Ben Palya, Sports Reporter


Although Wisconsin opened its season with a win against a lowly Illinois squad, the Badgers showed they have the tools to compete with the best in the Big Ten Conference.

Freshman Graham Mertz put on a show against the Illini, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns on 20-21 passing. It was the kind of debut that builds confidence for a freshman, and Mertz could end up being the catalyst that turns Wisconsin into a top-tier team this year. And while Mertz did test positive for COVID-19 Sunday, he will only be unavailable for three games, at most.

The Badgers shared the wealth on the ground too. Three players rushed for 30 yards or more as Wisconsin gashed Illinois for 182 yards on the ground.

Despite a solid rushing attack, Wisconsin’s offense could look different this season than it has in years past. Mertz’s performance showed that the Badgers could lean on a more pass-heavy approach going forward, adding an interesting wrinkle to a normally benign Wisconsin offense.

The Badgers also looked good defensively on Friday night, holding the Fighting Illini to just over 200 yards of total offense.

The Badgers will play Michigan and Indiana for their crossover games — which may prove tougher than pundits originally predicted.

However, after Iowa and Minnesota both started the season in disappointing fashion, it appears the Badgers could stroll to a Big Ten West title, and a rematch with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, Indiana, in December.