Burning questions for Wisconsin football in 2013: Starting quarterback and No. 2 wide receiver

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the summer conditioning and strength programs, here are the first two of 10 big questions the Badgers face heading into the fall.

Who will emerge as the No. 2 wide receiver?

Last season, Wisconsin’s No. 1 wide out, then-junior Jared Abbrederis, recorded 49 catches for 837 yards and five touchdowns. The rest of the Badgers’ wide receivers? Try a combined 48 catches, 446 yards and two touchdowns between five other players.

Kenzel Doe had a strong showing at the spring game with eight receptions and 93 yards, as new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig used the speedy slot man in a variety of ways. Heading into his junior year, Doe will need to work on both his strength and his release off the line. Because of his lack of size (5-foot-8, 171 pounds) Doe needs to find a way to get himself in open space. It’s in those moments that Doe can show off his shiftiness and speed, like he did on a decisive punt return touchdown against Utah State last year. Those moments were still far and few in between, as he recorded just 16 catches in 14 games.

Perhaps the favorite heading into the fall to win the No. 2 spot is Jordan Frederick, who showed promise as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Frederick recorded 17 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown, the second-best numbers behind Abbrederis.

Frederick is strong, able-bodied and young, making him a promising prospect. Unlike Doe, Frederick has a solid frame (6-foot--3, 210 pounds) that helped him gain separation in his route running. He’s still raw, so it will be intriguing to see how much of a jump he makes speed and strength wise in his summer training program. Sophomore A.J. Jordan could also compete for this spot.

Besides Abbrederis, there is no deep threat in the group. You could make the argument that if it wasn’t for in-state recruits, the wide receiver position might be one of the most poorly-recruited over the last several years. Think about it. Besides the son of a Badger legend in Nick Toon (Middleton) and a little known walk-on in Abbrederis (Wautoma), Wisconsin hasn’t produced a stellar receiver since Lee Evans.

It’s a tough sell to a high school receiver to come to Wisconsin. Most kids probably have the outdated impression that the Badgers will run the ball every down. The truth is, UW is becoming more of a pro-style offense every season. But, that doesn’t matter if your quarterback can’t throw the ball accurately.

Who will Wisconsin start a quarterback in 2013, and will he be a solid passer?

There’s no point of having an elite, All-American-caliber wide receiver like Abbrederis if you don’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball. In the five full games Stave played in 2012, Abbrederis had three games of 100 yards or more receiving and three touchdowns. Without Stave? No 100-yard games and no touchdowns.

Although many media members have narrowed this quarterback battle down to a two-horse race between redshirt sophomore Joel Stave and sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, the starting spot remains wildly open.

Although Stave seemingly separated himself from Phillips with a 15-for-20 performance in the spring game, he still struggles with inconsistency in practice, which is the reason Phillips (who went 8-for-13 in the spring game) couldstill be the favorite at this point to win the job, even though Stave far and away has the better arm and accuracy of the two.

Phillips lacks arm strength to utilize Abbrederis’ strong double-moves on verticals down the field, so Stave seems, at this point, the player who would give Wisconsin the most options through the air. Still, it’s hard to go as far as saying Phillips isn’t an effective passer. He makes good decisions and is a strong game manager, but once again, Phillips just couldn’t get the ball deep last season.

And don’t count out the dark horse in this race, Tanner McEvoy. A junior college recruit signed by Gary Andersen within months of taking the Wisconsin job, McEvoy is a big talent who landed with the Badgers through a combination of poor decisions and hard work to alleviate those decisions.

A highly-touted recruit who ended up signing with South Carolina, McEvoy (6-foot-6, 215 pounds) had a high school career that culminated with him winning the state offensive player of the year in New Jersey in 2010, also his first season playing quarterback. A converted wide receiver and running back, McEvoy is truly a dual-threat, running for 1,196 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with his 2,264 yards and 32 touchdowns through the air his senior year.

After getting pulled over for speeding and consuming alcohol under the age of 21 in the summer of 2012, McEvoy also found himself buried deep in the Gamecocks’ depth chart at quarterback. So, he elected to transfer and play at Western Arizona, a junior college.

McEvoy chose to transfer to Wisconsin over offers from Oregon, West Virginia and Florida. His 4.6-second 40-yard dash time and his results at Western Arizona -- 1,813 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air with 252 yards and four touchdowns on the ground – show that he is still quite the talent.

The dual-threat capabilities of McEvoy are much like Andersen’s old quarterback at Utah State, Chuckie Keeton. Even though the latest transfer to Wisconsin will be behind in terms of playbook knowledge when he begins competition in fall camp, he still has the skill set and athleticism to win the job.

As far as redshirt freshman Bart Houston goes, he simply needs a bit more time. It was obvious watching practices in the spring that Houston has the best arm strength of any quarterback on the current UW roster, but he is still raw and learning the ropes of the college game.

Danny O’Brien? Chase Knox will start before he does.

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