Wisco Wednesday… On A Thursday: Free Agent QB Arrives in Madison

Free Agency in CFB. Does anyone sit anymore? Who is QB #1 in Madison? 

Wisconsin fans, you’ve seen this story before. You were just on the other side of it.

Graham Mertz was a 4* QB fans thought would elevate the program. He showed promise in year 1, regressed in years 2 and 3, and eventually became a turnover machine that Badger fans couldn’t wait to run out of town. His time in Madison ended with him transferring to Florida to salvage his college career.

This is Tyler Van Dyke’s story… except he’s going from Florida (Miami) to Wisconsin

Why Tyler Van Dyke?

Okay, so Mertz and Van Dyke aren’t exactly the same, but they are very comparable. Tyler Van Dyke was actually better in 2021 than Mertz ever was. In the 2021 season, Van Dyke averaged over 300 ypg, and threw 25 TDs to 6 INTs. That was good enough for him to win ACC Rookie of the Year. A lot of the credit for his success, in hindsight, has gone to the up-tempo, air-raid offense Miami ran in 2021… you see where I’m going with this. 

In 2022: he had a new offensive coordinator (who did not run the Air Raid) and he was injured for a large portion of the season. 

In 2023: another new OC, some minor injuries, and Turnovers. So many turnovers. He finished the season with 15 total, most coming in the 2nd half of the season. 

Miami fans wanted this kid gone, and I don’t blame them. I’m actually one of the people who weren’t thrilled with the Van Dyke commitment when I heard the news. I wanted to see Wisconsin roll with Brayden Locke next season. 

There is still a chance Locke or Evers earn the starting job next Spring, but I wouldn’t count on it. Van Dyke is a grad transfer, and this is his last season of eligibility. Tyler Van Dyke is coming to Madison with the expectation he is QB1 on day 1. We are going the Mordecai route again. One year with a dude who has starting experience. Van Dyke even has similar running abilities to Mordecai (some, but it’s not his go-to). Maybe that’s why he’s seen as an automatic upgrade over Locke.

Why did Van Dyke pick Madison? I think it’s obvious. He realized his best season in college came when he ran an up-temp, air-raid offense. Now, I don’t know how “air-raid” Wisconsin will be next year. But I do know the Badgers looked way way better when they ran an up-tempo system against Nebraska and Minnesota to end the season. And hey, maybe Longo can pick up some more WRs to improve the passing game; there’s still time.  

Going back to the Mertz comparison; how did he do when he left Madison for Florida? Well, he had the most yards he’s ever had in a season, he got sacked a lot, and Florida went 5-7. Mertz benefitted a bit from the change of scenery, but he didn’t elevate his new squad. If you want to temper expectations, go into the Van Dyke experiment with Mertz’s story in mind. 

If you’re a fan, know that this is Another 4* QB that Fickell has brought in, competition is always a good thing, and this kid has actually been great before. Maybe he can do it again. 

Other Personnel Updates

  • John Pius is a senior, incoming transfer, EDGE from William and Mary at the FCS level. He was a 1st team All-American (making him the best at his position in the entire division). This is the type of guy that’s worth taking a chance on. Expect him to start next year.
  • Center Tanor Bortolini is entering the NFL draft. He was a phenomenal blocker, but a liability when snapping the ball. He “should” transition to guard. 
  • Starting ILB Jordan Turner is entering the transfer portal (and Meama Njongmeta is out of eligibility). Turner was a good player and this is a significant loss. Next year Wisconsin will have a new pair of starting LBs… for better or worse. 
  • Wisconsin local, OT/OG Trey Wedig is transferring out of Madison. He started in 2022, but was mostly a rotational guy in 2023. He lost most of his snaps after a terrible performance vs Iowa in week 7.  It sucks to lose a local kid, but he was pushed out by underclassmen who were playing better. 

These changes and more to come really make it clear we are in the free agency era of college football. Teams will rarely look the same over a 2-4 year period anymore. Instead, kids will constantly transfer in and out of programs desperate to start as soon as possible. Every team is basically a new version of itself every season now. It’s nearly impossible to keep up. 

Is Everyone Transferring Now?

With all the “chaos” that NIL + The Transfer Portal has brought, there are still kids picking 1 school, waiting their turn, developing, and starting in years 3-4. 

Wisconsin has a 5* Left Tackle named Nolan Rucci. This kid was (and is still) coveted by Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, and many other blue blood schools. If his name sounds familiar, he checked in as a TE in the Illinois game to catch a TD pass on the game-deciding trick play. 

Preseason NFL mock drafts assumed Nolan would be starting this year, and many had him being drafted in the 2nd round purely based on his measurables. He has now sat on the bench for 3 seasons. Despite not playing, he’s stuck around and is expected to be a lights-out Left Tackle next year, (now that Jack Nelson is moving on). 

A lot of players are moving around, and those are the stories that are dominating the headlines. But plenty are still doing it the old school way, and those are the guys programs are built on.


Want more Walk On Fan? 

Check out our first look at B1G Bowl Season. There are some great B1G vs SEC matchups and all 4 new B1G members (as of 2024) made a bowl. 

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This article was written by Cole Tollison and edited by Hayden Breene

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