The Wisconsin Badgers and Their Search for a Quarterback

By Phil Clark


Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In the game of football, the quarterback is the most watched, reviewed, and important position on the field. He is not only the leader of the offense, but the leader of the team, even though he doesn’t play every position. He is the man most referred to most in victory or defeat. And as the Wisconsin Badgers found out this past season, you can’t just put anyone at that position and expect things to work.

The Badgers used three men—Danny O’Brien, Curt Phillips and Joel Stave—at quarterback during the 2012 season, with mixed results overall. The Badgers have been a run-dominated team as far as their offense goes almost since the day Barry Alvarez first became head coach. That didn’t change in any way under Bret Bielema, and this past year may have provided the most visual evidence as to the Badgers being in need of a consistently capable quarterback.

O’Brien was the Badgers’ second straight attempt to get a transfer from the ACC and make it work instantly. In 2011, it was Russell Wilson who came and lead the Badgers to a conference title & Rose Bowl appearance in his only season with the team. A mix of poor offensive line play and O’Brien being unable to adapt to the Badgers’ offense the way Wilson did added up to a poor start for all on the Badgers’ offense. So poor was this start to the season that the offensive line coach was fired and O’Brien was benched after three games, only to make sporadic appearances for the rest of the season. Most noteworthy of those brief appearances was his five pass attempts against the Nebraska Cornhuskers as well as combining with Montee Ball on a fumble that ended up costing the Badgers that game.

Curt Phillips was brought in late in the season after Stave went down with a left shoulder injury and they decided not to give O’Brien a second shot as starting QB. Phillips played okay, but like any quarterback not named Russell Wilson, he wasn’t a big factor in how well the offense produced. Of Phillips’ five starts at quarterback, the Badgers lost three, including the Rose Bowl, and the biggest win during this time (the Big Ten Championship Game win) was a game that was all about the Badgers’ running attack coming up big and not Phillips coming up big.

As for Stave, it was a mixed bag though it was a good mixed bag for a freshman quarterback coming off the bench after the season is under way. Considering the circumstances, and the fact that he went down with an injury just as he appeared to be getting going, I can’t hammer the guy too much. Stave currently has two things going for him: he is only going to be in his sophomore season in 2013, and the team wanted him to be put in early last season. So right there he has youth and team support going for him.

It’s still up in the air when it comes to the Badgers’ starting quarterback for the 2013 season. Phillips is gone, so it’s down to a two-man race, though that doesn’t alleviate the confusion. Stave is still inexperienced, but O’Brien didn’t adapt well to this offense despite his experience. If the team is behind Stave and not fully behind O’Brien, the answer likely lies there. But if O’Brien does come back for his senior year, it could be a scenario that sees the Badgers interchanging both men in as quarterback. Or not.

There’s also one other thing to consider: the Badgers’ new coach, Gary Andersen. Andersen was brought in to replace Bielema after transforming the Utah St. Aggies into a credible football program. Currently, the Aggies’ quarterback is Chuckie Keeton. Keeton also has time left in college football if he wants to play another season or two. Just throwing it out there: if there is any possible way for Andersen to bring Keeton to Madison, it can’t be ruled out that Andersen would do so.

Phil Clark is a writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Or check out his blog.

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