Are we making too much of Badgers vs. LSU matchup?

As we sit 87 days out from Wisconsin taking on LSU it’s only natural to get the hype machine going and start to heap a ton of expectations on the game. It’s not as if we’ve been starved for actual football for over six months or anything. Besides, this is L-S-U we’re talking about, how can this game not be exciting and hugely important?

It’s not as if Wisconsin hasn’t played a ranked nonconference opponent in the regular season since 2008 (No. 21-ranked Fresno State) or anything? Oh wait; UW has indeed not played a ranked opponent in nonconference play since then.

Additionally, UW hasn’t played a non-Pac-12 opponent out of the “Power 5″ conferences since hosting West Virginia in 2003. Furthermore, the Badgers haven’t played a ranked “Power 5″ nonconference opponent since hosting No. 7-ranked Oregon in 2001.

It all adds up to a fan base and a media that is hungry to pounce on the first good thing to come along. No doubt these groups have been starved for storylines and good football at the beginning of seasons for a very long time at UW.

Who hasn’t worked themselves into a frenzy for something specific, building it up (whether a beer, restaurant or movie, etc.) all along—only to be disappointed by the results? That’s what we’re here to try to avoid.

Sure, LSU is a very highly visible opponent and it has a recent national title or two to hang its hat on.

But this is 2014 and not 2007. Does the Bayou Bengals reputation make this specific matchup the end all, be all of the season that some in the Internet community are making it out to be? Not even close if you ask me.

That’s because LSU is just one part of a 12-game regular season schedule and its position as the first game on said schedule makes it less important than say if it came in week four or week 10 of the season.

In fact, the only way this game means a significant amount is if both Wisconsin and LSU continue to win games after this matchup. The moment the loser drops a second or (heaven forbid) a third game on the season, the ability to hold up this game as a powerful win loses its luster.

Let’s play out a little scenario out for you. Wisconsin loses to LSU by three points, but ends the season with 11-straight wins, including W’s over three teams over .500 to end the season (Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota). Chances are one or two of those teams could be nationally ranked (just a hunch that all three have an outside chance).

Now, I ask you would you trade losses to Nebraska or Iowa or Minnesota for a win against LSU? Sure, it isn’t as easy as an and/or scenario, but it could be a very real scenario that plays out. Considering the three-game stretch against the Big Ten West division, I’d argue any one of those games are vastly more important to UW’s season than a matchup with LSU.

Let’s say Wisconsin wins this season-opener for shits and giggles too. Would that win matter at all if Wisconsin were to drop any of its Big Ten games or fail to win the Big Ten championship? Recent history suggests the answer to that question is hell-to-the-NO.

The fact is, a Big Ten team that loses conference games isn’t going to get in to the College Football Playoff, period. It’s just the reality of where the Big Ten stands in the pecking order nationally, and when you look at UW’s B1G schedule, it’s hard to argue it doesn’t need to go undefeated to have a shot at a berth in the CFP.

So, I ask you this simple question: Which would you rather have—an undefeated Big Ten season or a win over LSU? Give me the former in this situation, because that’s a much greater body of work than what a team was in week one of the season.

Put another way, if Wisconsin is only as good as its play in week one…UW is in some serious trouble regardless of the result. Besides, one-twelfth of the equation isn’t more important to creating a resume than 11 other games of evidence.

Yes, there are the opinions of the national media and fans that will be at play, but again…will a win or loss really matter in the grand scheme of the season? It only will do so if both teams remain in the national picture throughout the year.

Then there is also a very strange perception that Wisconsin and LSU aren’t on the same level playing field entering this season opener.

It’s strange because LSU comes in to the 2014 season with as many question marks (if not more than) as Wisconsin. On paper, these two teams are pretty even given the up-in-the-air nature of LSU’s own quarterback situation and having nine players drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. That just so happens to be the most of any school in the country.

LSU lost WR Odell Beckham (1st round), DT Ego Ferguson (2nd round), RB Jeremy Hill (2nd round), WR Jarvis Landry (2nd round), G Tai Turner (3rd round), ILB Lamin Barrow (5th round), QB Zach Mettenberger (6th round), RB Alfred Blue (6th round) and WR James Wright (6th round).

If you’re taking score at home, that’s LSU losing a starting quarterback, two top wide receivers and two of its best running backs on the offensive side of the ball alone.

Couldn’t and shouldn’t the same questions that are being asked about how Wisconsin could possibly make up for the loss of six starters in the front seven of its defense, be asked about LSU’s offense?

Or is it just that people are assuming LSU will simply fill those holes and not miss a beat? Strange considering they have little-to-no experience at running back, wide receiver and quarterback coming back.

Lest we also forget that UW will also feature the best player on the field in running back Melvin Gordon, who’s highly motivated to make a statement for his team (and himself as a byproduct).

Yes, LSU annually rakes in some of the top-level recruiting talent and may (on paper) have an easier time filling those holes than most, but we’ve seen that thought process play out before and burn media and fans big time.

It’s not as if Wisconsin hasn’t spent the better part of 25 years proving critics wrong, and just continuing to plug-in players and sustain success or anything. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of national narratives or anything, right?

The point is, LSU and Wisconsin are closer in appearance than they are further apart in what the national perception is at this early stage heading in to this contest. Besides, a lot can happen between now and August 31, 2014.

What it all adds up to is a matchup between two teams with a ton of pedigree, but a whole lot of unknowns entering the 2014 season.

It’s not as if UW is staring a preseason national championship favorite in the face, and we simply could be hyping up a matchup between two teams that may not end up being the world-beaters the media wants us to believe courtesy of preseason rankings.

Putting all the eggs of an attempt to be in the national title picture on just this season opener isn’t wise. In fact, this game has a bigger chance to mean next-to-nothing for either team’s 2014 fate than being the difference-maker for a College Football Playoff berth or not.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy has been covering college football for nearly half a decade and is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadgers.com. He also is associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com

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