(5) LSU Tigers (-10.5, 44.5 o/u) at Wisconsin Badgers
It’s now or never for Les Miles’ LSU Tigers (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS in 2015). The embattled coach will get one more crack at conquering the SEC with arguably the best running back in the nation, Leonard Fournette, on his roster.
If Miles doesn’t get it done this year, his time in the Bayou may be at an end. He’ll certainly be feeling the heat if his Tigers can’t get by the Wisconsin Badgers (10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS) this Saturday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay (3:30 PM Eastern).
Fournette set LSU’s single-season rushing record last season with 2,034 yards. With just 13 more yards on Saturday, he’d become the fastest LSU back to reach 3,000 career yards. Records notwithstanding, Fournette didn’t come through in the clutch for his team last year. He was almost entirely shut-down (31 yards on 19 carries) in a 20-16 loss to Alabama.
He was also held under five yards per carry the next two weeks against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the only other losses LSU suffered on the year.
The passing game could not fill the gap when the run game struggled last season, and it may be the same this year. Brandon Harris, who threw for just 2,165 yards, 13 TDs, and six picks last year, resumes the starting role. He will at least have his two leading receivers back in the form of Travin Dural (758 yards, seven TDs) and Malachi Dupre (318 yards, five TDs).
The Tigers had a decent defense last year (24 points against per game), but will now be on their third defensive coordinator in three seasons. Adding intrigue to Saturday’s matchup, Dave Aranda – who led Wisconsin to the no. 1 defense in the nation last year (13.1 PPG) – is now at the helm in Baton Rouge, converting LSU to a 3-4 scheme.
Aranda’s replacement at Wisconsin, USC’s Justin Wilcox, will have a tough time repeating what Aranda was able to accomplish. Not only will Wisconsin face a tougher schedule (they play at MSU, Michigan, and Iowa State), but they’ll be without linebacker Joe Schobert (9.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles-for-loss last season).
Wilcox won’t get much help from the Badger offense, either. The team posted its lowest rushing total in 20 years last season (150.3 YPG) and doesn’t look much better heading into 2016. The offensive line only has to replace one starter from last season, but that might not be a good thing. The O-line was the biggest issue for the Badgers, who used seven different combinations up front.
Don’t count on the passing attack to make up for a sub-par run game. The Badgers lost QB Joel Stave and leading receiver Alex Erickson. Stave isn’t much of a loss, he had just 11 TDs and 11 picks last year. But Erickson was by far the best weapon Wisconsin had on the outside. His 77 catches and 978 yards were both more than double the next leading receiver.
Senior QB Bart Houston (27 of 47 for 281 yards, three TDs, and two picks in 2015) will certainly have his work cut out for him trying to keep up with the LSU offense.
Both teams were very average against the spread last year, and getting 10.5 points on the de facto home team is alluring. But Wisconsin has not done well against the SEC in recent history, going 1-4 ATS in the last five against the nation’s best conference. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 5-1 ATS in their last five as a favorite. I like Fournette and the Tigers to literally and figuratively run away with this one, especially with the institutional knowledge of the Badgers that Aranda brings to the table.
Pick: LSU (-10.5).
Photo credit: By JustDog (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.