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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Utah State Aggies Preview: Two programs meet at very different crossroads

The Badgers take on the Aggies for just the third time in history. Will the third time be a charm for Bucky?

When: Fri., Sept. 1; 8pm CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Wisconsin win 16-14 (2012)

When one brings up the Utah State Aggies to a Badgers fan, two things likely pop in to that person’s head. It’s either, that damn Gary Andersen or oh man, we barely survived that game in 2012.

This isn’t 2012 and Gary Andersen isn’t coaching on either sideline on Friday night. Yet, some have those feelings and ideas about the 2012 version of the Aggies still stuck in their heads.

Matt Wells has been in charge since 2013 and had the Aggies at or near the top of the Mountain West conference. That wasn’t the case in 2016, as the team suffered through a rough roster transition and slipped to a 3-9 season.

A lot continues to change for the Aggies, while the Badgers come in as preseason favorites in the Big Ten West division.

The new season has us feeling a lot like this…

…and don’t forget to listen in to WDUZ for all the pre-game thoughts in Green Bay!

Will we see a repeat of the 2012 scare, or will Wisconsin and Utah State continue to go in opposite directions in the college football world? Let’s take a look inside tonight’s game.

1 Burning Question: Can the Badgers offense show balance?

Last season the Badgers offense was one of the most un-balanced in college football. UW finished last season ranked 39th in rushing offense (203.1 yards per game) but a horrific 104th in passing offense.

That isn’t very Paul Chryst-like to say the least, and heading in to a new season with a new full-time starter at quarterback and plenty of changes at the skill positions there is a lot of optimism about things changing for the better in 2017.

Alex Hornibrook started seven games last season, but this is his first season as a full-time starter going in to Week 1. He’ll have a new running back starting behind him and a handful of receivers playing much different roles than last season.

Sure, steady receiving options are back in tight end Troy Fumagalli and wide receiver Jazz Peavy.

However, a lot of youth is creeping up the roster and that is the reason for optimism and a much more dynamic passing attack in 2017.

Newcomer Danny Davis, a four-star wide receiver out of Ohio is in the two-deep and there are bigger roles for now sophomores Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor — both of whom got their feet wet in 2016.

We’ve heard a lot of talk and some flashes of an improved passing game in spring and fall practice. Can that translate to success on the field in a real game though? That’s the biggest question and the most burning one for the Badgers in 2017.

2 Key Stats:

15.6: That is the number of points given up by the Wisconsin Badgers defense in 2016. 

Wisconsin’s defense finished fourth in the country in points allowed last season, and that is a lofty number to live up to. With two NFL draft picks gone at outside linebacker and some changes in personnel in the secondary, can UW live up to previous levels of production? Utah State has a veteran quarterback and really dynamic offensive coordinator. Let’s see if UW can hold the Aggies to under three scores.

37: That is the number of consecutive home non-conference wins for the Badgers. 

While that number may be slightly impressive, it actually is close to becoming historic. Currently, the UW home non-conference win streak is alone in sixth place in FBS history (since 1946). A win tonight moves UW to within one game of a tie for the fifth best mark in history. Wisconsin’s current streak is also the second-longest active one next to LSU’s 47-game win streak.

3 Key Players:

Nick Nelson, CB (Wisconsin): There’s a reason why so many aren’t worried about the loss of four-year starter Sojourn Shelton at cornerback. His name is Nick Nelson and it appears the Hawaii transfer is more than ready to meet the challenge. In fact, some are openly wondering if he could be a one-and-done player for the Badgers given how impressive he has been in locking things down in practice. Let’s see if the hype matches reality when it is another team. If so, UW’s cornerback pairing may be one of the best in the Big Ten.

Kent Myers, QB (Utah State): Will the Badgers get the Myers of 2015 or the Myers of 2016? We talked about him being the key in our opposition research piece earlier this week and there’s little doubt the offense goes as the QB goes in Matt Wells’ spread offense. He’s got to be more accurate and a better reader of defenses in 2017. Wisconsin’s multiple look defense is going to be a really good test of which version we’ll see in 2017.

Tyler Biadsz, C (Wisconsin): Let’s just say being good enough to push a returning all-Big Ten player out of his position brings a lot of hype. Well, that is exactly what redshirt freshman Tyler Biadsz did by taking advantage of extra snaps in spring ball. This will be his first ever collegiate game and his ability to command the line of scrimmage and get his fellow linemen in to the right position is going to be key.

Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Utah State 10

Anyone remembering the 2012 game needs to put that one out of their mind. These are very different teams going in different directions as of late. Utah State doesn’t have a premier running back like it did, nor do they have a darling of the CFB world like they did in 2012.

While the Badgers have questions to answer, they are more of the wonderment than the serious variety. Look for UW’s offense to score plenty and its killer defense to stand up to a mediocre Utah State offense. Don’t be surprised to see the Badgers playing Jack Coan in the fourth quarter with the game in hand. If that happens, UW’s winning easily.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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