We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents, and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment section, and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in depth.
Game 4 — Notre Dame vs Wisconsin Badgers
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
When: Sept 25th 11am CST
How to Watch: Fox
Wisconsin is heading into the year with a lot of expectations, despite a very disappointing 2020 campaign. It was the first season in a while without Jonathon Taylor, which had a more devastating impact than initially projected. They finished 12th in the Big 10 in total offense (lol), and lacked any real explosion. The offensive line was still great, but a great line without any weapons is not a recipe for a potent offense. If you would have uttered that sentiment after week two of 2020....I would have called you crazy. As you know, Jack Coan was hurt in training camp, which paved the way for new starting quarterback, Graham Mertz.
Mertz was a top prospect nationally and a guy that Notre Dame wanted on their roster. He started off the season absolutely RED HOT. He started off 32/43 with 7 touchdowns in blowout wins against Illinois and Michigan.
Things were clicking on all levels and the early Heisman buzz was very real. Mertz looked the part.....until he didn’t. Despite the explosive numbers in his first 2 starts, he finished the final 5 games with very pedestrian stats......9 TDs, 5 picks, 61% completion percentage, and 1,200 yards. Now this was not all on Mertz... he lacked explosive weapons, got Covid, and didn’t have the normal run support Wisconsin quarterbacks are used to having. While the team lacked any semblance of offensive firepower to close out the year, they were consistently stout and disciplined on defense. They were led by MLB Jack Sanborn Jr. who was all over the field and is clearly the heart and soul of the team.
Overall, head coach Paul Chyst and the Badgers had a disappointing 2020 season. They head into 2021 with more talent, more experience, and lofty expectations. The matchup with Notre Dame will prove pivotal in their season, and could use it as a launching pad for a successful season, which looks like a top 15/10 finish.
Notre Dame — Wisconsin All-Time
Notre Dame is on a 58 year win streak against the Badgers......but mostly the series has been split pretty evenly through the years. They were supposed to meet in 2020 in a marquee matchup at Lambeau Field, but alas, covid. That game has now been rescheduled for 2026 as part of the home/away slate. Despite the lack of recent history, this is a great matchup between 2 powerhouse, midwest football teams who often go head to head in recruits (usually OL).
Badger Hype (a hilarious phrase)
On to 2021.— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) January 12, 2021
On, Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/RT8C1VU0rS
The Top 3 Players
- Graham Mertz, QB (+ offensive line)
- Jake Ferguson, TE
- Jack Sanborn, LB
I’ve already talked through Mertz and Sanborn, who will be the de facto leaders on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I lumped in the Offensive line with Mertz, as they are going to be the top group the Irish face this year. The player I didn’t highlight above is Jake Ferguson, who heads into 2021 as one of the top TEs in the country....and also happens to be the grandson of Wisconsin legendary coach, Barry Alvarez. He is athletic and will test the Irish.
Not sure if you have heard of him - but this Jake Ferguson (@jqfergy11) guy is pretty good at football.— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) November 19, 2020
↠ 4 TDS
↠ 123 yards
In just 2 games, @BadgerFootball & the grandson of Barry Alvarez are showing us how to #WinWithPurpose
There are going to be tons of emotions going into this game. Jack Coan returns against his previous team in a battle of 2 midwest powerhouses. The two school have storied offensive lines, and have consistently been in the hunt over the last decade. The key for the Irish this game is getting off to a fast start. Wisconsin is never a team you want to play catchup against. They control the line of scrimmage and have a methodical approach to their offense. I think Jack Coan starts the year very solid, but breaks out against Wisconsin. This game will mean so much to him, and he will deliver by competing over 75% of his passes in this game. Even with that emotion, this game will be tight throughout. I think late turnover by Wisconsin (assume a Kyle Hamilton interception) will allow the Irish to pull away in the 4th, with a score of 31-17. I have always wanted to see this matchup, and now we finally get it.
Difficulty 1-10: 8.0
Early win or loss prediction: Irish win