It remains unclear if the Wisconsin Badgers will return to the field for a big game against Michigan on Saturday night. But a recent drop in active COVID-19 cases is certainly a step in the right direction for Wisconsin as it hopes to play its first game since opening the B1G season on Oct. 23.

Whether it’s this weekend or at some point in the near future, what should we expect from the Badgers after a long layoff? Here are some factors to take into account when figuring out what to make of Wisconsin, whenever it returns.

Lack of practice time

Wisconsin shut down operations on Oct. 28, 5 days after the season opener. According to the team’s Twitter account, players resumed limited conditioning activities on Friday. Taking that many days off from practice is not ideal, and the Badgers would certainly benefit from getting a full week of practice leading into the Michigan gam, regardless of who is healthy enough to compete.

On a positive note, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and the staff have had plenty of time to scheme a game plan against Michigan, who lost their past 2 games to Michigan State and Indiana. The Badgers announced the cancellation of last weekend’s scheduled game against Purdue, meaning the coaching staff could dedicate 11 days to focusing on the Wolverines.

Who is returning?

There haven’t been too many reports about which players or position groups and staff members have been hit the hardest, aside from the big news that quarterbacks Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf apparently tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to Chryst, which was announced by the program.

According to ESPN reporter Olivia Harlan Dekker, Chryst returned to the facility after testing positive and quarantining for 10 days, while Mertz and Wolf could practice on Friday at the earliest, a day before the game against Michigan.

If Mertz and Wolf are unable to play or aren’t ready after not getting much practice, 4th-string quarterback Danny Vanden Boom would likely get his first start. If they’re both ready to play, it will be interesting to see how Mertz performs after being thrown into action with 1 day of practice, at most, since the opening weekend of the season.

Previous Power 5 examples

Taking multiple consecutive games off in the middle of a season is certainly rare, but it has happened 7 times among Power 5 teams in 2020. Other than Wisconsin, teams that went 3 weeks between games include Notre Dame, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Florida and Vanderbilt.

Here’s a look at how these 6 teams fared in their next game back.

  • Notre Dame: Won 42-26 vs. Florida State
  • North Carolina: Won 26-22 at Boston College
  • Oklahoma State: Won 24-21 vs. Iowa State
  • Baylor: Lost 27-16 at Texas
  • Florida: Won 41-17 vs. Missouri
  • Vanderbilt: Lost 54-21 vs. Ole Miss

Teams that went 3 weeks between games went 4-2 overall. As we know, not all teams are created equal, but these teams went 2-3-1 against the spread in their first game back, so they’ve performed about the way they were expected to according to oddsmakers.

When will Wisconsin return?

There has been no official announcement about whether Wisconsin will take the field in Ann Arbor on Saturday night. The team announced via Twitter on Saturday morning that conditioning activities were held on Friday, and the program had 14 active coronavirus cases, down from 27 on Nov. 3, certainly a positive sign.

Before the canceled games against Nebraska and Purdue, Wisconsin did not meet the B1G’s threshold that would’ve required the team to shut down operations. But the program decided to pause all activities to help minimize the spread among the team.