Wisconsin fans have been itching to sloppily give a first-impression rose to any quarterback who shows any signs of being more than a glorified game-manager since Russell Wilson, so the debut of Graham Mertz felt like love at first sight. All the freshman did was complete all but one of his 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns as the Badgers destroyed Lovie Smith and Illinois, 45-7.
Going gaga, in this particular case, is probably quite warranted. A dynamic playmaker under center has been missing for too long and Mertz is the highest-rated quarterback to matriculate over in Madison in a while. With an extremely favorable schedule, it's looking like another year where Wisconsin only has to hold serve to reach the Big Ten championship game. Plenty of stuff to celebrate for the red-and-white among us after having so little to savor for months.
I'd like to turn your attention off of a rising star briefly to address the elephant not in the room: fans not being in the building and how that would change one of the conference's best traditions. Jump Around. The answer? A lot.
Here's House of Pain playing to an empty house.
This, like so many things in life, depends on perspective. A person could look at it at marvel at the human spirit persevering and forging on despite tough times. Or they could be haunted by something so euphoric and communal turn so bleak and disconnected.
Of course, the same could be said about the Big Ten's whole reversal and decision to play football at all.