Wisconsin set to return to gridiron, Nebraska in the midst of QB controversy

After a two-week hiatus, Wisconsin football aims to return to the field. Meanwhile, Nebraska continues its search for answers at quarterback.


Katina Zentz

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst speaks during the second day of Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, July 19, 2019.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

After a season-opening 45-7 victory against Illinois Oct. 23, the Wisconsin football team missed back-to-back games because of a COVID-19 outbreak in its football program. Now, the team appears likely to return to the field this weekend.

The Badgers are expected to be back on the field this Saturday in Ann Arbor to play Michigan, per ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. As of Monday, Wisconsin only had five active COVID-19 cases — down from the program’s highest count of 27.

The Badgers had to cancel games against Purdue and Nebraska, and according to Big Ten Conference rules for this season, to qualify for the conference championship game, teams must play a minimum of six games.

The Badgers have five games ahead of them counting this Saturday’s game. So, 1-0 Wisconsin can, at best, go 6-0 and meet the Big Ten’s minimum requirement for a championship bid.

RELATED: Big Ten notebook: Wisconsin cancels another game, Northwestern aiming for 3-0 start

Wisconsin hasn’t received any positive tests in five of the last six reported days of testing according to Rittenberg, but should it have to cancel any more games, the Badgers will be disqualified from Big Ten Championship contention.

Wisconsin’s ability to run the table and make the Big Ten Championship game may be contingent upon the availability of Graham Mertz.

Mertz is Wisconsin’s second-string quarterback. He was vaulted into the starting role after first-stringer Jack Coan underwent foot surgery Oct. 6. Reports of Mertz testing positive for COVID-19 surfaced Oct. 25. Per Big Ten protocols, athletes can’t play for at least 21 days following a positive test.

Saturday marks 20 days since Oct. 25, so it is unclear if Mertz will be available. Third-string quarterback Chase Wolf may also be sitting out as he reportedly received a positive test result Oct. 26.

If Mertz can go, Wisconsin won’t have to put fourth-string quarterback Danny Vanden Boom under center. Vanden Boom has only thrown one career pass at Wisconsin – a three-yard touchdown against New Mexico State in 2018.

In his first career start at Illinois, Mertz – a four star recruit coming out of high school – completed 20-of-21 pass attempts for 248 yards and five touchdowns.

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chyrst – who tested positive for COVID-19 Oct. 28 – is uncertain with regard to Mertz’s status for the Michigan game.

“Graham, the way his timing is out, he’s starting that process of coming back,” Chryst told The Athletic’s Jesse Temple. “His tests are all done. I think he’ll be able to have some practice and we’ll see if it’s enough practice time.”

In a depth chart released Tuesday morning, Mertz is listed as Wisconsin’s starter, with Wolf backing him up.

Quarterback controversy continues at Nebraska

Through the Cornhuskers’ first two games this season, two quarterbacks have played – junior Adrian Martinez and redshirt freshman Luke McCaffery.

Martinez was Nebraska’s starter throughout the 2019 season while McCaffery redshirted. Martinez has also been the Cornhuskers’ first-stringer in both of their games this year.

However, after seeing limited action in Nebraska’s first matchup of the season with Ohio State, McCaffery threw 16 passes in the Cornhuskers’ game against Northwestern last week.

Martinez was benched in favor of McCaffery after struggling for three quarters. On the season, Martinez has not eclipsed 125 yards passing in a single game. However, he has been the team’s leading rusher, accruing 187 yards on the ground this season.

Neither McCaffery, nor Martinez has thrown a touchdown this season.

At his Monday press conference, head coach Scott Frost would not name a starting QB ahead of the Cornhuskers’ game with Penn State this week.

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