With their season opener an away game in Tampa, Florida, against the South Florida Bulls, the Badgers are gifted a clear opportunity to demonstrate their prospects of a successful season. As an early season, out of conference opponent, the Bulls are certainly not the most talented team on paper that the Badgers will face all year. Despite this, they offer a strong test for what remains one of the more questioned areas of play for the Badgers: their defense.

Last year, the Bulls managed to score an average of nearly 30 points per game despite going only 7-6 for the season. Furthermore, they return their veteran starting quarterback Blake Barnett for his senior season. Barnett poses an early threat to a Wisconsin secondary that was consistently marred by injuries last season as he will look to build upon an already impressive body of work that contains a stout average of 246 passing yards per game.

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An offensive line that also returns many of their starters from last season will be there to protect Barnett, thus creating a dynamic offensive threat the Badgers will be forced to answer if they want to avoid the early season troubles that plagued them last year. If they are unable, Friday’s game may become a runaway scoring fest with the Bulls also struggling on the defensive side of the ball. During the back half of their season last year, they gave up an average of 38 points per game en route to six straight losses.

Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of Friday’s competition is how Jack Coan, recently named the starting QB for the Badgers, will operate as the full-time starter. This season opener against South Florida is a desperately important one for the Wisconsin offense, as it is necessary to prove that they can function as a unit without leaning entirely on the talent of Jonathan Taylor and their offensive line.

In their opening two contests last season prior to their loss against BYU, the Badgers did exactly that. Over the course of those games, the Badgers ground game accounted for over 60 percent of their total yards gained. This also included their performance against New Mexico, during which they rushed for 417 yards while gaining a measly 151 through the air. A balanced attack is critical to maintain long term success throughout the season, and the Badgers will have their first opportunity to prove they’re capable of doing so against the Bulls.

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In order to come out on top not just against the Bulls but against higher-profile competitors throughout the season, the Badgers will have to show they can stop the air attack on one side of the ball and provide it on the other. Furthermore, they must show they can do it early. They failed to do so last year, and it led to their demise as a potential playoff contender. With Friday’s game against the Bulls, the Badgers are given a much-needed chance for a do-over.