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Way-Too-Early Preview: Irish look for statement win against Badgers

| Monday, March 29, 2021

Next up on the way-too-early predictions for the 2021 Notre Dame football season is the long awaited matchup between the Irish and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Opponent: Wisconsin Badgers

Date: Sept. 25th, 2021

Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois

Kickoff: TBD

History of the Matchup

This game will mark the first time the Irish have played the Badgers in 57 years, as the teams have not played each other since 1964. In that game, the Ara Parseghian-led Irish dominated and won 31-7. That 1964 Irish team would ultimately go on to finish the season 9-1 with their sole blemish on the season coming in the season finale against USC. The two teams also met in 1962 and 1963 with the Badgers winning both of those games by scores of 17-8 and 14-9 respectively.

Although the teams have not played at all in the modern era, the history of the matchup goes way back to the beginning of the twentieth century with the first matchup between the teams happening in 1900 in Madison. The Badgers won the first ever matchup between the teams in dominating fashion, blowing out the Irish 54-0.

One of the most notable games in the history of this series was in 1924 when the Irish beat the Badgers by a score of 38-3. The Irish would go on to win their first ever national championship that year under Knute Rockne.

The teams also played a few times in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s with Notre Dame dominating the series for the most part over that timespan. Overall, Notre Dame leads the series with a record of 8-6-2.

2020 Performance

The Badgers had a very peculiar season in 2020, as they were plagued with COVID issues throughout the season. The Badgers finished the year with a disappointing 4-3 record after going into the season with very high expectations. After beating Illinois in their opener by a score of 45-7, many expected the Badgers to be in contention for a Big Ten title and potential berth in the College Football by the end of the year.

In their 45-7 win against the Illini, Badger quarterback redshirt freshman Graham Mertz was phenomenal for the Badgers. In that game, Mertz broke Wisconsin records by completing 20 out of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns. Considering Wisconsin is always known for its stellar defense, it looked like the Badgers were in prime position to win yet another Big Ten West title and position themselves in a perfect spot to make the College Football Playoffs.

It all went downhill for the Badgers from there. Almost immediately after the win against the Illini, Mertz and a handful of other Wisconsin players tested positive for COVID-19. Under Big Ten protocols, the Badgers missed their next two games, which were supposed to be against Nebraska and Purdue.

After returning from their COVID hiatus, the Badgers were able to beat Michigan handily, but then they hit a rough patch, as they lost three in a row to Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa. The Badgers were able to finish the season on somewhat of a high note as they won the Paul Bunyan’s Axe in their rivalry game against Minnesota and then beat Wake Forest by a score of 42-28 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

2021 Outlook

Despite a disappointing performance in 2020, the Badgers still have the potential to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten in 2021. Without COVID issues last year, it is possible the Badgers would have been able to win the Big Ten West yet again. Head coach Paul Chryst has been very consistent in his time at Wisconsin so far, and it is unlikely that the Badgers have two down years in a row. It is expected that the Badgers will be in contention to win the Big Ten West in 2021 along with other favorites such as Iowa and Northwestern.

If Graham Mertz is able to continue and progress in the offseason and into the 2021 season, the Badgers could be a dangerous force. In the run game, the Badgers will likely turn to sophomore Jalen Berger who led the Badgers in rushing last year as a freshman with 301 yards off of 60 attempts. Berger split reps last year with Garrett Groshek, who recently announced he will be entering the NFL Draft.

Wisconsin usually prides itself on a strong defense and offensive line play, and 2021 should be no different. During his tenure at Wisconsin, Chryst has been very consistent in bringing in talent at key defensive positions, and this 2021 team should be solid all around. 

The Badgers will likely be 1-1 or 2-0 when they face the Irish as they open the season at Camp Randall Stadium against Penn State. That opening game should be interesting, considering both the Nittany Lions and Badgers had very underwhelming performances in 2020. 

The Irish will likely be 3-0 if they can avoid early season upsets against Florida State, Toledo, and Purdue. If both teams are undefeated, this matchup will almost certainly be a top-15 matchup and hold College Football Playoff implications going forward. Especially for the Irish, a win against a Badgers team who will likely be competing for a Big Ten West title would be essential.

(Way Too Early) Predictions

Nate Moller — Sports Writer

I have been waiting for this one for awhile, and with last year’s matchup being cancelled, I expect this game to be really hyped up. I anticipate both offenses to come out strong in this one with the energy of a Soldier Field crowd around them. I think this one will come down to how well the Irish can run the ball against the Badgers. With a lot of question marks at the offensive line position going into the season, it is essential that by this game, the O-line is firing on all cylinders.

If Jack Coan is the starting quarterback for the Irish in this one, it will make it very interesting considering Coan was the starter for Wisconsin in their Rose Bowl run just two years ago. If Coan starts, I expect him to play well against his old team and make some big plays. Another key for the Irish will be limiting the playmaking ability of Graham Mertz. Mertz definitely showed his potential last season, and I expect him to be a top-3 quarterback in the Big Ten this season, making this matchup a big test for the Irish.

Look for the game to go back and forth early with both teams putting up multiple touchdowns over the first 20 minutes of the game. After that, I expect the game to slow down, as both teams attempt to run the ball more and wear down the other team. I think the difference in this one will be the playmaking abilities of Notre Dame running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. A late 40 yard touchdown run from Tyree will seal this one and give the Irish a huge victory with massive playoff implications.

Final: Notre Dame 34, Wisconsin 24

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