Campus Sports Game of the Week: Alabama v. Wisconsin

College football is finally back as week one quickly closes in. After months of all the speculating and anticipating, the wait is finally over as the 2015 season gets under way.

With a full slate of great matchups this week, it was difficult choosing the game of the week between no. 15 Arizona State v. Texas A&M, no. 3 Alabama v. no. 20 Wisconsin and no. 1 Ohio State v. Virginia Tech.

After hours of deliberation, I decided to follow ESPN’s College Gameday down to Arlington, Texas for the top 20 matchup between no. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide and no. 20 Wisconsin Badgers for Campus Sports Net’s Game of the Week.

Wisconsin comes into the season ranked 20th by the Associated Press poll, looking to reload after finishing 11-3 in 2014. Paul Chryst enters his first season as the head coach for the Badgers after spending three years at Pittsburgh, looking to lead his alma mater back to a Big Ten title game after being shut-out by Ohio State and into the College Football Playoff. Chryst and his Badgers will have to get the job done without last year’s Heisman runner-up in former running back Melvin Gordon after losing him to the NFL Draft. Wisconsin returns 11 total starters; five on offense and six on defense.

Alabama comes into the 2015 season ranked 3rd by the Associated Press poll, also looking to reload after winning the SEC Championship and making the inaugural playoff as the no. 1 seed; however, the Tide look to bounce back after a devastating loss to the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes capturing their fifth no. 1 recruiting class in a row. Although the Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban continues to dominate recruiting, they still have unanswered questions on the offensive side of the football, especially at the quarterback position after Blake Sims graduated last year. Like Wisconsin, the Crimson Tide will also have to replace a Heisman finalist in former receiver Amari Cooper after losing him to the NFL Draft. Alabama returns 10 total starters; three on offense and seven on defense.

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Keys to the Game:

Quarterback Play

While Wisconsin seems to have their guy in senior Joel Stave, the Crimson Tide are not so sure. Saban said earlier this week they would rotate between senior Jake Coker, sophomore Cooper Bateman and senior Alec Morris during practice to prepare for the Badgers. Whoever the starter may be should not be asked to do a lot by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. As many Tide quarterbacks before them, the next man up will be asked to manage the game and get the ball into the hands of playmakers like Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.

As for Wisconsin, Stave is the definition of a ‘game-manager’. Last season the Badgers averaged under 150 passing yards per game so rest assured that they will look to continue their dominance on the ground with running back Corey Clement leading the backfield.

Many quarterbacks have a history of playing their games against the Tide secondary. If Stave can get a few big plays over the top of Alabama’s secondary, it could be a rough day for the Crimson Tide.

Battle of the Trenches

In most cases, whichever team wins the battle of the trenches has the best advantage of coming out on top. In this game, both offensive units look to replace three starting lineman, although both teams are historically known to reload and do well with the next man in line. Where the difference lies is on the defensive side of the football. Alabama comes into this season with what some are calling the best front seven in all of football. The Tide returns with A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathon Allen leading the defensive front.

While the Badgers’ defensive line looks to fill some holes, the difference in the game could very well be the Alabama defensive line overpowering the inexperienced Wisconsin offensive line.

Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes over Tony Conner #12 of the Mississippi Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Players to Watch

Kenyan Drake, Alabama Running Back

Drake will not just be splitting carries with Derrick Henry this year. Drake has been lining up all over the field in Lane Kiffin’s offense this offseason. Look for Drake to get plenty of touches no matter who ends up getting it to him. Drake has all the potential of being a big time playmaker for the Tide this season.

Before suffering a season ending injury last year, Drake rushed for 112 yards and caught five passes for 159 yards in the first five games. Drake is definitely one to keep your eyes on against the Badgers.

Joel Stave, Wisconsin Quarterback

In order to run the football against this Alabama front seven, the Badgers will have to open up the passing game and keep a balanced attack. Stave has the ability to make the throws against a suspect Alabama secondary. Stave could have a big day if the Tide’s secondary is not much improved from last season allowing 226 passing yards per game and 456 passing yards against Auburn to an average passer in Nick Marshall. If the Badgers want a chance to pull the upset, Stave will need to play big.

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Final Prediction

What you can expect watch is a hard-nosed game of smash-mouth football that every football fan loves to see.

Alabama is -10 favorite over Wisconsin right now, but if the Crimson Tide offense struggles to score the football, this one could be closer than you think. Ultimately, the defensive front seven of Alabama and the ability to flip the field with the leg of sophomore punter J.K. Scott, Alabama will hang on in a close game against the Badgers.

Alabama 27—Wisconsin 20