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LSU vs Wisconsin: Scouting reports, QB battle, predictions, and more

It’s Tigers vs. Badgers in Tampa

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Wisconsin at Minnesota Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 calendar and LSU football season are both drawing to a close, and the Tigers will ring in 2024 in Tampa Bay against the Wisconsin Badgers in the ReliaQuest Bowl (11 A.M., ESPN2).

Wisconsin is led by head coach Luke Fickell who is wrapping up his first full season in Madison. Fickell’s Badgers closed the regular season at an uninspiring 7-5, but did win two in a row including taking back Paul Bunyan’s Axe from Minnesota.

Speaking of Fickell, both he and Brian Kelly were both head coaches at Cincinatti once upon a time. Kelly led the Bearcats a 34-6 record between the 2006-2009 seasons and took Cincy to two New Years Six bowls (BCS at the time); Fickell also took Cincinatti a pair of New Years Six games, and even guided the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff in 2021. Fickell’s Bearcats actually beat Kelly’s Irish 24-13 in South Bend and that win helped propel Cincinatti to the playoff (and kept Notre Dame out.)

It’s clear, Kelly and Fickell know each other. As for the actual players there’s unfamiliarity. LSU and Wisconsin haven’t played since the 2016 season opener in Lambeau Field.

Wisconsin definitely has the quarterback advantage going into the ReliaQuest Bowl now that Jayden Daniels has opted out. Garrett Nussmeier is making his first ever start, while Badgers QB Tanner Mordecai is making his final ever start as the sixth-year transfer’s eligibility is up. Mordecai’s college career began at Oklahoma in 2018, he transferred to SMU in 2021, and his final stop ended up being in Madison.

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Mordecai missed about a month of the season because of a broken hand suffered against Iowa, but came back against Indiana. Because of the injury, Mordecai’s numbers are a little underwhelming—especially compared to Jayden Daniels. Mordecai’s thrown for a hair under 1700 yards and only six touchdowns versus four interceptions. But again, Mordecai’s got far more skins on the wall compared to Nussmeier.

Jayden Daniels is the biggest name that won’t be playing, but Wisconsin has their own share of opt outs and transfers. UW’s top running back Braelon Allen opted out to prepare for the draft, but the receiver corp is pretty much in tact. Keep an eye out on Wisconsin’s line of scrimmage as Badger starting center Tanor Bortolini opted out.

Defensively, Wisconsin lost a starter on all three levels to the portal: defensive end Rodas Johnson, inside linebacker Jordan Turner, and nickleback Jason Maitre have all entered the transfer portal.

Non-NY6 bowl games are getting harder and harder to predict in this new world of college football we’re living in. Between changes to both the roster and coaching staff, neither LSU nor Wisconsin will look remotely the same in Tampa as they had during the regular season. That said, I think LSU still has too much firepower for Wisconsin even without Jayden Daniels and the Tigers win a close one 35-31.