Badgers: QB Graham Mertz enters the transfer portal

Wisconsin will have a new starting quarterback next season.

Junior Graham Mertz announced Sunday he was entering the transfer portal with two years of eligibility remaining.

New coach Luke Fickell said he spoke with Mertz several times since taking over, including just before the new broke.

“It’s a tough situation,” Fickell said. “He knows that we want nothing more than the best for him. Obviously, I can’t tell you I know him, but I’ve met with him a few times and encouraged him to stick around here and wait and see how the changes go. But I think at some point in time, some of those guys feel like it’s that they need to do. And I don’t want that and that’s not what I encourage them to do. But I also respect that.”

The move leaves Wisconsin with just two scholarship quarterbacks in senior Chase Wolf and true freshman Myles Burkett. They also have three-star recruit Cole LaCrue slated to to be a part of the 2023 recruiting class. That means they’ll need to add another guy in that class and likely attack the transfer portal to bolster the room for next season.

“I think that roster management at the quarterback position completely changed in the last year and a half,” Fickell said. “I’ve known that whether I was in Cincinnati or at Wisconsin, you’re going to have to have a really, really good plan. Whether that means bringing in more than one guy, whether that means you’re going to have to take some chances on some transfers. You just got to figure out what level you want to do that.

“The quarterback position has always been unique. But I think with where we are and what’s out there today, it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep a really deep room and really create a lot of that development. But as a new guy at a new program, we’re gonna have to do what’s best for the program. I can tell you this, competition is what we’ve got to focus on.”

Mertz came to Wisconsin as the highest-rated quarterback recruit in school history, turning down offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan and more. After redshirting in 2019, the Kansas product introduced himself to the college football world by throwing five touchdowns and completing 20 of 21 passes in his debut against Illinois. It would prove to be the high point of his career, as inconsistency would dog him the rest of his time.

Though the team didn’t have the success it wanted, it appeared as though he had made big strides in 2022, starting out the season by throwing 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions through the first eight games. But in the final month of the season, Mertz completed fewer than 50-percent of his passes, just two touchdowns and four interceptions while the Badgers went 2-2 with losses to Iowa and Minnesota.

Mertz is the third straight starting quarterback to transfer with eligibility remaining, joining Alex Hornibrook and Jack Coan. Hornibrook went on to Florida State in 2019 where he found mild success. Coan moved on to Notre Dame in 2021 and lit it up for the Irish, throwing for 3,150 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

It’s unclear whether it will be Wolf or Burkett as the starting quarterback in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Oklahoma State.