Today we continue our look at some of the SEC's marquee nonconference games for 2016 with a snapshot of the LSU-Wisconsin matchup at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Date of matchup: Saturday, Sept. 3
Offseason storyline: This is a transitional season for Wisconsin -- so much so that it’s difficult to predict what might happen in Year 2 under Paul Chryst. There are new faces all over the place: new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (replacing Dave Aranda, who bolted for LSU at the end of the 2015 season after helping Wisconsin build one of the nation’s top defenses), a new quarterback (Bart Houston? Alex Hornibrook?), three new starting defensive backs playing for new secondary coach Jim Leonhard, and new up-and-comers hoping to replace key departed players like receiver Alex Erickson and linebacker Joe Schobert. The good news is the Badgers' defense should still be pretty good, and the running back combination of Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal is going to give opposing defenses nightmares. The bad news is that a team with considerable turnover will face LSU on a neutral field, visit both Michigan State and Michigan, then host Ohio State by the midway point of the season. It’s entirely possible that the 2016 Badgers could be a better overall team than the 10-3 squad that preceded it and still end the season with a worse record.
What's at stake for LSU? That neutral field for the LSU game won’t be especially neutral. Lambeau Field is hallowed ground in Wisconsin, and the Tigers must understand that playing there will be a special experience for the in-state players on the Badgers' roster. Though Green Bay will provide a home-field advantage of sorts, let’s not indulge any clichéd notions that the setting will give the Badgers a motivational edge. LSU is the team that enters this game with national expectations to justify, after all. It will be difficult to find many college football experts who project Wisconsin as a College Football Playoff participant this season. Preseason magazines are littered with such predictions for LSU, though. The Tigers have 18 starters returning -- led by Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette -- and a roster loaded with depth and pro-caliber talent. In addition, LSU always wins these marquee openers under Les Miles. Wisconsin, TCU, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington and Arizona State are among the opponents who have fallen against LSU in the opening games of Miles' 11 seasons in Baton Rouge, and if the Tigers are to live up to their sizable expectations, they almost certainly can’t be the first LSU team to suffer a season-opening loss under Miles. Not with opponents like Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama still ahead once conference play begins. On paper, this looks like Miles’ best team since the 2011 SEC champions who fell against Alabama in the BCS title game. That still might be the case even if the Tigers lose to Wisconsin, but the road to a playoff berth will be much rockier if LSU suffers a loss at Lambeau.