournette, who’s set to make his debut for the Tigers. The freshman enters 2014 with as much hype as any first-year player, coming to college as the No.1 recruit at his position. Even though he’s yet to play a snap for LSU, Fournette is already getting buzz as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, and Wisconsin could have a difficult time preparing to stop him.
"It's not much you can watch, him not being there last year," Wisconsin nose guard Warren Herring said, via Fox Sports. "You really can't watch high school highlight tapes or anything like that because that's high school. The games are a lot faster now. They say he's a good back. I don't doubt that at all. We can only control what we can control."
LSU head coach Les Miles says the team will play two quarterbacks against Wisconsin. Sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris are both competing for the job, but neither one has separated themselves to be named the No.1 starter.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Anderson has refused to name a No.1 starter, saying both Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave will get a chance to help the team. However, it appears that Stave, despite starting last year and throwing for 22 scores, has been surpassed by McEvoy on the Badgers’ depth chart.
“They’re going with Tanner,” running back Melvin Gordon told reporters. “I hope that Tanner plays well. I wish the best for Tanner and hopefully he can lead our team.”
McEvoy comes to Wisconsin from Arizona Western, where he made three starts as a safety in 2013. His ability to run with the ball should give Wisconsin a tandem on the ground that will be very difficult to stop. While Fournette will enter his first contest with a lot of hype, Gordon has already proven what he can do against elite NCAA competition. Last year, he rushed for 1,609 yards on just 206 attempts, and he has a legitimate chance to become a Heisman Trophy Finalist.
A win for LSU would be a big boost to start of the year, considering they have one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Including Wisconsin, they’ll face five teams in 2014 that have made their way into the preseason top 25. They have an uphill battle in the SEC, as they’ll compete with the likes of Auburn and Alabama in the West Division.
The Badgers might have as good of a chance as any Big Ten team to win the conference title. Following the season-ending injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Wisconsin has a strong chance to finish with the top mark in the Big Ten.
Four days before the game kicks off, the betting odds at most Las Vegas casinos have LSU as a slight favorite. With the game set to be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Wisconsin finds themselves as five-point underdogs. The over/under is listed at 50 total points.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, LSU 24