The Badgers enter 2010 with its first returning starting quarterback since John Stocco finished his three-year run as the starter in 2006. It's been a while since Wisconsin could rely on one player to consistently get the job done at the game's most important position, but barring injury, it looks like that will be the case in 2010 with incumbant starter Scott Tolzien.
Still, camp hasn't even opened and UW is already battling depth problems at quarterback after backup Curt Phillips suffered a knee injury in the spring. The redshirt sophomore's misfortune is a startling reminder that while Tolzien appears to be headed toward a breakout senior season, anything can happen in football and the Badgers must be prepared.
Scott Tolzien, 6-3, 208, red-shirt senior
Joe Brennan, 6-4, 190, Freshmen
Jon Budmayr, 6-0, 201, Red-shirt freshman
Curt Phillips, 6-3, 224, Red-shirt sophomore
Nate Tice, 6-5, 228, Red-shirt junior
Projected Depth Chart
Tolzien, Budmayr, Tice
Tolzien is the clear-cut starter unless he gets hurt or Budmayr rapidly develops into one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks during camp. Based on what we saw in the spring, however, that won't happen. Tolzien enters the season as a top three Big Ten quarterback (we have him listed as second team All-Big Ten in Badger Kickoff 2010) with Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor ahead of him and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins in the mix.
Tolzien won't blow you away with his arm but he proved in 2009 that he is a smart quarterback who makes the right decisions. He also has a knack for staying patient in the pocket and not being afraid to take a hit after delivering the football. This has earned him respect from not only his teammates but also coaches and players from around the league.
Phillips' status for 2010 is unknown for now, but one would think he will be available at some point during the season. Since he already used his redshirt, he will return to the depth chart whenever he is available. The question is, will Budmayr secure the backup role in his absence? Even if that happens, Phillips' mobility (assuming it is still the same after knee surgery) will allow the coaches to possibly use him as a change-of-pace quarterback or even move him to another position like tight end. With Budmayr and Brennan in the fold, it's possible Phillips will never start a game for UW at quarterback.
Budmayr boasts an incredible arm but his accuracy and decision making is still in question after a rough spring game performance. He certainly has the skill to be a more-than-suitable backup, but Tolzien's reliability is unmatched by Budmayr.
Brennan also has a lot of promise and at 6-4, he has the size to play the next level. Bielema likes to redshirt his true freshmen quarterbacks, however, and it is unlikely Brennan will see the field this season.
Best case scenario
Tolzien not only stays healthy but he continues to get more comfortable in the Big Ten. He corrects the mistakes he made in big games against Ohio State and Iowa in 2009 and leads the Badgers to wins in both of those games this season. His steady play continues to open up the running game for John Clay and Wisconsin rolls on to the Big Ten title.
Worst case scenario
Tolzien gets hurt and Phillips' knee doesn't allow him to play this season. Budmayr is thrown into the starting role with a lot of pressure on his back knowing walk-on Nate Tice is the only backup option unless the coaching staff wants to take the redshirt off Brennan's back. Quarterback play dooms Wisconsin much like it did in 2008 and the Badgers once again fail to live up to lofty expectations.
The likely scenario
Tolzien stays healthy and does exactly what he did so well for the Badgers last season: bring solid quarterback play to an explosive offense. He still makes a few mistakes in a big game or two and UW goes 1-1 against Ohio State and Iowa, but his reliability leads the Badgers to win close games on the road at Michigan State and Michigan. UW is right in the middle of the Big Ten title race at the end of the season.