Big Game Hunting: Wisconsin vs. LSU in Week 1
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter August 28, 2014 11:41PM
FILE - In this April 12, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy (5) prepares to throw a pass as Brady Kelliher (39) defends during the second half of the NCAA college football team's spring football game in Madison, Wis. The Badgers appear to have settled on dual-threat junior McEvoy as the starter, though coach Gary Andersen will not officially name one. Andersen has said both McEvoy and last years starter, Joel Stave, will be ready no matter what. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Amber Arnold, File)
Updated: August 29, 2014 9:34PM
There’s one sure way for the Big Ten to reclaim some of the momentum it had before Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was ruled out for the season with an injury, and that’s to stand up to — and take down — one of the biggest Southeastern Conference bullies.
Based on the physical natures of both programs, Wisconsin-LSU (8 p.m., ESPN) in Houston might be judged going in as a pretty fair fight.
But is it? We want to say yes, yet lean toward no. Even with an unsettled quarterback situation, the 13th-ranked Tigers look plenty faster and more powerful on offense than the 14th-ranked Badgers with their nearly all-new defense. Wisconsin has an elite running game, but quarterback Tanner McEvoy — making his first start after playing safety in 2013 — is up against it facing LSU’s blazing, aggressive ‘‘D.’’
‘‘We’re going to find out exactly where we sit early in the season,’’ Badgers coach Gary Andersen said.
On the wrong side of an ugly score, we’re guessing. Let’s go with 26-10.
And let’s move on to one of the very few teams in the country that’s in LSU’s class athletically. Florida State-Oklahoma State (7 p.m., Ch. 7) in Arlington, Texas, offers a first look at the No. 1-ranked defending national champ. Is it possible FSU has gotten even better? Oh, yeah.
Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back under center. FSU is so loaded on the offensive line and at the skill positions, it’s almost unfair. Keep your eyes on young pass rusher Mario Edwards Jr., who soon could have Jadeveon Clowney-type fame.
‘‘They’re the reigning heavyweight champ,’’ OSU coach Mike Gundy said. ‘‘Somebody’s going to have to take the belt from them.’’
It sure as heck isn’t going to be the Pokes. All ’Noles, 52-17.
Thank the football gods for a Week 1 nonconference matchup such as Clemson at Georgia (4:30 p.m., ESPN), though this would be an even better game if it were played in a couple of months. Georgia’s defense should end up being one of the most improved units in the country, and Clemson’s will be better, too. But both of these extremely talented teams have replaced superstar quarterbacks and need a little time to get their offenses settled. Dawgs have their day, 24-20.
Fact is, neutral-site games and, more important, quarterback questions are the themes of Week 1. The crazy thing about Alabama-West Virginia (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) in Atlanta is the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide — whose coach, Nick Saban, is all about decisiveness and order — still have no idea who their best QB is. Senior Blake Sims has the better grasp of the offense, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is a major talent.
Meanwhile, Ohio State-Navy (11 a.m., CBS Sports Network) in Baltimore gives us our first clues about whether or not Buckeyes redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett can ease the pain of not having Miller in the lineup. If Barrett struggles, Urban Meyer might not wait long to take a look at redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones.
The difference between the Tide and the Buckeyes: Only one team is in any danger whatsoever of losing Saturday. Alabama rolls by at least three touchdowns, but OSU has to contend with Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who rushed for 31 touchdowns last season, setting an FBS record at his position. It’s a too-close-for-comfort ‘‘W’’ for Meyer — a feeling he might have to get used to.
Will star quarterback Keith Marshall, he of the offseason pot arrest, see the field when sixth-ranked Auburn hosts Arkansas (3 p.m., SEC Network)? If coach Gus Malzahn holds out Marshall, it could open the door for the Hogs — who were 0-8 last season against SEC opponents — to finally get something going under second-year coach Bret Bielema. Woo Pig keeps it close regardless.
Not close: UCLA at Virginia (11 a.m., ESPN). But wait, West Coast teams hate playing this early, right? Tell that to UVa when the No. 7 Bruins go up by 30. UCLA’s highest preseason ranking since 1998 is no joke.
Maybe close? Appalachian State at Michigan (11 a.m., ESPN2) calls to mind the last time these teams met, in 2007 in Ann Arbor, when the Fightin’ Apps pulled off a mind-blowing 34-32 upset. The Wolverines, who lost six times in 2013, are, for some hard-to-understand reason, five-touchdown favorites. ASU makes it a lot more fun than that.
If you’re an early riser, Penn State-UCF (7:30 a.m., ESPN2) is a great way to start the day. The Knights won 34-31 in Happy Valley last season en route to the Fiesta Bowl, but they no longer have superb quarterback Blake Bortles. Nits take it 27-24 on the right arm of their own future NFL first-rounder, Christian Hackenberg.