ReliaQuest Bowl: Wisconsin vs LSU

By George Somerville

Bowl Season continues! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the ReliaQuest Bowl:

Where and When

ReliaQuest Bowl

Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL

Date: 1st January 2024

Time: 12.00pm (ET)

Story so far…

Image credit: Denny Medley/ USA TODAY Sports

The 7-5 Wisconsin Badgers face off against the 9-3 Louisiana State Tigers for only the 5th time in their long and storied histories. Currently the Tigers hold a 3-1 lead in the series.

Wisconsin badgers

The 2023 season has been an interesting one for head coach Luke Fickell, who has just completed in his first 12 months in the job.

Losses to Washington State, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Northwestern left the Badgers third in the BIG10 West.

While it was clear that Fickell had a serious rebuilding job ahead of him when he took the job, it quickly become apparent just how difficult a task he had taken on.

This season the Badgers offense is – per Jesse Temple of The Athletic – ranked 58th in rushing offense, 97th in yards per play, 117th in passing efficiency and 101st in scoring in all of college football. Which has left an expectant Badgers fanbase somewhat disillusioned. 

A win over the much fancied LSU Tigers will do much to keep that pressure off Fickel’s shoulders.

LSU Tigers

With an SEC West title in his back pocket from last year, Brian Kelly cut a confident figure during SEC Media days back in July. Back then many fancied LSU to go one step further this year and leapfrog Georgia as SEC Champions. To be fair the progress under Kelly in year one was so impressive that a logical conclusion was this upwards trajectory would continue.

What virtually everyone did not predict was that the Tigers defense would leak like a sieve. 

The season started with conceding 45 points and a defeat to Florida State. 202 points conceded to Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama and Florida highlighted just where the problems lay. Remember that this is an LSU offense which broke records all season – including some belonging to that incredible 2019 Tigers team – resulting in Jayden Daniels winning the Heisman.

It was not the season that Brian Kelly or Tigers fans anticipated.

The Quarterbacks…

Image credit: Andy Manis/ AP Photo
Tanner Mordecai

Wisconsin’s troubles got a whole lot worse back in October when QB1 broke his hand in the loss to Iowa. Back then Mordecai was not expected to return this season. But he has and will play his last game for the Badgers in Tampa in the bowl game.

Mordecai, who transferred from SMU at the start of this season had, until he was injured, completed 63.7% of his passes for 1,127 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns.

Badgers fans will be happier to see Mordecai back under center.

Jayden Daniels

Given how bad the Tigers defense was performing, the LSU offense was largely being overlooked.

So much so that head coach Kelly began using his press conferences to highlight the great job that his quarterback was doing. Eyebrows were raised when Kelly told us that the 2023 offense was outshining the 2019 team and that Daniels should be a Heisman finalist.

Daniels finished the season completing 236 of 327 passing (72.2%) for 3,812 yards and 40 touchdowns and four interceptions. This gave him a QB rating of 208. If you have watched Daniels you know how dangerous he is when he gets running – and in addition to his passing stats, he also rushed 135 rushes for 1,134 yards (8.4 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns.

In the last 3 games of the season, Daniels threw for 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, effectively sealing his position as Heisman winner.

Sadly we won’t see Daniels star in the ReliaQuest Bowl as he has elected to sit out the Bowl Game. QB2 Garrett Nussmeier will suit up in Tampa. Nussmeier has been in Baton Rouge for three years but this will be his first start for the Tigers, with limited playing time seen this season. While this might seem like a high pressure situation, it is also the perfect opportunity for Nussmeier to stake his claim for QB1 going into next season.

Prospects to watch…

Image credit: Justin Ford/ USA TODAY Sports

This is another game which will be impacted by opt outs. Wisconsin will be without star running back, Braelon Allen as well as wide receivers Chimere Dike and Skyler Bell. However given that the Badgers defense is likely to be on the field lots to try to stifle the LSU offense, I think a focus on some key defensive players is of most use.


CJ Goetz : Linebacker

Goetz is a 6th year senior and has been one of the shining lights in the Badgers defense this year. As a very effective outside linebacker, Goetz will be tasked with putting as much pressure on Nussmeier as possible. As well as playing a new QB, LSU is also going to be without their offensive co-ordinator who has just left to return to Notre Dame. If Goetz can get pressure on LSU’s QB, some real panic could be injected into the Tigers. 

Darryl Peterson : Linebacker

Peterson is the other OLB who can create some real chaos for the Tigers and is considered the head of this positional group. He is a real leader. Peterson leads the team in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (4.5) so his worth to the team is there for all to see.

The performance of Goetz ad Peterson will determine whether the Badgers can upset the Tigers.


Malik Nabers : Wide Receiver

While his QB has elected to sit out the bowl game, star wide receiver Nabers will play in Raymond James stadium on Monday. Nabers is rated by many draft analysts as WR2 in the upcoming draft, only behind Marvin Harrison JR, meaning Nabers is expected to be a high draft pick, possibly a top 10 pick.

Nabers has 86 catches for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns in the Tigers’ 9-3 season.

Harold Perkins Jr : Outside Linebacker

For most of the first half of the season, head coach Kelly was being criticised for playing Perkins out of position. Kelly argued that so good was Perkins that he had the flexibility to play anywhere on defense. Truth is, Kelly was trying to plug holes the size of tankers in his leaking defense. By the 2nd half of the season, Perkins was back where he belonged.

Despite this “disappointing” season, Perkins still recorded 71 tackles, 13 for loss, a team-high 5.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 6 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles and an interception. Imagine what he can do when he’s playing well!

Truth is Perkins is one of the best players in College football just now and he will be a difference maker in this game.


It is no great surprise that LSU are firm favourites to win the ReliaQuest bowl. 

Despite the leaky defense, the Tigers offense is virtually unstoppable and Vegas does not think that this Badgers defense is good enough to bring LSU to a grinding halt.

LSU is currently 10.5 pt favourites to win this game, with the over set at 55.5. Even with a “rookie” at QB, this Tigers offense should be more than capable of turning the Badgers over convincingly. Aside from the offensive machine, the LSU defense is pissed at the criticism they have been getting. And a bowl game vs a BIG10 opponent is a perfect opportunity to make the critics eat their words. 

I predict the Tigers will come out angry and physical.

Wisconsin 21 : LSU 45

Mock Draft

George Somerville