They call Green Bay “Titletown USA.”
For the LSU Tigers, there’s no better place to start their quest to bring another championship to Tigertown.
The 2016 Tigers have big, national title-worthy talent and big aspirations to match. Opening on the big stage of Lambeau Field, with Lee Corso’s big mascot heads on the set of ESPN's “College GameDay” on the premises, seems theatrically appropriate.
These Tigers have the experience, drive and bile of unfulfilled expectations left over from last season’s 7-0 start, elements they will try to turn into the hammer and the chisel needed to imprint the letters “LSU” onto the list of college football’s national champions. To carve for themselves a measure of immortality that only being No. 1 can provide.
In short, it’s a big game. A game LSU needs to win if the Tigers are to keep dreaming big.
There has been a growing sense in recent years about LSU football that the entire schedule rises or falls on the outcome of one game: Alabama. But LSU’s national-title hopes may not survive until that Nov. 5 showdown with the Crimson Tide if the Tigers don’t take care of business Saturday.
The last time LSU won the national championship, in 2007, the Tigers did so with two losses. That was an anomaly, the byproduct of a season filled with uncommon parity nationwide.
There’s no counting on a repeat of history this time. Any national-championship contender could perhaps survive one loss, but likely not two. That leaves title hopefuls with scant margin for error, as it probably should be.
Getting through the Southeastern Conference unbeaten is a particularly daunting and almost impossible gauntlet; no team has managed to do it since LSU in 2011. That makes posting W's in nonconference games all the more important.
There is a thread that has run through LSU fandom throughout this offseason, and it hasn’t been about what a threat Wisconsin promises to be. Maybe it’s the fact that, in 11 previous seasons under Les Miles, the Tigers have not lost one nonconference regular-season encounter, a streak that has run to 42 straight wins. It’s a point of pride for the LSU faithful, at least until you start to remember that all good things eventually come to an end.
One day, LSU will lose a non-SEC game in-season. And this seems to be as big of a danger of that since, well, the Wisconsin game the Tigers rallied to win 28-24 in Houston in 2014.
This time, it will be the Badgers who have the majority of the crowd behind them, the familiarity of all those Cheeseheads stuffed pimento-style into iconic Lambeau Field. Two years ago, with a pro-LSU crowd in Houston, the Tigers had to mount a furious and frankly improbable rally from a 24-7 deficit to eke out a win.
If this game were being decided on national signing day, it would be a rout.
Over the past four seasons, according to 24/7 Sports’ composite recruiting rankings, LSU’s signing classes have an average rank of 4.25 nationally. Wisconsin’s classes the past four seasons average 35.75 nationally.
In that four-year span, LSU has signed eight five-star prospects and 60 four-stars. Wisconsin has signed no five-star recruits and just nine four-stars. For those who like to keep score on such things, that tally is 68-9.
But games aren’t played on paper. They’re played on green grass/turf (usually) and by players who don’t offer a copy of their recruiting rankings when they get in a three-point stance or go in motion.
As a team, Wisconsin is clearly out-talented by LSU. But if talent were everything, there would be no point to playing the actual game. Football isn’t the cold-war stockpiling of weapons you hope you never use. You have to prove it each and every week.
The Badgers have hung tough with the Big Ten’s Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State over the years because of their discipline and tenacity — the same qualities that make them such a big threat to the Tigers if they don’t come to play Saturday.
From his perspective, with a mature team led by 18 returning starters, Les Miles believes his Tigers have the maturity to get the gist.
“With this team, there are a lot of veterans who understand what it’s like to go on the road,” the LSU coach said. “You go on the road, you have to be the better team.”
What Miles said sounds obvious, but it has an inherent truth: LSU has to be better in its effort and execution against Wisconsin, or its long trip to Green Bay may turn its road to national-championship contention into a dead-end street.