Dig Baton Rouge

LSU opens 2016 slate with Wisconsin

The eyes of the college football world are looking brightly on Baton Rouge this season, as LSU is expected to field one of the top teams in the country.

But after months of debate, speculation, preseason polls and talk about how the Tigers will fare in 2016, it’s time to find out for sure.

Alas, LSU fans, it’s time to play some football!

The No. 5 Tigers will open their much-anticipated football season on Saturday afternoon at a place foreign to them – storied Lambeau Field.

The team opposite LSU will be Wisconsin – the always-formidable Big 10 challenge which pushed the Tigers to their limit to start 2014.

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.

Folks around the country are excited to see how it all plays out.

But no one is more excited than the Tigers who are ready to show their chops against a worthwhile foe. LSU Coach Les Miles hinted at that on the “Les Miles Show” and in a news conference Monday.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Miles said. “But the Tigers are excited. It’s going to be a fight, and we’re greatly anticipating and looking forward to the challenge.”

For LSU, not much is different in 2016.

The Tigers return the lion’s share of its starting roster off a team that went 9-3 a year ago – a core group regarded by many as the most talented in the country.

Offensively, LSU has star power with All-American halfback Leonard Fournette leading the push for a group which also features returning players like receivers Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, lineman Ethan Pocic and fellow halfback Derrius Guice.

But a lot of the talk around the Tigers in 2016 revolves around junior quarterback Brandon Harris, who is back after a topsy-turvy season in 2015.

Miles said Harris is better after an offseason of conditioning. He thinks the Tigers quarterback woes are a thing of the past.

“He’s a totally different quarterback than he’s been,” Miles said. “He’s a guy who can make all of the throws.”

But the task at hand isn’t easy.

The Badgers are stout defensively – a group which ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense a year ago.

Wisconsin returns seven starters defensively, including linebackers T.J. Edwards, Jack Cichy and Ryan Connelly. On the defensie line, the Badgers utilize Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy.

But in the secondary is perhaps where the Badgers are most vulnerable.

They return just one starter in that unit, which was a trouble area in the offseason, according to coach Paul Chryst.

“We have to mature and be ready in a hurry,” Chryst said in a news release. “But we like how they’ve looked in practice and we enjoy the potential the group has.”

Offensively, the Badgers have nowhere to go but up after fielding a unit that was among the worst in the Big 10 a season ago.

Senior Bart Houston will be the team’s quarterback after spending three seasons as a backup.
Houston has attempted just 51 passes in his career, but has four touchdowns to his credit.

He will be handing the ball to an NFL-caliber back in Corey Clement, who rushed for 949 yards as a sophomore, then was injury-plagued last year and played just sparingly.

The biggest question marks for the Badgers will be up front where Wisconsin replaces three starters – something that is troubling to Chryst in the team’s run-heavy attack.

But returning lineman Michael Deiter said the new group is meshing and will be ready to face the Tigers’ defense.

“It’s fun to play the best,” Deiter said. “And LSU is definitely among that group. We look forward to the challenge.”

Defensively, LSU seems to be stacked with an array of NFL-bound talent back like linebacker Kendell Beckwith, defensive back Tre’Davious White and defensive lineman Davon Godchaux, among others.

LSU’s defenders will also have some new flavor in 2016 as the Tigers hired coordinator Dave Aranda to lead the team after 2015 defensive coordinator Kevin Steele took the same position with Auburn.

Aranda should be familiar with Wisconsin. He coached there the last few seasons and helped turn the team into the defensive power it is today.

Miles said Saturday will be emotional for Aranda going against his old team.

Emotions are high everywhere in Louisiana as football fans crave their Saturday night fix.

“We’re ready,” Miles said. “We’re anxious to take the field.”

SCOUTING REPORT
LSU offense v. Wisconsin defense
Advantage: LSU
The Tigers have too much speed and too much skill. The Badgers just can’t keep up

LSU defense v. Wisconsin offense
Advantage: LSU
The Badgers were a wreck offensively in 2015. And LSU’s defense usually isn’t one to be messed with – especially in pre-conference tilts.

Special teams
Advantage: Wisconsin
The Tigers were awful in special teams in 2015. They should be better this go-round, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

DIG’s PICK
LSU 31, Wisconsin 14

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