1. Saturday Night Lights
The Badgers are 20-1 in their last 21 night games, so there is a history of success in these type of games. On the other hand, Fresno State will be sky-high with their self-proclaimed "biggest game in program history." The Badgers will have to pull out the old Barry Alvarez adage about not flinching, as composure and execution will be key in what looks to be a wild atmosphere. The Badgers will need to clean up many of the errors that have plagued them at times the first two weeks, as this team not only looks like a Big Ten caliber team, but plays like one as well.
When you throw in the fact that this is the first road game and you look at the past history in such games ('07 vs. UNLV, ‘06 vs. BG, '05 vs. UNC, '04 vs. Arizona, etc.), even against marginal opponents, you see the need for a clean game.
2. Block that Kick…NOT
Fresno's special teams have been a hallmark of the Pat Hill era. The Bulldogs have scored 34 special team TDs in the last decade, one of the top figures in the nation. In particular, they have blocked 73 kicks over that span, which is quite amazing. With young kickers, the Badgers will need to give ample protection while Brad Nortman and Phillip Welch will have to deliver when called upon.
3. Brandstater vs. Pressure
Fresno QB Tom Brandstater ranked #23 in the nation in passing efficiency last year, and the 6-5 quarterback has proven to be smart and consistent quarterback. Wisconsin cannot allow him to sit in the pocket and pick on a questionable secondary, so look for some new ways at getting heat on the QB that we have not seen during their games against less capable opposition.
4. Outside Playmakers
The Badgers have featured the tight ends in the passing offense, a logical move given the great depth and talent at that position. With the return of Travis Beckum, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to expect that to continue. However, I believe the Badgers need to get a big play or two from someone on the outside, as players such as Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath should have some room to operate.
Likewise, the Badgers must obviously protect Allan Evridge. Evridge has not been sacked this year and the Badger tackles have played very well. On the road however, snap counts can be harder to hear and Fresno has a physical and athletic defense that will test the Badgers ability to keep their signal-caller on his feet and provide a balance to the punishing Badger run game.
This could be the toughest game of the year to pick. Fresno is a quality team and there are still a lot of questions about the Badgers. As noted earlier, the first road game of the year tends to be a battle regardless of who is playing. If the Badgers do not play poised, I believe this game could get out of hand quickly. However, I am optimistic that the return of some seniors will add some stability and the Badgers will weather the early storm. I will call this one 27-26 Badgers, as Fresno goes for two following a touchdown in the final minute….and fails (how is that for a prediction?)