Throughout the next couple of weeks, we’ll be checking in with some of the nonconference opponents facing off with Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect from those squads. We continue now with LSU.
Opponent: LSU (vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 3 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay)
Names to know: RB Leonard Fournette, WR Travin Dural, WR Malachi Dupre, QB Brandon Harris, C Ethan Pocic, CB Tre'Davious White, CB Kevin Toliver II, S Jamal Adams, LB Kendell Beckwith, DE Lewis Neal, DE Arden Key, DT Davon Godchaux
Offseason storyline: The most significant storyline as it pertains to this game was LSU's hiring of former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda in January. How unusual that his first game at LSU should come against his previous employer. Aranda signed a three-year, $3.75 million contract with LSU, and his salary this year will be $1.2 million -- more than twice what he made at Wisconsin. But the X's and O's will be most intriguing when the teams kick off on Sept. 3.
In Aranda's three seasons at Wisconsin, the Badgers ranked first nationally in total defense, second in scoring defense, third in pass defense and fourth in run defense. Aranda changed Wisconsin to a 3-4 system that brought more pressure into the backfield and took advantage of mismatches up front. With as much talent as Aranda has to work with at LSU, there's no telling how good the Tigers' defense can be. Defensive ends Lewis Neal and Arden Key, as well as defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, combined for 19 sacks last season. Throw in standout Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker, and Aranda already can count on experienced front-seven pieces who will allow him to dial up blitzes and wreak havoc. Try and beat LSU over the top, and the Tigers have physicality and athleticism in the secondary. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they'll be on the other end of the show this time around.
What’s at stake for Wisconsin? It's no stretch to suggest a victory would represent Wisconsin's most significant nonconference regular-season win since recording a 21-20 triumph against No. 4 Nebraska way back in 1974. For so long, the opportunity to play these types of marquee games simply didn't happen. And when they did, Wisconsin rarely won them. Since that 1974 game, Wisconsin has played a nationally ranked nonconference team 17 times during the regular season. The Badgers' record in those games is 1-16, with the lone victory coming against No. 21 Fresno State in 2008.
Wisconsin has shown it can compete for stretches against the elite teams in college football, but the Badgers haven't yet found a way to break through to a higher level. LSU overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Wisconsin 28-24 in the 2014 season opener. Eventual national champion Alabama outmuscled Wisconsin 35-17 in last year's opener.
Yes, Wisconsin beat USC in the Holiday Bowl last year. That Trojans team also entered with five losses. Yes, Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl two years ago. That Tigers team entered with four losses. A victory against a top-10 LSU team at Lambeau Field would be on an entirely different plane.
What’s at stake for LSU? LSU returns 18 starters, including early Heisman Trophy frontrunner Leonard Fournette at tailback. Expectations are often sky high in Baton Rouge, but this year there are realistic visions of coach Les Miles' second national championship since he took over the program. LSU is ranked sixth in Mark Schlabach's way-too-early top 25, and few teams are as loaded on both sides of the ball. The truth is that LSU could still work its way back into the College Football Playoff picture with a loss because the Tigers play in the always-brutal SEC West. Alabama (1), Ole Miss (13) and Texas A&M (21) are all ranked in Schlabach's top 25. But LSU can truly put its stamp on the early season with a convincing victory against the Badgers in Green Bay.