There were high hopes for the Wisconsin Badgers heading into the season, and certainly after they had an impressive 45-7 victory over Illinois Week 1. Filling in for injured QB Jack Coan, backup Graham Mertz showed why Wisconsin fans have been clamoring for him to start. Mertz completed 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Badgers moved up to the No. 9 team in the country, things were looking good.
Thing didn't stay good long, their quarterback depth chart has become absolutely decimated due to the coronavirus. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mertz has tested COVID-19 positive, as has current backup QB Chase Wolf. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported on Tuesday that Mertz’s results were confirmed after a second positive test. With Coan on the shelf with an injury, and the Big Ten’s protocol stating a player has to sit out 21 days for testing COVID-19, Wisconsin may have to turn to their fourth-string option in Danny Vanden Boom.
This type of situation, where a fourth-string quarterback is called on to start, rarely happens, but in the era of COVID-19 we’ve now come to expect the unexpected. While Wisconsin hasn’t confirmed the positive cases mentioned, if the reports are indeed accurate it’s absolutely devastating for the players, and the program. The health of the infected players is paramount, but at the same time the situation Wisconsin is now in signifies the importance of testing negative. A position group on the depth chart can be wiped out due to the virus. Any coach will give you the ‘next man up’ line of answers when talking about issues as these. But the reality is most, if not all teams, aren’t going to be better with their fourth option in at QB.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly used the phrase ‘Test Negative. Stay Positive. Let’s play football’, a message that has been resonating with the team thus far. However, even those who take all the proper precautions can catch the virus, unfortunately. Nonetheless, players and staff doing what they can to mitigate the spread of covid is so important and must be strived for with each decision made off the gridiron throughout this season. While I’m not going to get into a hypothetical of how if this player or that player tests positive it impact the team, Michigan and every other team in the Big Ten can look at Wisconsin right now as a warning signal of what can happen to them if bad luck and circumstance strike.
This has already been the most unpredictable college football season in recent history, perhaps ever, and that won’t be changing with COVID-19 cases on the rise throughout the country. A team’s depth chart can look drastically different week-to-week, and it will impact wins and losses. Michigan didn’t have any players sit out Week 1 due to the coronavirus, a trend that will hopefully continue throughout the year and off-season. All the players in the Big Ten worked so hard to get back to playing football, and it’s sad to see a good chunk of any player’s season wiped out. Hopefully we don’t see a whole lot of similar story-lines as Wisconsin’s this Big Ten season.
Michigan plays Wisconsin at The Big House on November 14, and there’s a good chance the Badgers will be without their top three options at quarterback when the game transpires.