- Wisconsin senior starting quarterback is out indefinitely after undergoing foot surgery this week, redshirt freshman Graham Mertz will take over
- Odds on the Badgers winning the Big Ten championship have not changed from their original +600 price
- Is Wisconsin still a contender without Coan at the starting QB spot?
Nothing takes the wind out of the sails of a team getting ready to start its football season more than losing its starting quarterback before a down is even played.
Unless, perhaps, that team is the Wisconsin Badgers.
On Tuesday, it was widely reported that senior quarterback Jack Coan underwent foot surgery and is out indefinitely with just under three weeks before Wisconsin’s season-opener against Illinois. In his place, the Badgers will turn the offense over to redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz.
That sounds like it could be rough news, but sportsbooks have yet to change the Badgers’ odds to win the Big Ten from +600, keeping them as the second-most likely team to win the conference in the current Big Ten Championship odds.
Big Ten Conference Championship Odds
Odds taken from FanDuel on October 7th
Change In Expectations at QB
Early reports have speculated that Coan’s surgery could cause him to miss the entire season. Working under that assumption, Wisconsin still doesn’t have reason to be anymore worried about its first three games against Illinois, Nebraska and Purdue than it did before.
Mertz’s big litmus test comes on November 14th at Michigan in the Badgers’ fourth game.
By then, there is a reasonable expectation that he should be comfortable enough in game situations with veteran offensive line and wide receiver groups supporting him. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst should also be happy that the Big House will likely have a relatively small crowd to soften Mertz’s nerves.
Paul Chryst says Graham Mertz is taking the reps with the No. 1 offense with Jack Coan (foot) out.#Badgers
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 5, 2020
Expectations were high for Coan this season, particularly as the Badgers move on from the Jonathan Taylor era at running back. Taylor won the Doak Walker Award in 2019 – given to the nation’s top running back – and will be replaced with power back Nakia Watson.
Watson should be good enough to keep Wisconsin’s ground game on track, but the Badgers are going to need more plays through the air this season. That said, Coan had a couple of clunkers last year, and threw for fewer than 175 yards in six games. The only game in which he finished with more than 300 yards passing came in Week 2 against Central Michigan.
Bettor Options at Better Odds?
Penn State sits just behind Wisconsin at +650, but has to play Ohio State in its second game. The Nittany Lions have had some turnover with their coaching staff on offense, most notably a new offensive coordinator and receivers coach, but they have recruited well over the last few years at the positions they need to reload at from 2019’s team.
Kirk Ciarrocca takes over at OC for Penn State after serving in the same role with Minnesota last season. If he can get the same kind of production from redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford that he did from Gophers QB Tanner Morgan in 2019, the Nittany Lions have all the tools to be a more dynamic offense than Wisconsin this year.
The two-back attack of Journey Brown and Noah Cain should also help the confidence of those considering PSU making it out of the Big Ten East with a win over the Buckeyes. Those that like the potential for that upset in Happy Valley should also feel compelled to take the Lions to win the conference.
Journey Brown. Grown Man. ? pic.twitter.com/egS9s0lukJ
— PSU FACTS (@PSU_FACTS) November 24, 2019
Last season, Mertz’s only action came against Central Michigan and Kent State. He completed nine of his ten total passes between both games for 73 yards. While that is a pretty flimsy sample size to bet on, Mertz was ranked as top-three pro-style quarterback coming out of high school and a top-50 prospect overall in the 2019 class.
In his media availability on this week, Chryst remarked that all of the Badgers’ quarterbacks are similar players, but that is also shaded by the scope of Wisconsin’s general offensive philosophy. The Badgers have a very manageable, albeit abbreviated schedule this season, but also seem more at risk to simply not show up on offense for a game or two without the safety net of Taylor in the backfield.
The odds remaining unchanged seems to say more about the other programs in the Big Ten West than it does about the Badgers and the switch to Mertz shouldn’t deter bettors from playing Wisconsin if they were already considering it.