You wouldn’t be able to tell from the wintry weather, but new Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen will officially begin his regime this Saturday with spring practice.
Before he even plotted an X or an O, he has had to deal with Jay Boulware, who was hired Jan. 9 to coach special teams and tight ends, leave for Oklahoma. Something that many wouldn’t have thought was a big deal, especially because Boulware is a native of Oklahoma City, but Andersen labeled at as a mistake and blamed himself.
But as his team prepares for 2013, he doesn’t want to make the same quarterback error that Bret Bielema made when Danny O’Brien was appointed as the starter.
With Jon Budmayr hanging up his football cleats to be a volunteer coach after missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons with nerve damage in his right arm and shoulder, the Badgers will have five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Think about that for a second.
The Badgers aren’t known for good signal callers, mainly because many of the kids with rifle arms bypass Madison because they know Tailback U will be the focal point of an offense behind a beefy offensive line.
All that changed when Russell Wilson came for one season, rewriting the NCAA record books and becoming the best quarterback the Badgers have ever had. (I know, it’s a small sample size, but it’s true).
Last year, we got a good look at Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and O’Brien. Stave was 4-2 as a starter and surprisingly looked pretty poised as he took command of the huddle as a freshman. He threw six touchdowns and three picks in those six games with an above-average arm and showed flashes of stretching plays with his legs.
Phillips deserves a lot of credit just for being in this position. He has recovered from three ACL surgeries in his right knee and was even the third-string quarterback to start the season before finishing with a 2-3 starting record, including a potential come-from-behind Rose Bowl win. He has been granted a sixth year of eligibility based on his knee history and his leadership is something that could help a team grooming a new starting center to replace Travis Frederick.
O’Brien was the biggest disappointment. He came to Madison with huge expectations after Wilson had executed a flawless transition after transferring from N.C. State. However, O’Brien clearly showed he didn’t grasp the offense as quickly, or at all, and it showed in his lack of trust in his receivers and offensive line. He went 2-1 as a starter but was replaced midway through the Utah State game and was banished to a clipboard the rest of the year. It didn’t help that he wasn’t very accurate and doesn’t possess a big arm in addition to his numerous verbal blowups in the huddle.
The two guys that have the most to gain didn’t throw a pass last year. Bart Houston and Tanner McEvoy come to campus highly touted and ready to take a program over. Houston went 38-1 as a starter for De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. and also won three state titles. Houston is completely healed after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder and has wowed several teammates with his strong arm in practice. The question remains if that raw talent can translate to being a successful quarterback at the college level but remember, Houston was one of the last prized recruits of Paul Chryst before he left for Pittsburgh. Houston I believe is the most talented of the bunch but still has an uphill climb.
McEvoy is the wild card. Andersen worked hard to get the No. 1 dual-threat JUCO quarterback that threw for 25 TDs and six picks last year at Arizona Western College. Andersen outfoxed Oregon, West Virginia and Florida to get the 6-foot-6 kid. The reason McEvoy has the inside track to be the starter is because he is the only one of these guys that was recruited by Andersen.
It figures to be a two-horse race between Houston and McEvoy. It’s assumed that Andersen is going to give McEvoy all the benefit of the doubt because he assured everyone that the starting quarterback job would not be won in the spring but in preseason camp.
Which makes you wonder what is going through O’Brien’s head right about now?
To contact Cory Jennerjohn e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @CoryJennerjohn.