Preparing for a season-opener is never an easy task; preparing for a season-opener against one of the top programs in America, well, that’s another thing altogether.
But that’s exactly what Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen finds himself doing this week, as his No. 14 Badgers face No. 13 LSU at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.
“It’s a huge game all around for both schools,” Andersen said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “When you start talking about a power football team, you got two teams that love to run the football. (I have) tremendous respect for LSU (with) the way that they run the ball (and) their offense in general. (Last year), they were very powerful as an offense.”
The Tigers rushed for more than 200 yards per game last year and won 10+ games for the fourth consecutive season. They also beat Iowa, 21-14, in the Outback Bowl.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for us,” Andersen said. “It’s something we look forward to – competing at the highest level. That’s the direction we want to head at Wisconsin. (We want to) put ourselves in a spot to be in the national spotlight and play well. This game should be a real positive for us from a recruiting standpoint to be able to get into Texas. Our kids get to play in an NFL stadium, and they get to play one of the top teams in college football. What more could you ask for Game One?”
“A lot of people think I’m crazy when I say that, though.”
Why? Many reasons. One, LSU is one of the best programs in America (some would even argue top-five). Two, Wisconsin will be carrying the Big Ten banner on Saturday and will try to regain respect for a league that has lost a lot of it in recent years. And three, you’ve got to perform well if you want to attract national recruits – in Texas or otherwise.
That’s quite a heavy burden, no?
“It’s a great spot to be in,” Andersen said. “It really is. I look at it as all those things that you just stated are very much a positive for our program. It’s great for a young football team – which we are – to have an idea of exactly where they stand at the highest level of college football. We expect to play at the highest level (and) LSU expects to play at the highest level, but with our team this year, I really like the game because it’s such a great opponent right out of the gate and we get to see where we sit.”
Some analysts wonder how Wisconsin, a program known for big, tough guys will respond when facing LSU, a program known for big, tough athletes. Will there be shock or any sort of fear factor from the Badgers?
Not a chance.
“I think we’ll be in great shape as far as that goes,” Andersen said. “I know the kids that have been in this program will look forward to this opportunity – and they play great competition in the Big Ten.”
Andersen, however, estimated that as many as 18 Badgers without Big Ten experience will see action on Saturday, whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams.
“That will be one of the big questions,” Andersen said. “A lot of times in this (type of) game, kids are prepared physically, but they are not prepared mentally – and that is a definite challenge. You do all you can, you talk about it, you preach it, you put them in situations and try to make it be as game-like as possible. But until the lights click on, no one’s going to know how those kids are going to react. So that is a tremendous question mark – really, for both teams. Because there will be quite a few young kids out there playing.”
If Wisconsin does win, Melvin Gordon – arguably the top tailback in America – will have a lot to do with it. Last year, Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and averaged an astounding 7.8 yards per carry.
“He’s an unbelievable young man,” Andersen said. “He’s tremendous.”