Each week, CSN's Vinnie Duber takes a look at the most-intriguing Big Ten matchup on the schedule with a special preview. You can check out preview capsules of the rest of this week's Big Ten games in a separate post.
College football season is opening with a bang.
Yes, the season will be two days old by the time we finally settle in to watch Wisconsin take on LSU in the most-anticipated game of the season's opening weekend. But what a treat it will be to see one of the Big Ten's finest battle one of the SEC's finest in that oft-clamored-for battle between these two leagues for conference supremacy.
Now a win in Week 1 doesn't determine a national champion, nor will a Badger victory mean the Big Ten is a lock to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, but it will provide an off-the-bat test of how good each of these teams can be in a season where they both have aspirations of making college football's first-ever final four.
[WEEK 1 PREVIEWS: Game-by-game Big Ten capsules]
“We’re going to find out exactly where we sit early on in the season. I think that’s a positive for us," Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. "And especially as youthful as we are, we’ll get an idea of how well we match up against a very physical football team. And that’ll be good for us this year, and it’ll be the same next year with Alabama and with LSU the third year. So those are some positives, a great experience for the kids. They’ll get to go into an NFL stadium and be able to play, and it’s memories that should last a lifetime for them.”
The game, played in Houston, is the first of three consecutive season-opening tests for the Badgers, who will take on the Crimson Tide next season in Dallas before a rematch with the Bayou Bengals to open the 2016 campaign at Lambeau Field. It's a strategy that could end in Andersen's team being in an 0-1 hole in each of the next three seasons. But it's one that could also pay huge dividends. A win would jumpstart a legitimate case for inclusion in the CFP, should of course a Big Ten title follow. And with the Badgers many's preseason favorite to win the West Division this year, that's certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
[MORE BIG TEN: Badgers will be 'WR by committee,' not 'WR by Jared Abbrederis']
And Wisconsin's looking at an even bigger picture with this string of high-profile season-openers, as well.
“From a recruiting standpoint, it definitely helps us and gets us on the national stage," Andersen said. "We’re playing an SEC team, and quite frankly we’re playing, over the last few years, one of the best team’s in the country. Kids like that when they’re recruited.”
Of course, that strategy works a lot better if the Badgers pull out a win, something that's certainly going to prove a big-time challenge. LSU is a perennial national-title contender, and this year should be no different, even if there are plenty of SEC teams in front of the Tigers in the preseason rankings. Saturday's matchup will see a lot of new Badgers thrown into the fire. There's new quarterback Tanner McEvoy, a fleet of inexperienced receivers and several new faces on the offensive line. And that's just on the offensive side of the ball.
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“You’re playing a quality opponent the first game of the year, and there are so many what-if’s the first game," Andersen said. "What’s your team like? How’s your team going to go out and handle themselves? Some may say that’s not a great time to have the game. But if you’re going to play a game like this, in the environment of college football today the first game of the year’s definitely the one to do it in my opinion.”
There could be a lot riding on this game. Even with the national-title competition expanded from the BCS' two teams to the CFP's four, every week is a playoff game in college football, and a Week 1 loss could dash championship hopes after only 60 minutes of a season have been played. But even with a loss, the Badgers would have to like their position. Non-conference losses wouldn't get much "better" than one to an SEC power, meaning a Big Ten title at the end of the season could still send Andersen's team to the CFP.
But that discussion is a few months down the road. For now, football is back, and there's no better way to get it started.