Even for a program known more for their running game, it is important to never lose sight of how important the quarterback position is. Last year was something of a down year for the Wisconsin Badgers, as they went 8-6 (4-4 in the Big Ten), but still mustered a trip to the Rose Bowl thanks to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the Big Ten Championship. With three players starting at least three games at quarterback for the Badgers last year (Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips), their lack of stability at the position was extremely apparent in big games. But instead of being a weakness, the Badgers have turned the quarterback position into one of extreme depth.
In an extremely crowded race with O’Brien, Stave and Phillips all returning, the Badgers add highly-touted redshirt freshman Bart Houston as well as junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy over the summer. With a new coaching staff and a lack of a front-runner after last year, all five quarterbacks will have a chance to take the first snap on Aug. 31 when the Badgers take on the Massachusetts Minutemen in Madison.
One quarterback that is on the fast-track to get the nod is Stave. He first saw playing time as a true freshman in the third game of the season against Utah State where he led the Badgers to a 16-14 victory after taking over for a floundering O’Brien in the second half. Stave then started the next six games and looked as if he was hitting his stride in the Oct. 27 Michigan State game until he was knocked out with a broken collarbone. He was then able to take two snaps in the Rose Bowl and had a 34-yard touchdown pass dropped by Jared Abbrederis.
Stave is trying to make up for lost time as the former walk-on has quickly established himself as one of the top-two for the starting job. According to Fox Sports Wisconsin, Phillips and Stave have been sharing first-team reps thus far. Additionally, Stave provides a downfield passing threat that Phillips does not. “I definitely feel more confident,” Stave told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “and that experience from last season does help.” For the Badgers’ sake, they hope that Stave can turn last season’s weakness into this year’s strength.