What a difference a year makes. If you look at our quarterbacks preview from last year, you'll notice how thin the Badgers were at quarterback last spring. With Russell Wilson gone, Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr still hurt and Danny O'Brien yet to transfer to Wisconsin, the Badgers were left with just Joe Brennan and Joel Stave at quarterback.
But suddenly this year the Badgers have more bodies at quarterback than they know what to do with. Stave's collarbone has healed, Phillips' knees are healthy, O'Brien is back, Bart Houston is entering his second year with the team, and Budmayr is going to give football one more try. And if that wasn't enough depth, junior college quarterback Tanner McEvoy will be joining the Badgers during their summer conditioning.
It all adds up for one very interesting position battle, even if it likely won't be decided until the fall. With that in mind it's time to take a look at a few questions surrounding Wisconsin's quarterbacks as the Badgers move into Gary Andersen's first season as head coach.
Who's No. 1?
If you watched Wisconsin last year you'll remember that O'Brien, Stave and Phillips all started games for the Badgers. O'Brien lost the job to Stave three weeks into the season, and Phillips took over for Stave after the freshman broke his collarbone against Michigan State. Stave came back and took a few snaps during the Rose Bowl, but Phillips was under center for most of the game.
All of the in-season shuffling presents an interesting question- who starts at the top of the depth chart? Normally that would be Phillips, but his arm strength (or lack of it) limited Wisconsin's playbook and he only started after Stave was injured. But at the same time, Phillips performed well at the end of close games against Ohio State and Penn State. He led the Badgers on game-tying drives that forced overtime in both games, but couldn't get them over the hump to win either of them.
Stave won a lot of fans over during his stint as the starter last season, but Phillips might get an extra boost with Andersen in charge. Andersen wants dual-threat quarterbacks, so Phillips' mobility could give him an extra boost, even though Stave has the better arm.
What about the other guys?
O'Brien in particular could be a big beneficiary of having a new coaching staff in place. After transferring from Maryland last spring, O'Brien won the job out of fall camp, but the results were far from good. Bret Bielema pulled him in favor of Stave, and other than some disastrous spot work that was pretty much it for O'Brien's season. With another offseason under his belt and a new playbook in place, it's pretty much now or never for O'Brien if he wants to start again.
This spring will also see Houston compete on the field for the first time. A highly touted quarterback prospect, Houston redshirted last season after having a cyst removed on his non-throwing shoulder but recovered in time to do some practice work late in the season. Houston's also a bit more mobile than he gets credit for as a pass-first quarterback, so it'll be interesting to see if he can impress new position coach Andy Ludwig and Andersen.
And then there's Budmayr, who's giving football one more try after losing all of the last two seasons two seasons to various arm injuries and a hip surgery. Budmayr has one year of eligibility left, and it'll be interesting to see if he has anything left in the tank after being away from the game for so long.
Does it matter without McEvoy?
The prospect of McEvoy joining the team in the next few months will probably hang over the other quarterbacks like O'Brien's transfer did last season. After all McEvoy is the only quarterback that Andersen and his staff have signed so far, and Andersen has said he likes to give JUCO players every opportunity to come in and compete at their positions.
Throw in the fact that McEvoy is the kind of dual-threat quarterback that Andersen seems to value, and it could be that he'll shake up whatever order the Badgers have after spring camp. We could see one player blow the coaches away and not give up the starting job in the fall, but the point remains that we might have a whole new competition in the fall.
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