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Wisconsin football: is Graham Mertz the next great Big Ten quarterback?

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Joel Klatt of FOX Sports thinks he just might be!

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Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Graham Mertz looks like the real deal.”

FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt said this almost nonchalantly on Big Ten Network while discussing this Saturday’s Big Ten West showdown between the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers and the No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats.

It is weird to hear national pundits discuss Wisconsin’s quarterback situation, outside of praising whoever is under center as a game-manager type who is great at handing the ball off to “insert current RB here.” But, to be perfectly honest, having a quarterback of Mertz’s pedigree on the UW depth chart IS weird and it’s probably time to accept that.

We all know the story by now: Wisconsin offered Mertz early, he committed, once the big boys came calling he stayed strong to his verbal commitment and enrolled in Madison for last season. With the new rule allowing players to play in four games and still maintain their redshirt status, we got a brief glimpse of Mertz early in the season but, while his stats were impressive, didn’t really see anything.

Still, there were calls for many in the fan base for Mertz to start over incumbent QB Jack Coan but, let’s be real, that wasn’t going to happen unless Coan was forced to miss some time due to injury. Well, that’s exactly what happened and here we are two games into a COVID-19 shortened season and we’ve got national pundits pontificating on the bright future of the redshirt freshman signal caller from Kansas.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

“Once Justin Fields exits this conference after this year, I think Mertz is going to be the best QB in the entire league and maybe one of the best QBs in the entire country,” Klatt went on to say in his interview. Fields is having a legit Heisman worthy season currently (72-of-83, 908 yards, 11 TDs, zero INTs in three games) after throwing for 3,273 yards, 41 TDs and three INTs last year (he also had 484 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground) and any comparison to him is noteworthy.

Mertz, of course, has only really played in two games for his career so crowning him as The Next Justin Fields, which I don’t think Klatt is saying, is certainly premature. However, saying that he might be the best QB in the Big Ten next year? That doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Especially if Mertz is able to get a normal offseason (we’ll see) and takes a leap from his freshman to sophomore campaign (we’ll see again).

Pro Football Focus put out a ranking of all 127 FBS quarterbacks so far this season and Fields was No. 2, behind Trevor Lawrence. Mertz? He was all the way up at No. 14! After only two games, one of which wasn’t that impressive, professional talent evaluators already think Mertz is one of the best QBs in the country.

Graham Mertz & Justin Fields First Two Games

Player Completions Attempts Completion % Yards TDs INTs Rushing yards Rushing TDs Fumbles
Player Completions Attempts Completion % Yards TDs INTs Rushing yards Rushing TDs Fumbles
Justin Fields 38 50 76 458 6 0 103 3 1
Graham Mertz 32 43 74.4 375 7 0 6 0 0

Above is a comparison of each quarterback’s first two games in the Big Ten. To be fair to Mertz, Fields had more experience as he played significantly more snaps as a freshman at Georgia than Mertz did at Wisconsin, but I still think this is useful. Fields is better in every category, except passing touchdowns, which is to be expected. I don’t think you can credibly argue that Mertz is a better quarterback right now than Fields was a year ago.

However, the two stat lines aren’t as far off as you might think. Mertz won’t ever be a dual-threat guy like Fields is, but Mertz also isn’t a statue back there like other Wisconsin QBs. The completion percentage is close and Fields actually turned the ball over more than Mertz has.

Any comparisons of a player who has played just over two games and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year are sure to look a tad unreasonable at the time, but Mertz is talented enough to make Klatt, and many others, look like seers.