Tuesday afternoon, Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel hit Badger Nation with the devastating tweet we feared would come when reports surfaced about Minnesota canceling Tuesday’s practice.
Nothing prepares you for the bad news of a canceled University of Wisconsin football game quite like a few words that form a simple, yet definitive breaking news tweet. For sports insiders like Potrykus and Brett McMurphy of Stadium Network, it’s their job to reach thousands with quick-hitting, accurate news, while the rest of us are left to process the greater implications at stake.
I write with a heavy heart to say that Badger football will not reach six regular-season games in 2020. Consequently, this means the Badgers are officially out of Big Ten title contention, all but guaranteeing Northwestern will win the Big Ten West.
Following Wisconsin’s crushing loss Saturday in Evanston, the Badgers have returned home to find they have now been stripped of the longest, uninterrupted matchup streak in FBS. Wisconsin and Minnesota have not missed a game against each other since 1906. Even if the loss to Northwestern was already damning enough, the coveted Paul Bunyan Axe has always been something worth shedding Badger blood, sweat and tears over.
While Wisconsin football’s once rampant COVID-19 situation cost the program consecutive games in weeks two and three of the season against Nebraska and Purdue, Minnesota football’s worrisome case total has continued to climb. McMurphy tweeted Minnesota’s decision to pause all activities was due to 20 identifiable cases within the program and additional positive tests funneling in.
In an attempt to save their season, Potrykus additionally tweeted that Wisconsin wanted to reschedule the game, but Minnesota denied the possibility. The Nebraska and Purdue games will not be rescheduled either. Not a single Big Ten game that has been canceled in 2020 has been rescheduled. The fact of the matter is Wisconsin’s own prolonged COVID-19 crisis and sloppy play against Northwestern did more to doom their season than the cancellation against Minnesota ever could.
Nevertheless, the frustration and sadness are legitimate and warranted. We still have to come to terms with the fact that the cancellation of this game has squeezed the last bit of hope from the potential for a magical turnaround.
It’s not all bad though. If you are truly a fan of this program, you hope to see the Badgers trudge through the finish line of this grueling season. With so many young stars on offense and impact defenders eligible to return for the 2021 campaign, there are strides to be made in the remaining two games on the schedule. Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz and the Badgers could end their season with two legitimate victories over No. 12 Indiana at home and No. 24 Iowa on the road.
While safety and health concerns will dictate Wisconsin’s plans moving forward, expect Head Coach Paul Chryst and his team to gear up for their final two contests and end 2020 with assurance and momentum heading into 2021.