Friday evening, Badger fans will make the first of many treks down to Camp Randall as Wisconsin Football takes on Western Kentucky University in the season opener.
The long offseason finally comes to a close on the tail end of a mercurial few weeks for the usually-understated University of Wisconsin program. Lofty AP Poll rankings, which placed Wisconsin at No. 4 in the country, soon gave way to scandal as the team’s top two receivers, Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis, were implicated in sexual assault allegations, placing Davis on a two-game suspension and Cephus out for the foreseeable future.
The Badgers will be heavy favorites in the matchup against the Hilltoppers, who finished third in the Conference USA East (4-4, 6-7) last season and have major question marks at quarterback and offensive line.
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In 2017, WKU said goodbye to quarterback Mike White, the team’s offensive every-man. He finished with eight consecutive 300-yard passing games and led the country with 368 completions.
The gap will be evident this weekend as they push out redshirt senior Drew Eckels. Eckels has very limited experience in live game situations and looks to be the perfect victim for a young Badger secondary featuring two redshirt freshman in cornerback Faion Hicks and free safety Scott Nelson, redshirt sophomore cornerback Caesar Williams and the veteran senior strong safety D’Cota Dixon.
Despite widespread assurances of an all-but-guaranteed 40th consecutive victory over a non-conference foe at Camp Randall Stadium, newly minted starter Scott Nelson was not so dismissive.
“[Eckels] hasn’t played so much,” Nelson said. “But then again, we haven’t played much either. We don’t have much tape on him, and we don’t have much on the receivers so we are going to have to study their system and be prepared situationally.”
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In 2017, the Badgers had one of the stingiest pass defenses in the nation, however, the loss of Derrick Tindal, Natrell Jamerson and Nick Nelson will challenge Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard to develop this young talent to keep up with the Badger’s secondary standard of years past.
The name of the game seemed to be competition. Leonhard talked about the fight for starting spots between the young guys in the secondary in the offseason and in training camp, but ultimately “nothing can be set until guys start making plays on Saturdays”.
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WKU will also be trotting out an offensive line sans any senior veterans, including three second-year players. This doesn’t seem to bode well for them against the Wisconsin pass rush that has been making much more pedigreed lineman look silly for years.
Friday’s game will kick off at 8 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.