The Wisconsin Badgers have long been a team that relied heavily on its running game and it’s been a formula that has brought a lot of success with it. Three straight Big Ten titles don’t lie (though their three straight Rose Bowl losses may cast some doubt). However, with the departure of Montee Ball and a new coaching staff in Madison, the quarterback position will be more important than ever in 2013.
Luckily for new coach Gary Andersen, you can’t throw “Jump Around” on the P.A. system without bumping into a couple of quarterback candidates. The Badgers’ quarterback situation may be the most crowded in the Big Ten, if not the entire country.
All three quarterbacks who started a game last season for Wisconsin (Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien) are back along with former “quarterback of the future” Jon Budmayr, current “quarterback of the future” Bart Houston and dual-threat transfer Tanner McEvoy will be joining the team this summer. In short, the Badgers have options.
The senior Phillips started the final five games of the 2012 season and guided the Badgers to the Big Ten title win and into the Rose Bowl. He wasn’t prolific in the passing game, throwing for just 540 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, but he made some clutch plays late in games to keep Wisconsin’s title run alive. He’ll be the choice if Andersen wants to continue leaning on the running game heavily.
If he wants to get a little more dynamic, he may turn the ball over to Stave. The sophomore started six games last season, throwing for 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s the best pure passer of the three starters last season and was really beginning to find his groove, but was forced out of the lineup when he broke his collarbone against the Michigan State Spartans.
The other three quarterbacks in spring practice will have some major ground to make up if they hope to unseat Phillips or Stave. O’Brien, the former Maryland Terrapins transfer, fell out of favor quickly last season and tumbled down the depth chart. A fresh start with a new coaching staff may give him a shot, but he’ll have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.
The other two options, Bumayr and Houston, are even bigger longshots. While Bumayr was once viewed as the heir apparent to the quarterback position, a career of arm injuries has derailed his development while at Wisconsin. Houston made plenty of buzz when he signed with the Badgers in 2012, but a shoulder injury limited how much of an impact he made (resulting in his redshirt), though he was reportedly throwing very well during Rose Bowl practices last winter.
The interesting name to watch will be McEvoy. He’ll be behind in terms of reps by missing this spring, but he’s a great athlete who could bring something a little bit different to the position with his ability to run the football. Andersen comes from the Utah State Aggies where his quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, was a key part of the running game, rushing for 619 yards on 129 carries for eight touchdowns. A running quarterback could be a nice bit of familiarity for Andersen in his first season at Wisconsin.
For now, the race is wide open, but Phillips and Stave have the inside track to take the lead coming out of spring practice. The arrival of McEvoy in August, however, could throw a wrench into everything and make it even more muddled. No matter how it shakes out, every quarterback will bring their best to practice every day and that competition will make the Wisconsin passing game stronger in 2013.