I think it's pretty fair to say that Russell Wilson had a good run as Wisconsin's starting quarterback. His stat line says it all: a 72.8 completion percentage, 10.28 yards per attempt, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Wilson gave the Badgers everything they needed out of the quarterback position, plus a little more. But as much as the Badgers might wish Wilson could return for an encore, he's exhausted his eligibility and is on to potentially greener pastures in the NFL.
So what do the Badgers do for 2012? They caught lightning in a bottle with Wilson, but they now have impossibly big shoes to fill. Today we'll take an entirely-too-early look at the candidates to replace Wilson for next season. The quarterback situation is sure to change over the next few months, as we find out who's hurt and for how long, but for right now we'll look at the potential candidates and where they stand.
RS Junior - 6-0, 195 lbs.
Career stats: 3 GP, 8/10, 134 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
As you'll see going down the list, the Badgers' quarterbacks are lacking experience in a big way. Combined, they have just a 55.2 completion percentage, 247 yards, and a 1/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But among them, Budmayr has the best track record. He played mostly in mop-up duty for Scott Tolzien during the 2010 season, but sat out all of last year with a nerve issue in his throwing elbow. Had he been healthy, we would have been the starting quarterback in 2011 if Wilson hadn't transferred to Wisconsin. Now, thanks to that nerve issue, he and the Badgers are in essentially the same spot they were at last year.
The real question with Budmayr is if he'll be healthy enough to play next season. There were reports of a setback in December, but the Badgers got some good news about Budmayr in January: he was reportedly 90 percent healthy following what Bret Bielema called a "miraculous" recovery, and might be able to work with the team in some capacity during spring drills.
Getting Budmayr back to full strength would be a big boost for the Badgers, but it's important to remember that another setback in his throwing arm could develop just as quickly as any miracle recovery did. But if he's healthy, my money would be on Budmayr standing under center in 2012.
RS Senior - 6-3, 225 lbs.
Career stats: 5 GP, 7/13, 65 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Phillips has had one of the worst streaks of bad luck you can have as a college athlete, and especially as a highly touted college recruit. As a four-star recruit out of Tennessee, Phillips provides a cautionary tale about assuming top recruits will have long and productive careers. Phillips arrived on campus in 2008 for a redshirt year, and then served as Tolzien's backup in 2009 after he bested Phillips for the starting job in fall camp. Then it all went wrong for the dual-threat quarterback from Tennessee.
In all, Phillips has torn his right ACL twice, and has suffered several setbacks during his attempts to return to the field. It's been hard to get a feel for how his recovery from the latest setback is going, but Bielema told the media in January that Phillips is making progress. The best-case scenario would be if Phillips partakes in some part of spring camp, and be ready for full competition by fall camp in August. But even if he is ready to return, how effective he can be will be a big question.
Phillips was touted more for his mobility than his arm, so we'll soon see how much of a toll Phillips' injuries have taken on the quarterback. A healthy Phillips would be an interesting follow-up to Wilson, as we've seen that a mobile quarterback can be beneficial for the Badgers' offense. He might not be as accurate as the now-departed quarterback, but a best-case scenario would be Phillips as a Russell Wilson-lite.
RS Sophomore - 6-3, 205 lbs.
Career stats: 6 GP, 6/15, 48 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Joe Brennan came uncomfortably close to being the starting quarterback for a lot of Badger fans in 2011. If Wilson had chosen to attend Auburn and Budmayr still develops that nerve injury, the Badgers would have had to roll with Brennan, who was just a redshirt freshman at the time. If that had been the case, the Badgers probably don't go to their second-straight Rose Bowl. Instead, Brennan spent the year as Wilson's backup, coming in late to wrap up big leads for the Badgers.
His performance wasn't stellar by any means, but Brennan will be entering just his third year in the program. The experience he gained in 2011 could prove valuable, as Brennan could well find himself as the starting quarterback if Budmayr and Phillips are both unavailable in the fall.
RS Freshman - 6-5, 220 lbs.
Career stats: Has not played.
Joel Stave (pronounced "STAH-vee") is a walk-on from Greenfield, Wis., who used the 2011 season as a redshirt year. Stave enrolled early after graduating from high school, and will be playing in his second spring camp. He caught people off guard last April by having the best day of any quarterback in the spring game, but it's important to remember that the offense scored zero points in the scrimmage. So it wasn't exactly difficult to shine in comparison.
There have been whispers that if Budmayr and Phillips aren't available in fall camp, it wouldn't be surprising if Stave beats out Brennan for the starting job. We'll get a much better barometer for Stave's growth after spring practices. But for now, he's a young quarterback with plenty of time to develop.
Freshman - 6-4, 215 lbs.
Career stats: Has not played.
Bart Houston comes out of De La Salle High School in California as one of the Badgers' most hyped recruits in recent memory. Houston impressed at the Elite 11 combine over the summer, and never wavered in his commitment to the Badgers, even after Paul Chryst left for Pittsburgh. Houston did not enroll early, and will be on campus starting in August.
It's probably unfair to put so much hype and high expectations on a guy who hasn't graduated high school yet, but he's going to come to campus with fans expecting big things in the future. In all likelihood Houston will redshirt the 2012 season, but Bielema said he's never going to rule someone out of a starting job right away. For all we know, Houston might come in and blow away the competition in fall camp, but I certainly wouldn't count on it.