The Wisconsin Badgers are a really good football team. As much as I hate seeing those words be typed into my website, it’s just a fact we all have to deal with at this point. Their dominance started in the 90’s and has intensified since the Big Ten split into two divisions for the 2011 season. Since then, Wisconsin has played in the B1G Championship game six — out of a possible nine — times.
Historically, the Badgers haven’t relied on quarterback play to lead their offensive charge. In fact, only one QB in school history (Russell Wilson) has thrown for over 3,000 yards in a full season. For some context, Tanner Morgan threw for over 3,200 yards last season, which ranked 35th in the NCAA.
So when starting Senior QB Jack Coan was lost to a broken foot this week, nobody was panicking in the land of badgers and cheese (or Vegas). Maybe the Badger faithful don’t realize it yet, but their 2020 offense was going to rely a lot more on the QB position than Wisconsin football teams of yesteryear.
#Wisconsin starting quarterback Jack Coan underwent surgery today on right foot. He’s out indefinitely, per #Badgers. He completed a school-record 236 passes for 2,727 yards – the third-highest single-season total in UW history – with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 2019.— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) October 7, 2020
Everybody Else Left…
The Wisconsin Badgers were already entering 2020 with a brand new offense, personnel-wise. According to Ryan Burns of GopherIllustrated.com, they will now head into the new season without 2019’s QB1, RB1, WR1 and three starting offensive lineman.
Coan was the only #1 skill position player returning to the Badgers offense. Now they will have zero. While Coan is healing from foot surgery, Jonathan Taylor is running footballs for the Indianapolis Colts and Quintez Cephus is lining up out wide for the Detroit Lions.
I know Wisconsin has a stud freshman to take over at quarterback for Jack Coan, but he’s replacing a guy who threw for the 3rd-most yards in school history last season. It’s not going to be a plug and move on role.
Meet Graham Mertz
True Freshman, Graham Mertz, will takeover QB duties for Coan. He’s a high 4-star from Kansas and he was the #65 overall prospect in all of DI college football for 2019. According to 247Sports.com, Mertz is a pocket passer who isn’t going to blow you away with his athleticism.
Just like any young pocket passer, Mertz will probably struggle if teams can get pressure on him. Having three new offensive lineman shouldn’t help his cause in that department… but Wisconsin also breeds NFL o-lineman, so it’s hard to know how big of a step back they will take.
Oddsmakers Aren’t Concerned
If you talked to the oddsmakers in Vegas, nobody cares about Coan’s injury. The odds haven’t moved a point, sitting steady at +600 (for most sites) to win the Big Ten Championship (according to oddschecker).
Minnesota sits laughably behind Nebraska (+2000) and Michigan (+550) at +2500, so I don’t know how seriously we can take what the oddsmakers have to say about Big Ten football. It looks like a good year to make some money off of your bookies.
What Does This Mean for Minnesota?
I’d rather have Wisconsin at full-strength because I like competition. That’s not reality however. Reality has dealt the Gophers a huge opportunity and it’s not just Coan’s unfortunate injury. Iowa is on a down year and Nebraska is overrated (per usual). With a completely turned-over offense in Madison, this looks like a great chance to jump up and surprise a lot of people.
Not only are conference rivals struggling to find their footing in 2020 but so is B1G East rival, Michigan, who the Gophers open their eight-game season with. If PJ Fleck and Co can charge through the Wolverines and Hawkeyes in weeks one and four, they’re toughest back-half opponent is the Badgers in a week six game that could decide the fate of the Big Ten West.
As we all know, the biggest key to the 2020 Minnesota Gophers is taking care of their own business. This is a talented bunch that, if playing well, can beat anyone. They proved that vs Penn State and Auburn last season.
Is it October 24 yet because I think we’re all ready for this thing to start.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan