Wisconsin returns only nine of its 22 regular starters from last season, need to remake its entire front seven and have huge question marks at positions like quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.
But instead of opening against some low-level division 1 opponent at home, Wisconsin is being thrown right into the fire against LSU - a traditional SEC power – on a neutral site just hours from its campus. Andersen wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They are only get into big time moments and that first big time moment that they got themselves into this year is not going to be the first Big Ten game, it will be the first snap of the season against LSU,” Andersen said. “I would look at that as a positive for this year…I really believe it’s good for this team early on. I would think some LSU people think the same way with the youth that they have.”
Wisconsin’s opener is just one of many big moments for a program trying to assert themselves on the national stage against power conference schools in the wake of strength of schedule becoming an integral part of the selection process for the four-team College Football Playoff.
Being bewildered for years in trying to schedule quality home games, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez got the ball rolling with the neutral site approach when it became apparent that playing a true home-and-home series with a LSU never would have materialized.
Now it seems like the way of the near future. Wisconsin is scheduled to open the next three seasons against SEC opponents on neutral sites, including playing LSU at Lambeau Field in 2016, and many other power conference programs around the country are taking the same approach.
“We’ll always try to get one of those games and move forward,” said Andersen, adding emphatically Wisconsin will always play seven home games. “It might not always be a neutral site, but a big time game within the first two or three games that we play. A lot of teams are going to go to that (neutral site). It’s moving in that direction.”
There are positives in addition to the experience. Wisconsin is playing in a pro stadium similar in ways to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis where the Big Ten championship game is played, it gives Wisconsin fans an opportunity to travel to a new environment and it’s added a new level urgency to fall camp.
“If you need any other motivation that that, you’re in the wrong sport,” said senior defensive tackle Warren Herring. “Just being out there on the big stage to represent Wisconsin in the best way we know how is exciting.”
It also has its benefits on the recruiting front. Texas was on Wisconsin’s recruiting radar last year, but Andersen admitted it wasn’t as high profile of a target as it should have been, especially with the Badgers opening this season in Houston and next season in Dallas against Alabama.
Choosing to move two of the staff’s most aggressive recruiters – wide receiver coach Chris Beatty and secondary coach Bill Busch – into the talent-rich areas, Wisconsin has yielded verbal commitments from three kids in the Dallas Metroplex area, a three-star running back from suburban Houston and are in the mix for a handful of other high-ranking kids.
“We’ve done well so far, at least one an initial look,” said Andersen. “It is a big game. It’s an opportunity for those young men to know if they come to Wisconsin, they’ll be playing in a big time environments and big time moments not just in the Big Ten but out of conference as well.”
For a team having aspirations of playing for a fourth Big Ten title in five seasons, having an early season measuring stick will do wonders, especially if they leave with the program’s first victory over a SEC opponent in almost eight years.“It would be a huge victory for Wisconsin (and) a huge victory, in my opinion, for the Big Ten,” said Andersen. “To do what LSU has done, a solid program year in and year out with the respect they have, it would be a huge win.
“On the flip side of that if LSU would win, that would be a huge victory for them to beat a Big Ten team in Wisconsin. We’ll throw the ball out there and see what happens. It’s two great programs playing each other, without question.”