Wisconsin football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
It’s time to look back at the 2020 season that was for the Wisconsin Badgers. This was my first fall writing about the program for Saturday Tradition, and I’ve been critical of and praiseful along the way. For this one, I’m letting my Badger fan do the talking as I recall my 10 favorite moments from this Wisconsin football season.
The season was played
Let’s keep it simple to start it out. Yeah, there was Wisconsin football season this year, and that’s pretty awesome. It’s hard to believe it was just a few months ago when the B1G announced the postponement of the fall season with the hope for spring football. Fortunately, it was deemed safe enough for the season to go on, and I was thankful to get to see Wisconsin play as many games as it was able to.
Record-breaking season opener
The B1G season started on a Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium with Wisconsin taking on Illinois, and the world was introduced to redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. We’ve been wondering what he would look like as the highest ranked Wisconsin QB in the online ranking era, with scholarship offers from the best programs in the country. The fan base was incredibly excited after a 45-7 victory in which Mertz looked flawless.
In his first start as a college quarterback, he set the program’s completion percentage record, completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards, and tied a program record with 5 touchdown passes.
I’ve cheered for the Badgers my whole life, and I feel like I have reasonable expectations for what this program is. I’ve accepted I will probably never see Wisconsin win a national title in my lifetime (I’m 27), but for the first time ever, I legitimately thought it might happen in the next four or five seasons. It didn’t come close to happening in 2020, but at least for a moment I let the possibility into my mind, and that was a good feeling.
Blowing out Michigan
The season took a turn for the worst the day after beating Illinois when Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 and the Badgers had their next two games canceled. Despite limited practice reps, Wisconsin went in and beat up on Michigan for the second year in a row.
One thing that I love about being a Wisconsin fan is when everyone playing and watching knows a running play is coming, and the defense cannot do anything about it. The Badgers ran the ball 51 times for 341 yards in a 49-11 win over Michigan. True freshman Jalen Berger made his college debut, and he appears to be the next star from the Wisconsin backfield.
Brutal four-week stretch ended
After Michigan, the wheels fell off. My favorite memory of the Wisconsin football season from Saturday, Nov. 21 through Saturday, Dec. 12 is that it’s over, because it was getting painful to watch. Wisconsin lost three consecutive games — to Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa — and the Badgers never scored more than 7 points in any of them as Mertz looked nothing like he did against Illinois. Combine that with a canceled game against rival Minnesota and it was a tough time to be a Badgers fan until …
The axe stays in Madison
Wisconsin was 2-3 after a regular season that saw three games canceled, and the B1G matched the Badgers up with Minnesota for Champions Week. Watching Wisconsin play Minnesota is an exciting thing for Badgers fans. Winning 16 of the last 17 games between the two teams will do that. Despite the rough season that didn’t go the way the Wisconsin program had anticipated, it still beat Minnesota 20-17 as Collin Larsh’s 30-yard field goal sealed the win in overtime. Even in one of the worst Wisconsin football seasons we’ve seen in a while, the Badgers still own Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Opting in for bowl game
This is a small thing, but I was proud of Wisconsin for wanting to play in a bowl game. This was something I was wondering as we were getting later into the year and seeing other programs call it a season despite being eligible to play one more. The Badgers clearly didn’t satisfy any of their team goals if they made some prior to the season, but after seeing three games canceled, players wanted to get in one last game, and I thought that was cool to see, especially with none of the players opting out of the game.
Signing Day success
It wasn’t necessarily an on-the-field moment, but Wisconsin successfully signed what is going to be the program’s highest ranked recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite for the third consecutive season in December during the Early Signing Period. Wisconsin is likely done recruiting its class of 2021, but it is currently the 16th ranked class in the country. Paul Chryst continues to show he can recruit to this program.
Mayo Bowl interceptions
Wisconsin found itself in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against Wake Forest and didn’t look great early on. The Badgers went down 14-0 very early before getting back into it. In the second half, the defense took over with four consecutive Wake Forest drives resulting in interceptions. Collin Wilder, Scott Nelson, Noah Burks and Jack Sanborn all picked off passes as the Badgers pulled away for a 42-28 win.
Mayo Bowl postgame mayhem Part I
As the Duke’s Mayo Bowl was finishing up, the ESPN broadcast sure made it seem like Paul Chryst was about to get a bucket of mayonnaise dumped on him, but it turned out to be just water — a major disappointment to college football fans tuning in.
Mayo Bowl postgame mayhem Part II
While dancing with the Duke’s Mayo Bowl trophy in the locker room, Mertz dropped the trophy and it shattered all over the floor, though it was later put back together using an actual jar of Duke’s Mayo.
It was a fun ending to a season that saw plenty of ups and downs for the Wisconsin football program in 2020.