College Football
Is Alabama matchup Luke Fickell's first pivotal Wisconsin moment?
College Football

Is Alabama matchup Luke Fickell's first pivotal Wisconsin moment?

Published May. 22, 2024 5:49 p.m. ET

A trio of "Big Noon Saturday" games for the 2024 college football season were announced last week, one of them being Luke Fickell's Wisconsin Badgers hosting the Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 14. This will be the third all-time matchup between these two programs.

Fickell is entering his second season at Wisconsin with the program coming off an underwhelming 7-6 debut season that saw it win just one game against a team that finished with a winning record. 

With that in mind, is this Big Ten-SEC battle Fickell's chance to get his first statement win at Wisconsin?

On the latest edition of "The No. 1 College Football Show with RJ Young," host RJ Young gave his perspective on what a win over the Crimson Tide would mean for the Badgers, but more specifically, for Fickell.


"This is Wisconsin's best shot in the Luke Fickell era to throw down a marker to absolutely say 'we are in the Big Ten, and we expect to contend in the Big Ten for championships," Young said. "[A] great way to do that is to beat the SEC champ and a team that played in the College Football Playoff … they [Wisconsin] got to get the Crimson Tide because they got SC, Penn State, Iowa [and] Oregon on the schedule … 

"Luke Fickell's got a lot riding on this game because now is the time where Wisconsin fans would like to see some payoff here. And, in a 12-team playoff, there's no reason why Wisconsin, or for that matter, Penn State, shouldn't be considered as teams that can make it into this 12-team format."

Fickell was previously the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, who went a combined 57-18 under him from 2017-22, headlined by an appearance in the 2021 College Football Playoff — the first berth for a non-Power 5 program — and three 11-plus win seasons. The Bearcats actually faced off against the Crimson Tide in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal round, although they lost 27-6.

Prior to his time in Cincinnati, Fickell was Ohio State's interim head coach for the 2011 season, which saw the program go 6-7. Fickell was on Ohio State's coaching staff in some capacity from 2002-16 and was a defensive lineman for the school from 1993-96.

As for Wisconsin's opponent, Alabama cracked the College Football Playoff last season before losing to Michigan in the semifinal round. After the season, six-time National Champion head coach Nick Saban retired, with Alabama hiring former Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer to replace the legendary head coach. The Crimson Tide return quarterback Jalen Milroe.

The Badgers were in the middle of the pack on both ends of the ball last season. Offensively, they averaged 381.2 total yards (sixth in the Big Ten) and 23.5 points (seventh) per game. Defensively, they surrendered 331.4 total yards (seventh) and 18.9 points (sixth) per game.

RJ Young reacts to the Big Noon Kickoff game announcement schedule

Wisconsin hasn't finished with double-digit wins since 2019, which is the last time it made the Big Ten Championship Game under the previous East vs. West format. The Badgers have put together back-to-back 7-6 campaigns.

Concerning next season, former Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke projects to be Wisconsin's starting quarterback after serving as the Hurricanes' signal-caller for the better part of the past three seasons, highlighted by throwing for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns across just 10 games in his 2021 freshman campaign. 

Van Dyke's No. 1 option in the passing game is wide receiver Will Pauling, who totaled 74 receptions for 837 yards and six touchdowns last season, all team highs, and followed Fickell from Cincinnati to Wisconsin. Oklahoma transfer Tawee Walker — who rushed for 513 yards and seven touchdowns on 5.0 yards per carry — could be Wisconsin's lead running back.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's defense is headlined by defensive backs Ricardo Hallman — who was tied for most interceptions in college football in 2023 with seven — and Hunter Wohler — who led Big Ten defensive backs with 117 combined tackles in 2023.

Outside of Alabama, Wisconsin's out-of-conference opponents are Western Michigan and South Dakota.

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