Wisconsin Badgers QB Graham Mertz Might Be Transformative

As the Big Ten returns this evening with my alma mater Wisconsin playing Illinois, the excitement is palpable. Graham Mertz makes his debut as the starting quarterback after incumbent Jack Coan went down with a foot injury in camp. Mertz is a redshirt freshman who was a four-star recruit and the second-best pro-style quarterback in his class according to Rivals rankings.

After obsessively watching his high school highlights and also seeing this clip of a connection to Danny Davis in practice, I have concluded that Mertz throws a gorgeous deep ball.

Despite his obvious potential, it's probably a little unfair to immediately heap lofty expectations on Mertz, who did not beat out Coan for the job before the injury. Nonetheless, he is as anticipated a quarterback as the Badgers have ever had. Russell Wilson's transfer year in 2011 garnered a lot of buzz, but that was just one year. Mertz could light up Madison for several seasons.

It would also be unfair to expect Mertz to be as good as Russell Wilson, who might already be a top 15 NFL quarterback of all-time. Mertz will have to develop his own weapons, as running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Quintez Cephus are now in the NFL.

My goal, which I think is reasonable, is for Mertz to play at a level comparable to Scott Tolzien. In 2010, as a senior, Tolzien completed over 70 percent of his passes, threw 16 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, and averaged 9.2 yards per attempt. The Badgers upset top-ranked Ohio State at Camp Randall and went 11-1 before a Rose Bowl loss to TCU.

Of course, Wisconsin has their hands full to ever reach the college football playoff if it remains four teams. Ohio State remains the Big Ten juggernaut under second-year head coach Ryan Day. They had the fifth-ranked recruiting class in 2020 and are second only to Alabama for 2021. The Badgers will likely need to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. There is a significant talent disparity between the Buckeyes and Badgers, and the game is played indoors on turf which benefits the Buckeyes' speed. I give UW a 1-in-8 shot of making the postseason. If Mertz can conquer that challenge during his time in Madison, he will be a legend.

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Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.