Melvin Gordon up for LSU challenge
HOUSTON—Running back Melvin Gordon chose to put the National Football League on hold for one year and return to Wisconsin because he relishes challenges like the one he and his teammates will face Saturday night:
A game against a talented LSU team, ranked No. 13 in both national preseason polls.
The Tigers have won 11 consecutive openers, a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 45 consecutive non-conference regular-season games, at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons and the BCS title in 2007 under Les Miles.
“You really get to challenge yourself as a player when you’re trying to be great,” Gordon said. “You love challenges and obviously LSU brings one of the biggest challenges of my life.”
And of course there is the Big Ten vs. Southeastern Conference angle when the teams meet at 8 p.m. at NRG Stadium.
The SEC won 9 of 16 BCS titles, including seven in a row from 2006-’12.
Eight SEC teams were in The Associated Press top 25 preseason poll, including five in the top 13.
The Big Ten won one BCS title—Ohio State in the ’02 season—and only four Big Ten teams made the preseason poll.
“Everyone talks about the SEC and how great they are and how the Big Ten has fallen off,” said Gordon, who cheers for LSU when the Tigers play SEC rival Alabama. “This could really send a statement that the Big Ten is changing, that we’re not some low-power conference.
“We know we’re just as good as any other conference.”
Gordon, who leads all active players in yards per carry (8.1), has plenty of company in relishing the opportunity.
Redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy is set to make his first start at quarterback for UW.
His journey at UW—from quarterback to wide receiver to safety and back to quarterback—has been discussed so much that McEvoy laughs when the topic is broached.
“I knew what I signed up for,” said McEvoy, who transferred to UW from Arizona Western College. “I’ve just got to get out there and play. I’ve been playing football all my life. I don’t think it will be overwhelming.
“People come to this school to play in big games. We’ve got LSU the first game. That’s about as big as it gets.”
Considering the quality of the opponent and that the game is at a neutral site, the practices have had the feel of bowl prep.
Safety Michael Caputo, entering his second season as a starter, didn’t play as well as he hoped to in UW’s 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.
Caputo was particularly upset that he failed to make a play on a 49-yard completion early in the fourth quarter. That set up the Gamecocks’ victory-clinching touchdown.
“Last year was my first start in a bowl game so it was … I wouldn’t say it was an eye-opener,” Caputo said. “But it was more like: ‘OK, now I’ve got it under my belt and now it is the easy stuff.’
“This is a great opportunity to show what we can do this season. It is a great season opener to have. I wouldn’t ask for anything else. LSU is a great team. I think we’re a good team.
“I think that we’ll battle it out, compete (and) see what happens.”
Miles’ Tigers have flourished in neutral-site games.
Last season, the Tigers opened with a 37-27 victory over No. 20 TCU in Arlington, Texas. In 2011, the Tigers whipped No. 3 Oregon, 40-27, in Arlington. In 2010, the Tigers held off No. 18 North Carolina, 30-24, in Atlanta.
“I recognize the advantages of having this kind of test early on in the season,” Miles said. “Yeah, I look forward to competitive games and this is going to be; you’re going to be prepared to play 60 minutes.”
UW coach Gary Andersen, who wasn’t afraid to face marquee teams on the road during his four seasons at Utah State, knows the value of this game.
“I think we get a real good idea of how we stack up against one of the best programs in the country year in and year out,” he said. “That’s exactly where LSU sits, and the respect we have for them is very, very high.
“You’ll see a bunch of young kids competing, and we’ll have a lot better idea of where we sit in the big picture, as far as not just the Big Ten, but in college football in general on the biggest stage.
“I’m just excited to go out and watch them play…. We’ll get a really good idea of where we’re at, like we’ve said many times. I like this team. I like the way they carry themselves.”