Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen came to Madison in 2013 and has held the football program together without missing a beat. Thanks to the aftermath of the scandals at Penn State and Ohio State, Wisconsin has risen to the top of the B1G again, and the new conference divisions will help the Badgers stay at the top. Their only formidable opponent in the B1G western division is Nebraska, so the conference championship game should be there for the taking every year. As part of a two-season deal, USF plays at Wisconsin on September 27th, and in 2015 Wisconsin comes to Tampa for a USF home game.
Over the past ten seasons, Wisconsin has only lost at home seven times. Last year, the Badgers outscored their opponents by 241 points, outgained them by 2,285 yards, and built a 9-4 record that included a trip to the Capital One Bowl. They are expected to win their division and go to the B1G Championship Game. Both the AP and USA Today preseason polls have them ranked at no. 14. The USF matchup will be at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, which will be overflowing with the Badger faithful.
Going into the Wisconsin game, USF will hopefully be at 2-2, having beaten Western Carolina and UConn, although if the Bulls pull off an upset against Maryland or NC State, a 3-1 record is a possibility. Wisconsin is going to open the season playing LSU in what should be a really close and interesting game. Aside from that possible loss, by the time the Bulls show up, the Badgers will have gone on to beat Western Illinois and Bowling Green at home and will be looking to plow through USF on their way into conference play.
Simply put, USF is not going to be able to stop Wisconsin’s offense. Joel Stave is back at quarterback for his junior season (although that's not official) and he will be protected by an experienced offensive line averaging 6-5.4/321. Despite losing star receiver Jared Abbrederis, Stave will be flanked by returning starters Jordan Fredrick at wide receiver and Sam Arneson at tight end. Also joining him will be sophomore wide receiver Robert Wheelwright and all-conference running back Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin always has at least one of these super tailbacks (ever heard of Ron Dayne, Montee Ball or James White?), who can sweep or tear through the line for first downs.
You may see a lot of this from the Wisconsin backfield:
Unless the Badger linemen (three of them seniors) make some mistakes, the Bulls are not going to be able to put much pressure on Stave. Defensive coordinator Bresnahan will probably throw some creative schemes at the Badgers, since USF will have to rely on speed in this game. Brute strength is something USF just will not have against the Badger offense. Five guys rushing might get the quarterback in a hurry, or USF may give up on rushing and throw in a nickelback or even a dimeback. Defenders will probably be rotated, since they will get worn out if Wisconsin is just marching down the field. The Badgers are going to get a lot of first downs and score a lot of points. Be happy if the Bulls defense can muster some third-and-longs and the occasional punt.
Where USF may actually surprise Wisconsin is on offense. With a solid o-line (6-4.4/310.4 on average) of upperclassmen, there should be some holes for Tice and McCray to carry the ball through. The Badger secondary is good, but they did have a bit of trouble last fall with slant routes and tight end coverage, so there are some things that can be done through the air. Quick strikes for five or six yards at a time could fuel a few drives for the Bulls and open up the possibility of a running attack.
However, there is no way of knowing what shape the Bulls offense will be in by the fifth game of the year. There may be a different quarterback (Steven Bench and Quinton Flowers may be able to spread out and confuse the Badger defense better than Mike White), there may be injuries, there may be some freshmen who have stepped into starting roles, or really anything else could happen between now and the Wisconsin game. By the time five games had gone by last season, Coach Taggart had already been through three quarterbacks and was about ready to activate White, this year’s starter.
When it comes to the kicking game, USF is actually in better shape than Wisconsin. Marvin Kloss can kick 50+ yarders (something which will probably be necessary in this game), and has a 78.3% field goal success rate. Mattias Ciabatti is getting darn good at those long, high punts (which will definitely be necessary in this game). Last year, Ciabatti was 91st in the nation with an average punt of 40.2 yards.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has a 60% success rate with field goal kicker Jack Russell. Their punter Drew Meyer averaged just 38.6 yards per punt last season, which was good enough for 114th in the nation. Unfortunately, this game will be decided by touchdowns, not by field goals and punts.
Despite the slim possibility of an Appalachian-State-style upset, don’t go betting on USF to win this one. This will be a difficult learning experience for the young Bulls, and should serve as a preparation for Wisconsin’s 2015 visit to Raymond James Stadium.