Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has big expectations heading into the 2021 college football season. This year will be Mertz’s second season as a full-time starter after an up and down 2020 campaign.
Mertz dealt with COVID-19 and injuries last season which limited his playing time to just seven games. In those seven games, Mertz completed 61.1% of his passes for 1,238 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
During the Fox Sports halftime show of Saturday afternoon’s Nebraska vs. Illinois game, college football analyst Matt Leinart explained why he expects Mertz to take a leap forward in year two as the Badgers’ starter.
“Remember the first game against Illinois, he was 20-21,” Leinart said. “His season tailed off a little bit, but he dealt with COVID, he dealt with a lot of injuries and you don’t want to make excuses for him, he has to play better but the talent is there for him individually. Obviously, teams go as their quarterbacks go and play, but if he plays well in this year two which is a big year if you’re a quarterback, watch out for Wisconsin.”
This season, Mertz and the Badgers will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sept. 25 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Notre Dame’s starting quarterback is former Badgers signal-caller Jack Coan, who is a former teammate of Mertz’s.
As far as facing his former teammate and what he thought of Coan transferring, Mertz kept it simple.
“Yeah I mean I think it’s great,” Mertz said of Coan finding a new place in Notre Dame at Wisconsin’s media day. “I wish nothing but the best and back then I wished nothing but the best ones, still do. I hope they have a great season. But when we play them, we’re gonna be ready to go. For us just we gotta keep it week by week. For us, it’s just another game. Can’t get too juiced up for it.”
Coan is the likely starter for Notre Dame in 2021. In three seasons (22 games), Coan had 3,278 yards, 23 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 68% completion percentage.
After a flawless game to open the season last year, Mertz came back down to earth after missing a few games due to COVID-19 protocols.
“First off, going back to last year, it was definitely one of those years that you learn from and you grow from,” Mertz said. “And for me, I always set the bar really high for myself. And I know what we want to do here is something that’s never been done. And I know the whole team is on that same wave. And we’re constantly pushing each other to get to that level. And we know that we can reach that level. So we definitely have very high expectations of ourselves, but we know what we’ve got to do to get there.”
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Wisconsin is scheduled to open the 2021 regular season at home against Penn State on Saturday, Sept. 4 at noon ET.
Nick Kosko contributed to this report.