MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin linebacker Maema Njongmeta only needs to look at the sea of red at Camp Randall Stadium each day to measure how much excitement new coach Luke Fickell’s arrival had generated on campus.
The stands feature red seatbacks purchased by season ticket holders. Njongmeta and his teammates couldn’t ignore the greater red presence in the seats this preseason.
“A lot of guys have brought that up to my attention,” Njongmeta said. “Obviously the buzz is crazy.”
The 19th-ranked Badgers had sold 60,825 season tickets as of Wednesday, up slightly from their total of 60,341 last year. The fact that Wisconsin improved its season ticket sales for the first time since 2017 underscores the excitement surrounding the hire of Fickell.
Fickell went 57-18 in six seasons at Cincinnati, including a 53-10 mark over the last five years. He led the Bearcats to a College Football Playoff berth in 2021. The addition of offensive coordinator Phil Longo and his Air Raid attack provides even more intrigue.
Now it’s a matter of results. The first indication comes Saturday when Wisconsin hosts Buffalo in a matchup of teams that each went 7-6 last season.
“It’s almost like Christmas morning,” Fickell said. “You’re preparing for a lot of things. There’s a lot of anxieties. You’re excited about it, yet there’s a lot of things you just don’t know from each other.”
Much of that uncertainty for Wisconsin surrounds that offense and how a passing game led by SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai will work in tandem with a potent ground attack featuring Braelon Allen, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards each of the last two seasons.
“There’s definitely a challenge with the down-the-field passing attack and their ability to run the ball,” Buffalo coach Maurice Linguist said. “I think so much gets maybe lost in translation when you think about the spread and the Air Raid. This is a physical north-and-south running team.”
Buffalo is a 27 ½-point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook but boasts some notable performers.
Quarterback Cole Snyder threw for over 3,000 yards last season. Safety Marcus Fuqua had seven interceptions to tie for the Bowl Subdivision lead and earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors a year ago. Linebacker Shaun Dolac had an FBS-leading 97 solo tackles last season.
“We’ve got some guys here at Buffalo who can play some ball,” Linguist said. “We have some veteran players who are seasoned that we’re going to count on, we’re going to lean on to be our big-time playmakers for us.”
BUILDING ON THEIR FINISHES
Wisconsin and Buffalo are seeking to maintain their momentum after ending their 2022 seasons with bowl victories.
BUFFALO VS. BIG TEN
Buffalo owns a 1-11 record against Big Ten teams. The lone victory was a 42-13 win at Rutgers in 2018.
BADGERS’ NEW RECEIVERS
Wisconsin used the transfer portal to boost its receiving depth as it adapts to the Air Raid offense. Transfer receivers on Wisconsin’s roster include Bryson Green (formerly at Oklahoma State), Will Pauling (Cincinnati), CJ Williams (Southern California) and Quincy Burroughs (Cincinnati).
The Badgers’ top returning receiver is Chimere Dike, who had 47 catches for 689 yards and six touchdowns last season.
BULLS’ BIG TEN BACKGROUNDS
Snyder began his college career at Rutgers before transferring to Buffalo last year. Buffalo left tackle Isaiah Wright also is a former Rutgers player. Buffalo defensive back Solomon Brown spent three seasons at Minnesota. Linguist was hired as Michigan’s co-defensive coordinator in January 2021 but left less than four months later to take over Buffalo’s program.
GOING FOR 22
Wisconsin enters the year with a string of 21 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak for any Power Five school.