Not since the days of John Stocco have the Wisconsin Badgers had a quarterback that served under center in back-to-back seasons. And by the time Stocco's senior season was complete, he had anchored an offensive unit that helped the Badgers win a school record 12 games.
Entering 2010, senior Scott Tolzien has an opportunity to lead the most potent UW offense in head coach Bret Bielema's tenure. And the experience from a surprising 10-3 season a year ago has hopes high in Madison.
BIGGEST QUESTION ENTERING CAMP: Will Tolzien build off of 2009 success?
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When fall camp opened last August Tolzien wasn't even on the radar as a dark horse for the starting quarterback spot. At that time, it seemed as though incumbent starter Dustin Sherer had the upper hand. If it wasn't going to be him it was going to be the young, athletic Curt Phillips assuming control of the reigns.
That, in essence, is the beauty of fall camp. Tolzien got hot in August and neglected to cool off all the way through UW's beat down of Miami in late December. He led the team to 10 wins, and offense that scored 30 points a game and broke school passing records in the process.
As a player, he's as steady and smart as they come which virtually eliminates any idea that last year was a fluke. If that wasn't good enough, his performance in spring camp should leave fans excited for what this fall will bring.
With skill players such as Nick Toon, Lance Kendricks, Isaac Anderson and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay, Tolzien will have more than enough weapons surrounding him. This is an offense that could easily match, if not exceed last year's 30 points per game.
So to answer the initial question, yes, Tolzien can build off his success from last season. And to be frank, I would be shocked if he didn't.
WHAT WE KNOW: Experience is lacking
Though the Badgers finally have the luxury of knowing an experienced starting quarterback is in the fold, it comes at the expense of shallow depth and lack of experience behind him.
Phillips, who suffered an unfortunate torn ACL midway through spring camp, will likely be starting the season on the sideline. While he is making progress recovering from that injury, the Tennessee native is still a decent amount of time and rehab away from making an impact as a backup.
Which leaves Jon Budmayr and Nate Tice as the only two quarterbacks on the Badger roster that have been in the program for some time. Budmayr, who was repping with the backups during spring camp, looks to be in position to backup Tolzien. He possesses a strong arm and delivers arguably the best ball of the quarterbacks, but he's young and hasn't had a chance to gain any experience in the college football ranks.
Should Tolzien run into any injury problems, it will likely be Budmayr's team to lead. And though he is a talented prospect it may be a little early in his career for him to shoulder the load on a team as loaded offensively as this one, particularly with the expectations as high as they are.
And even more worrisome is the fact that Tice isn't close to being considered an option and Joseph Brennan is still feeling out the UW campus after arriving on campus in June.
FRESH FALL CAMP FACES: Joseph Brennan
Brennan is the only scholarship quarterback coming in for fall camp. Out of Camden Catholic High School in New Jersey, Brennan has good high school credentials and having been a pro-style signal caller, Brennan will feel comfortable in the Badger offense. He possesses a strong arm and at 6-foot-4, possesses good measurables. However, as is the case with most freshmen entering their first season as a collegiate football player, there will be growing pains. The transition from high school to college is wholly exacerbated as a quarterback. It simply takes time. So to expect Brennan to support what is a somewhat fledgling depth chart behind Tolzien this season is silly at best.
EARLY CAMP PREDICTIONS
Considering Tolzien is back for another year, the focus of fall camp will really be surrounded around his understudies. As Budmayr enters his second full season in the UW program, this is his chance to open some eyes and prove he is ready and capable of shouldering the burden should Tolzien get injured.
He has steadily improved during his stint on campus to this point, but a lot of the time most of the improvement is seen from year one to two. With Phillips focused on rehabbing his knee, Budmayr will be the featured backup for Tolzien. His improvement will be crucial in establishing depth the coaches are comfortable with as the season draws nearer.