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Wisconsin football: Graham Mertz, Jack Sanborn, Jake Ferguson continue to garner preseason honors

Three of Wisconsin’s top players are looking to bring home some hardware this season.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Although there is a long way to go until any real hardware is handed out, being named to a preseason watch list for any award is a huge honor. Last weekend, quarterback Graham Mertz, linebacker Jack Sanborn and tight end Jake Ferguson had their names added to watch lists that include some of the top players in college football.

Shortly after being named to the Davey O’Brien Award watch list, which honors the top quarterback in college football as judged by the Davey O’Brien Foundation, sophomore Graham Mertz has been named to the Manning Award watch list. The Manning Award, named after Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, honors the top quarterback in college football as judged by the Sugar Bowl committee. It is the only award for quarterbacks that takes bowl game performance into consideration.

Winning the award will be no easy task and will require Mertz to compete at the highest of levels for an entire season, something he was unable to do in his freshman campaign. After a ridiculous performance against Illinois in Week 1, Mertz contracted COVID-19, was forced to take time off to quarantine, and was never the same. However, Mertz came to Madison as a 4-star recruit and carried plenty of high expectations. He has shown glimpses of stardom and many are excited to see what he can do in his first full season.

Since its introduction in 2004, no Big Ten quarterback has won the award. Mertz is hoping to be the first, and cement his place amongst past winners such as Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow.

Mertz is not the only Badger to be receiving preseason praise. Both Jack Sanborn and Jake Ferguson were named to the Lombardi Award watch list, which honors the top offensive or defensive lineman who not only performs at an incredibly high level on the field, but embodies the character of Vince Lombardi.

Sanborn, who was one of five players from the west division to be named preseason All-Big Ten, will be looking to take the next big step in his senior season with the Badgers. In two years as a starter, Sanborn has quickly become a staple of the Badger defense and has racked up 139 tackles, along with four interceptions and three forced fumbles.

On the other side of the football, Jake Ferguson has been named to yet another watch list. Tight ends are a young quarterback’s best friend, and in 2020, Ferguson saw his usage skyrocket. After accumulating 36 catches in 13 games as a freshman, and 33 catches in 14 games as a sophomore, Ferguson brought in 30 catches in only seven games as a junior. He emerged as not only one of Graham Mertz’s favorite targets, but one of the nation’s top tight ends.

The Lombardi Award was introduced in 1970 but a Badger is yet to bring the trophy back to Madison. Both Sanborn and Ferguson are looking to be the first.