After missing the last two games due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Wisconsin Badgers are set to resume their season Saturday at Michigan.
On Monday, Wisconsin announced its plans to travel and play in Ann Arbor. According to the school, no Badgers players or staff members have tested positive for the virus since Saturday. Since Oct. 21, 17 players and 13 staff members had tested positive for the virus. But the number of active cases is down five, including two players and three staff members, and the team has not reported a positive case in five of the last six days.
"We feel confident that we have a handle on the situation and are excited to play this week at Michigan,” Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said in a media release. “As we have done throughout, we will continue to monitor our testing results and base our decision on those results."
Despite the layoff and COVID concerns, Wisconsin is a 4.5-point favorite on the road against the Wolverines (1-2) while sporting a -205 moneyline. The Badgers (1-0) opened as 1-point favorites before the line shifted.
Handicapping teams with COVID issues has been a challenge for sportsbooks this season. One Big Ten game has already been canceled this week — the Ohio State-Maryland matchup. It was called due to a COVID outbreak at Maryland. Wisconsin is one of the unique cases since the cancellations came early in the season.
“It’s massive,” Matt Cosgriff, director of retail wagering & VIP at Roar Digital/BetMGM, said about the challenges of adjusting lines during a pandemic. “Because you have to try to figure out how it’s going to evolve after it’s happened, so whether you’re going to replay the game or if it gets canceled and how things move on. Then how that affects the standings as well, and then look at their schedule and figure out if there will be more games coming up. There’s a lot of work that goes into the back end of doing that.”
Michigan backers have been burned the last two weeks. Since the 49-24 season-opening win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Wolverines have been out of sorts. Michigan lost outright as a 22-point favorite to rival Michigan State, 27-24, and then lost as 3.5-point favorites to Indiana last week, 38-21.
Defending the pass has been the biggest issue for a porous Wolverine defense. Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi torched the Wolverines, completing 17 of 32 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. was just as impressive, converting on 30 of 50 pass attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns.
Which Wisconsin quarterback the Michigan defense will face this week is still unknown. Wisconsin’s first two quarterbacks on the depth chart tested positive for COVID-19. Redshirt freshman Graham Mertz is still listed as the starting quarterback and is backed up by sophomore Chase Wolf.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters that Mertz is still in the Big Ten’s 21-day return-to-competition protocol after testing positive. Depending on when his positive test was taken he could clear the 21-day protocol in time for Saturday.
If Mertz is able to play, he’ll look to duplicate the success he enjoyed in his season debut. In the 45-7 win over Illinois, Mertz completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns.