The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers are nearly 24 hours away from taking the field against No. 19 Penn State and beginning their 2021 season.
The stage is beautifully set in Madison, Wisconsin as Camp Randall is set to welcome in fans for the first time in nearly two years.
The Badgers have their hands full this weekend, though, as Penn State presents arguably their toughest test of the year.
There are many areas and players that will go a long way towards deciding the outcome of this game. But if you’re looking for the biggest reasons Wisconsin will win or lose on Saturday, this is what to focus on:
Wisconsin vs. Penn State preview:
Why Wisconsin wins: the running game is back
Nov 21, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Jalen Berger (8) runs with the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin will win the football game if its running game returns to pre-2020 form. We clearly saw last year what happened when the team couldn't run the ball. https://twitter.com/benzkenney/status/1417238290357538824 So to keep the offense on schedule, maintain a well-balanced attack and ease QB Graham Mertz into his second season as the starter, Wisconsin will need to run the ball effectively. But why will Wisconsin win? Because they have the talent to do so both at running back and on the offensive line, and because the Penn State front presents a winnable matchup. Whether it's Chez Mellusi or Jalen Berger taking the bulk of the carries, Paul Chryst will likely work to get the ground game going early and properly utilize a solid offensive line unit of LT Tyler Beach, LG Josh Seltzner, C Joe Tippmann, RG Jack Nelson and RT Logan Bruss. Once that ground game finds its stride, Graham Mertz will able to complete on-schedule throws and manage the offense to victory. If you're looking for a reason Wisconsin wins tomorrow, a good running game is first and foremost.
Why Wisconsin loses: Penn State's offense has too much firepower
Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) returns the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin could lose this game because stopping the high-powered Penn State offensive attack of QB Sean Clifford, RB Noah Cain, WR Jahan Dotson and WR Parker Washington is easier said than done. Penn State's new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will look to get Clifford in a rhythm, get the ball to Dotson early and often and take shots when opportunities present themselves. Jim Leonhard's defense is in line for a great season, though they are faced with a tough task Week 1. If the Nittany Lions can connect on big-time plays and find success over the top? They could win this football game.
Why Wisconsin wins: Nittany Lion QB Sean Clifford is still in 2020 form
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws during the first quarter against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
If Sean Clifford is still in his 2020 form of inconsistent play and head-scratching turnovers, Wisconsin will win the football game. Turnovers will go a long way towards deciding the outcome of this game, as they normally do. But this one feels more important, as both quarterbacks struggled to take care of the football last season. Wisconsin's defense is talented enough to pressure Clifford and take the ball away. If the Nittany Lion quarterback falls victim to that attack, Wisconsin will win the football game.
Why Wisconsin loses: Same as above, but for Graham Mertz
Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics
Take everything said above, and apply it to Graham Mertz. Penn State's secondary led by CB Tariq Castro-Fields and S Jaquan Brisker presents a scary test for Mertz in the first game of his second season. Just like Penn State's situation, Wisconsin's offense around Mertz is set up for him to succeed. If he struggles to take care of the ball, as he did for large portions of last season, Penn State will win the game.
Why Wisconsin wins: Camp Randall will be rocking and the defense will feed off the energy
Sep 21, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers line up for a play during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Camp Randall Stadium will be full and rocking for the first time in nearly two years. While this will also be new to many Badger starters, Penn State will have their hands full dealing with the hostile environment. For Wisconsin on the defensive side of the football, that energy could prove valuable as they look to gain momentum and shut down the Penn State offense. Home field advantage is real, Wisconsin has a 25-game winning streak in home openers and Camp Randall will not disappoint tomorrow. Why could Wisconsin win this game? Because Leonhard's defense plus the crowd could prove to be too tough for Clifford and the Penn State offense.