After leading his team to a Rose Bowl appearance and finishing ninth in the NCAA in quarterback rating, you would think senior quarterback Jack Coan wouldn’t have to answer questions about his starting position.
Some in the media believe that Coan, the three-year starter from Sayville, New York, could be surpassed by flashy redshirt freshman Graham Mertz. A June Sports Illustrated article ranked the position fight between Coan and Mertz as the Big Ten’s most competitive quarterback battle.
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Though Mertz’s talent is undeniable, starting him over Coan to begin 2021 would be astronomically disrespectful to Coan. In 2019, Coan completed 69.6% of his passes and threw for 2,727 yards. Both are highs for Badger signal-callers since Russell Wilson’s epic 2011 campaign. Coan’s impressive statistics are just one of many reasons as to why he should be under center in 2021.
Many fans label Coan as a “game manager,” a quarterback that limits mistakes but also relies heavily on strong defensive play and the running game to get wins. Coan is much more. Last year, with a top-10 scoring defense and two-time Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, Coan gave Wisconsin the best opportunity to win consistently.
Now, with questions surrounding the running back position and three of Wisconsin’s four top receivers returning, Offensive Coordinator Joe Rudolph may showcase more of Coan’s arm talent. Last season, Coan ranked fifth in the Big Ten in yards per attempt (8). With the playbook opening up, Badger fans will hope this number increases this season.
A prime example of Coan’s passing on display was in Wisconsin’s Sept. 7 rout over Central Michigan. In the lopsided 61–0 win, Coan completed 26 of 33 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. Not only was Coan’s stat line impressive, but on multiple occasions, he showed his ability to complete the big play. Two of Coan’s three touchdown passes were over 35 yards. With an opened up playbook, Coan will look to take more shots in the upcoming season.
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Coan also showed the ability to step up during Wisconsin’s biggest games in the 2019 season. In Wisconsin’s first major test against Michigan, it was Coan who made an emphatic statement.
After Taylor went down dealing with cramps, Coan kept the Wolverine defense on their toes, using his legs to rush for two touchdowns that extended Wisconsin’s lead to 28–0. Coan’s big game on the ground created an insurmountable deficit for the visiting Wolverines and the Badgers cruised to a 35–14 victory.
In the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State, Coan shined. Coan went 17-for-33 for 232 yards and again scampered for two touchdowns. Though Wisconsin fell to the Buckeyes, Coan accumulated an impressive 92.3 quarterback rating.
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Without question, Coan’s experience and leadership prepare him for the big moments. Though Coan will likely begin his senior campaign as the starter, backup Graham Mertz will be breathing down his neck.
Mertz, one of the Badgers’ best recruits in recent memory, has the potential to see the field this year. In two appearances, Mertz impressed and completed 9 of 10 passes for 73 yards in non-conference action. During his senior year at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, Kansas, Mertz threw for 3883 yards and 51 touchdowns. For his stellar play, Mertz was awarded Kansas’ Gatorade Player of the Year award, given to the top athlete in the state.
What has Badger fans more excited is Mertz’s performance in the 2019 All-American Bowl. In a game filled with the nation’s top recruits, Mertz shined and threw a bowl-game record five touchdown passes. The excitement surrounding Mertz has many wanting him to get the nod. The question is, will the lights will be too bright for the young quarterback?
Another thing to consider is, with today’s lenient transfer rules, Mertz could decide to play elsewhere if he becomes frustrated with his status on the depth chart. It has been a trend for quarterbacks to transfer schools and have success. The last three Heisman winners have won the award after transferring (Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield).
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It will be interesting to see how this quarterback competition plays out if there is a season. While Badger fans want to see their team in action, questions surround who will be under center in 2020.
Though it is unclear which player will start, Badger fans should be reassured that the Badgers have two capable quarterbacks on their depth chart. The question is, who will be taking the snaps, and who will be donning the headset on the sideline?