In a stunning turn of fortune, the University of Wisconsin football team woke up Monday beginning to shift their focus of limiting and recovering from COVID-19 to ordinary game preparations and practice ahead of their scheduled contest against Michigan in Ann Arbor Saturday, Nov. 14.
As recent as last week, the Wisconsin football program had 27 active COVID-19 cases, including 15 players and 12 staff members. Wednesday, Nov. 4, whispers on social media began to surface with speculations that in the coming days, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and his team would announce the cancellation of the rest of the Badgers season. Hope was rapidly diminishing as Badger fans expected the worst.
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With consecutive games canceled against Nebraska and Purdue — and a lack of reporting last week about active cases within the program — many assumed the Badgers COVID-19 count was still high and that the Michigan game was doubtful. We were given no reason to think otherwise.
That was until Saturday, Nov. 7, when Wisconsin Football tweeted promising news that the program’s active cases had been reduced to 14 and that limited conditioning activities had resumed. Still a long way to go, Badger fans went to sleep Sunday night cautiously optimistic about the future of the season.
Monday morning, Wisconsin Football followed up on Twitter, confirming the optimism as they released news that the program’s actives cases decreased to five and that zero positive cases surfaced in five of the last six days.
“We feel confident that we have a handle on the situation and are excited to play this week at Michigan,” Alvarez said Monday. “As we have done throughout, we will continue to monitor our testing results and base our decision on those results.”
Alvarez’s excitement will be matched by an eager Badger squad looking to take the field for the first time since their dominant victory over Illinois Oct. 23.
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Once marked as an early-season marquee matchup in the Big Ten, Michigan’s recent struggles have cost them a spot in the top 25 following two straight losses at the hands of rebuilding in-state rival Michigan State and a surging Indiana program. The Hoosiers took down the Wolverines for the first time since 1984 en route to a No. 10 ranking this week.
Still, the Wolverines have enjoyed the benefit of playing in each of their three contests, while the Badgers are looking to regain their momentum and re-establish their status as a top contender in the Big Ten and the college football landscape.
Strong quarterback play will be crucial to the Badgers’ ability to find early success and confidence against Michigan. But who will be behind center against the Wolverines? Head Coach Paul Chryst seems to think quarterback Graham Mertz, who impressed in the season opener, will be eligible and available after recovering from COVID-19 and following Big Ten isolation protocols.
Jesse Temple of The Athletic shared Chryst’s thoughts via Twitter.
“Graham, the way that his is timing out, he’s starting that process of coming back,” Chryst said. “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.”
The return of Mertz could be the catalyst needed to ease the Badgers back into their opening game form.
Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week as the status of the Badger football program becomes more clear.