When rumors first surfaced last week that Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist was bound for Wisconsin, my first reaction was: "Well, that makes sense."
As Wisconsin heads to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, I can can't help but wonder what would have happened this season if Russell Wilson hadn't jumped on board over the summer.
With Jon Budmayr going down with an arm injury, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan would have been the starting quarterback. No offense to Brennan, who may still be a good quarterback, but there's no way the Badgers would be back in the Rose Bowl if he was the starter.
To be honest, the Badgers may very well have reached the Big Ten Championship Game with Brennan under center, but there's no way they would have beat Michigan State without Wilson. If you look at Wisconsin's schedule this year, the Badgers pretty much blew out every team they should have beat and then lost the two tough road games. It's my contention that considering the schedule, Brennan would have been good enough to secure 10 regular season wins as well. You could make the argument that the Nebraska game would have been a lot closer and the Badgers would have had trouble coming back at Illinois, but at the very least, they would have had nine wins.
I was watching the Big Ten Championship Game again earlier tonight and I was amazed at how good Russell Wilson played. I have to be honest, I took him for granted the last month or so. It's easy to get used to good quarterback play, especially when Montee Ball takes over the spotlight. The fact is, Wilson has made some ridiculous plays this season, especially in Saturday's win over Michigan State. Without him, the Badgers would have had no chance.
So, even though the Rose Bowl is still on the table this season, it's completely fair to look ahead to next year and wonder what's going to happen at quarterback. Bret Bielema told the Chicago Tribune this week that Curt Phillips won't be back in the spring and Budmayr is questionable. That puts Brennan atop the depth chart with freshman walk-on Joel Stave behind him.
After Saturday's win, an especially giddy Barry Alvarez made a great point that this year's team is still relatively young. The defense should return eight starters and most of the offense should be OK, even if Montee Ball leaves for the NFL. Once again, like last year, the biggest question will be at quarterback.
As we looked ahead at this season before Wilson jumped on, the highest expectations were for a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl. In my official prediction in Badger Kickoff 2011 (published before Wilson's transfer), I said a different Jan. 2 bowl game was more realistic. I think we can all agree that without Wilson, the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl would have been more likely.
In my mind, the coming offseason will be a replay of this past spring/summer: The biggest question mark is quarterback.
That's why I have no problem if Bielema wants to go out and add Dayne Crist. Even Oregon State's Ryan Katz (who has been granted his release) or Maryland's Danny O'Brien (who has not officially requested his release) would be good options to provide depth.
But let's make one thing clear: These guys aren't Russell Wilson.
That said, I don't trust Wisconsin's quarterback options for next season and believe another transfer would provide a bridge to the next quarterback, whether it's highly-regarded incoming recruit Bart Houston or someone already on the roster.
I also think adding another quarterback is something Bret Bielema is interested in. He can't comment on specific recruits, but when I asked him in Indianapolis last week if he would consider adding another transfer quarterback, he didn't hesitate to tell the world that up to ten players had inquired about transferring to Wisconsin. And in the same Tribune story mentioned above, Bielema freely admitted three of those players are quarterbacks.
Quite frankly, there's not much of benefit for Bielema to be talking about the situation unless he's trying to create a market. There's always the danger of alienating current players or future recruits so it's highly unlikely he's just playing along to create some buzz for his program.
I think all players mentioned above could contribute in Wisconsin's system, but more at the level of a Scott Tolzien rather than a Russell Wilson. Still, that could be enough considering the talent the Badgers will return next year.
When Charlie Weis took the Kansas job earlier Thursday, some speculated right away that he would try to lure Crist, who he recruited at Notre Dame. In my opinion though, adding a one-year quarterback makes no sense when you are trying to rebuild a program.
For now, the Badgers have a Rose Bowl to worry about, but for what it's worth, adding a quarterback makes a lot of sense and like this season, it could be the difference between Pasadena and Tampa.