Time: 3:30 PM EDT
Spread: LSU -11
M/L: LSU (-440), WIS (+350)
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Wisconsin Badgers finished 10-3 last season and closed the season by winning seven of its final eight, including a 23-21 victory over USC at the Holiday Bowl. The Badgers will welcome back RB Corey Clement, one of the nation’s top rushers, but a guy who is trying to come back from a sports hernia and suspension that caused him to miss nine games last season.
Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine TDs while serving as a backup for Heisman winner Melvin Gordon in 2014.
At QB the Badgers have to find a replacement for four-year starter Joel Stave. The replacement named has been Bart Houston, a fifth year senior who beat out Alex Hornibrook for the job. He is a highly ranked recruit that just never had the chance to start the past four seasons. He has a strong arm and experience, and the Badgers will turn to WRs Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy as his primary passing targets.
TEs Troy Fumagalli and Eric Steffes will be targeted, too.
The OL is deeper and more experienced than last season, and it returns three starters. Wisconsin averaged 26.8 points and 378.6 yards per game in 2015.
The Badgers led the nation in scoring defense last season, holding opponents to just 13.7 points per game and holding all but one opponent (Maryland) under three touchdowns. They will have a new DC with Dave Aranda leaving for LSU. Justin Wilcox takes over, and though the defense did lose three DBs to the NFL, there is still four returning starters and plenty of experience.
Wisconsin returns four-year starter Sojourn Shelton at CB, and junior Derrick Tindal will likely start opposite of him after coming on last season. The front seven returns key players and should be a strength again this season.
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At ILB, Chris Orr, TJ Edwards and Jack Cichy all will vie for two spots, and the three should all see ample time in a strong rotation. OLB Vince Biegel decided to return for his senior season, and former TE TJ Watt will start on the outside after switching there last season. Watt should be a good pass rusher, and the Badgers were No. 7 in the nation in pass defense last season. It could only be better.
The LSU Tigers finished 9-3 last season and returns a ton of talent. There is also enough leadership to pull this unit together for another big run. The head returning player is running back Leonard Fournette. He rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 TDs last year as a sophomore, and is one of eight returning starters to the offense. Included also in that mix is FB J.D. Moore, who started five games last season before suffering an injury.
Fournette will not be the sole source offense either, with QB Brandon Harris returning as a starter who started every game last season. His production fell badly during the team’s four-game losing streak, and he has to develop more consistency and production with touch passes. He completed 149 of 277 last year for 2,165 yards and 13 TDs with six INTs.
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If he struggles this season, the Tigers will also consider Purdue transfer QB Danny Etling for the job. He is smart and a hard worker, and he did well in spring. At WR, the Tigers have two NFL-bound wideouts along with TE Colin Jeter who is a superb option as a playmaker. The OL also has strong performers, including sophomore guard/tackle Maea Teuhema, guard Will Clapp and senior center Ethan Pocic.
Defensively, LSU returns nine starters and a key newcomer. DC David Aranda replaces Kevin Steele, and he will help a lot with the nations’s top scoring defense and No. 2 total defense at Wisconsin last season. He will use a 3-4 scheme at LSU.
LSU is a true contender in the SEC, and it has the experience and ability to contend for a national title again this season. The pitfalls of the losing streak that saw the Tigers fall to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss last season will have to be avoided as that clearly was the black mark on an otherwise stellar season. The Texas Bowl win was a return to the play that the team manifested in opening the season 7-0 and looking like the powerhouse it usually is.
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