It's been a month past the end of the Wisconsin Badgers' 2014 season and their 34-31 upset victory against the Auburn Tigers in the 2015 Outback Bowl, but that doesn't mean we can't look to next season. As the Gary Andersen era officially closed on New Year's Day, B5Q now looks ahead to the program that head coach Paul Chryst will lead in 2015.
Wisconsin mostly stuck to a two-tight end, power-running offense during Andersen and former offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's time in Madison, though you saw some glimmers of spread, read-option looks with the two-quarterback system of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy.
The quarterback position was an area of contention for 2014. The ensuing battle between McEvoy and Stave was etched in Badgers fans' skulls after the 2014 spring game, when Andersen announced the two juniors would compete for the starting spot in summer camp later in the year.
After a lengthy battle and two scrimmages, it was reported that McEvoy would get the nod over Stave -- a somewhat surprising move considering most of the media believed Stave was the better overall passer to portions opened in the media. The results were mixed at best for the season. McEvoy ran for single-season school record for a quarterback for rushing yards, but the gamble of Andersen and Ludwig of the JUCO transfer in the passing game didn't pan out as well. Stave, after fighting through his psychological issues throwing the ball, returned in the Northwestern game and started the rest of the season, going 8-1 but still threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9) -- most notably six in the last two games against Ohio State and Auburn.
With the homecoming of Chryst -- who was the Wisconsin offensive coordinator from 2005-11 -- many expect only one primary signal caller in his pro-style system, but who will start under center?
"I have to continue to look at it but if we're going to be stacked at one spot, I kinda like it being at the quarterback," Chryst said on National Signing Day.
Leaders at position (2014 stats)
Joel Stave (passing): 53.4 completion percentage, 1,350 yards, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Tanner McEvoy (rushing): 574 yards, 8.8 yards per carry average, 6 touchdowns
Stave (RS SR), McEvoy (RS SR), Bart Houston (RS JR), D.J. Gillins (RS FR), Thad Armstrong (RS JR)
Additions to position
Austin Kafentzis (Sandy, Utah; early enrollee), Alex Hornibrook (Malvern, Pa.; early enrollee)
X-Factor: Bart Houston
The soon-to-be redshirt junior was written off by Andersen and Ludwig after spring camp in 2014 after he admitted he tried to do too much in spring practices. Per a Madison.com video, Houston is eager for the opportunity to reunite with Chryst, who recruited him but did not get a chance to play under him after Chryst left for Pitt after the 2011 season. Now, under the watch of Chryst, can the former 4-star prep standout -- with a cannon for an arm but needing to hone in on other key areas -- reemerge as a contender for the starting position in a true pro-style offense?
"Way-too-early" prediction for starter: Joel Stave
During the Outback Bowl after Stave threw three interceptions -- two mainly for him to take blame upon -- this prediction almost changed. Yet after he drove the Badgers down the field on the last drive of regulation, going 3-for-4 passing with a key 4th-and-5 conversion to Sam Arneson needed to secure the game-tying field goal attempt, along with completing an important 14-yard pass to redshirt freshman Troy Fumagalli on 3rd-and-8 in overtime, he showed he can perform under pressure in certain situations -- and still receives the nod until he falters further or a viable contender steps to the plate to take on a powerhouse in Alabama.
He's the veteran quarterback who's currently 21-7 as a starter, has the most qualified resume -- No. 5 all-time in school history in touchdown passes (37) and sixth-most wins by a quarterback -- and is currently the best fit until otherwise proven by the rest of the competition. He's a pro-style signal caller now in a familiar pro-style offense. The former walk-on is the only quarterback on the Badgers' roster who was coached under Chryst, as he was a redshirt freshman in 2011. With the return of the former offensive coordinator and the number of starts under his belt, Stave has an advantage compared to the rest of the field.
Many have speculated that there will be no two-quarterback system under Chryst's offense, so McEvoy may be forced to move back to defense or another offensive position (he played both ways in the Outback Bowl, getting some snaps at quarterback though the majority was on defense as a safety). McEvoy noted he had not spoken with Chryst regarding his future as a quarterback yet. However, if he doesn't end up switching positions and can improve on his passing skills (we've seen what Chryst has done with quarterbacks before), his mobility was a huge asset at times for Wisconsin, as he rushed for nearly nine yards per carry and ran for 574 yards in 2014. Will he be used in any fashion at quarterback in 2015, or will he talents be used elsewhere?
Gillins and Kafentzis are talented, dual-threat quarterbacks that fans want to anoint as the next incarnations of Russell Wilson, but both will have to learn a new offensive system. There were plenty of I-formation, two-tight end sets Wisconsin deployed during the Ludwig years, so we'll see how Gillins adapts to different terminology while progressing in his second season in Madison. Kafentzis came from a purely spread offense out of the shotgun in Utah, though he's a self-professed pocket-passer who looks to pass first, then run. Both are the future of the Wisconsin quarterback with running Chryst's offense, but can they impress early on to warrant serious consideration for the starting job in 2015?
Unless Houston can prove himself in a career renaissance and the youth in this position group steps up to challenge for the throne, Stave looks to be in the driver's seat to be a starter for the fourth straight season...at least for now.