It’s been a long fall without Big Ten football, but that will all change starting this Friday, Oct. 23, as the Wisconsin Badgers will be opening their 2020 football schedule. 

The Badgers will host Illinois at 7 p.m. with the game to be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Wisconsin, which was ranked No. 16 last week, advanced to No. 14 Monday without ever playing a game this season due to key losses by other ranked teams.

The Big Ten orignally announced it would postpone the season, maybe to next spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But once other conferences started playing this fall, the Big Ten decided to play and then revealed a eight-game plus one 2020 schedule.

Wisconsin will open at home against the Fighting Illini and close at Iowa on Dec. 12. Besides the six divisional opponents, the Badgers will play at Michigan (Nov. 14) and at home vs. Indiana (Dec. 5).  Game dates are subject to move to other days, such as Fridays, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This is the third iteration of the Big Ten schedule. The league issued a shortened season schedule with no nonconference games in August only to pause the season days later.

Defending West champion Wisconsin and No. 24 Minnesota are expected to battle it out again for the division title. Jack Coan, who led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl last season, is out indefinitely after having surgery on his right foot Oct. 6. The senior quarterback was hurt in a non-contact drill.

The injury will give redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz his first chance to lead Wisconsin. He only played in a couple of games last season and was able to redshirt.

Mertz came into college ranked as ESPN’s No. 1 pocket passer and No. 21 overall recruit in the 2019 class. He was an Elite 11 finalist, threw 96 touchdown passes in his final two high school seasons, and won Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Kansas and MVP honors at the All-American Bowl in January. His scholarship offer list included Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and many others. 

Somehow, Wisconsin, which prides itself on its running game, got him. 

It will be interesting to see how Mertz handles his first start in Camp Randall Stadium this Friday. His key targets will likely be wide receiver Danny Davis and tight end Jake Ferguson.

Finally, Badger fans will see some Big Ten football!