Danny O'Brien looks to regain his 2009 form and lead the Badgers to a third consecutive B1G title.
Wisconsin has been called "O-Line U." and "Running Back U." Lately, much has been said about Wisconsin becoming "Transfer-U." It’s hard to argue against that due to the transfers of Russell Wilson last season and Danny O’Brien this season. It’s an NCAA transfer rule that Bielema has used to his advantage thus far. Though schools around the country do this every year, transfers like them get more recognition because of the position and skill level the players are at.
As O'Brien came to Madison, the comparisons to Wilson came from fans and every media outlet out there. But that's as far as the comparisons go, according to Bielema. O'Brien is his own person and own QB. He's smart (he did graduate early enough to have 2 years of eligibility left) and makes good decisions with the ball, more so that Phillips and Stave in camp. When I first heard O'Brien decided to go to Wisconsin, I immediately went on YouTube to watch highlights from his days at Maryland.
In 2011, Wilson was pretty much given the starting job as soon as he set foot campus. In 2012, it is a little different as Joel Stave and Curt Phillips were battling for the #1 QB spot on the depth chart along with O'Brien. As a Badger fan, I did root for Phillips to win out given that he has battled through knee injuries, has been with the program since 2008 and was determined to still compete at this level. I'm sure there are people who thought it wasn’t a real QB race and that it was O'Brien's to lose, and I'm sure there are people who thought the exact opposite. Regardless, O'Brien is at the helm now and should be for two seasons.
Aside from good arm strength, I did notice he can make throws on the run and is more nimble than the average fan may realize. Though O'Brien's completion percentage over two years at Maryland is only 56.7%, much of that is due to the read-option, spread attack offense that he struggled in. The pro-style offense fits O'Brien better and we should see his completion percentage increase dramatically by hitting his check downs when receivers are covered downfield. Remember that Wilson's overall completion percentage at NC State was 57.8%, but jumped to 72.8% in one season in Madison. The point here is that it's very possible that O'Brien increases his completion rate in the Wisconsin system -- even without Paul Chryst calling the plays.
After O'Brien on the depth chart are Phillips and Stave. Let's start with Phillips. At 6'3" and 214, he came to Madison in 2008 as a decorated dual threat QB from Tennessee. Badgers fans were reeling that Wisconsin was finally able to sign a highly touted QB, especially from outside B1G country. Early on in 2009, he showed flashes of former QB Brooks Bollinger by running the ball very well. Then came an ACL tear. Then another. And then another. After three ACL surgeries, people pretty much wrote him off and figured his football career was over. But Phillips didn't think so. He kept fighting and was determined to come back. He's finally back and healthy, which is why it was hard not to root for him to win the starting QB job. Having been in the system for so long, he knows the playbook and is intelligent enough to be a starter. From what I read, the negatives on Phillips were his accuracy and lack of speed after his knee surgeries.
Joel Stave, standing at 6'5" and 220, is a redshirt freshman from the state of Wisconsin. Stave is still young and has time to mature into a future starting QB at Wisconsin. Reports from fall camp were that though he had the strongest arm of the QBs, he was still the most inconsistent of the group. He completed most of his deep throws but failed to complete the easy short routes that signify the mold of the Wisconsin passing game. However, I’m sure we will see Stave further down the road in Madison as he matures.
As the Wisconsin coaching staff repeatedly said during fall camp, the QB position will be a position of strength this year. Last year it was the Russell Wilson show. This year, Wisconsin will be Wisconsin - pound the ball with the running game, O'Brien will make good decisions, limit mistakes, and win the time of possession battle.