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Wisconsin football 2015 preview: Joel Stave leads Badgers' offense at quarterback

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Joel Stave enters fall camp as the starter this time -- what will we see from the fifth-year senior?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a wild ride for senior quarterback Joel Stave in his time at Wisconsin.

After redshirting his first year in Madison in 2011, Stave competed for the starting quarterback spot against upperclassmen Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips in 2012. Though O'Brien ultimately won the job, Stave replaced the Maryland transfer in the third game of that season against Utah State and went 4-1 until a collarbone injury against Michigan State sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Stave had to endure his second quarterback competition in 2013, facing Phillips and JUCO transfer Tanner McEvoy before he was named the starter. Stave completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore, but at times missed key throws throughout the season and surrendered 13 interceptions.

McEvoy and Stave competed for the starting spot again in 2014, and though many in the media who watched summer practices thought the Greenfield, Wis., native played better than McEvoy, then-head coach Gary Andersen went with the dual-threat option as his starter.

Odd circumstances and communications revolving around a case of the "yips" ensued for Stave, but he replaced McEvoy as starter at halftime against Northwestern -- then went 8-1 as a starter with running back Melvin Gordon leading the way for the offense. Though Stave's numbers in 2014 were mediocre total -- 53.4 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions -- he stabilized an offense by giving a greater threat of an aerial attack. Through his first seven starts, he completed nearly 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and only one pick, and though his performances against Ohio State and Auburn were rough outings, he led the Badgers down the field in the final quarter in the Outback Bowl -- converting a key first down to help tie the game against the Tigers.

Now back in the offensive system he played under in 2011, with Paul Chryst returning to Wisconsin, Stave was named starter from the beginning of spring practice. There's no quarterback competition. The offense is Stave's and Stave's alone, and the 6'5, 220-pound signal caller could etch his name further in school history for quarterbacks in the following categories:

  • Quarterback wins (21, No. 5 overall) -- nine away from Brooks Bollinger's 30
  • Career passing yards (4,948 yards, No. 7) -- 2,279 yards from John Stocco for No. 2 on all-time passing yards list, 2,738 yards from Bevell for No. 1
  • Career attempts (661, No. 6) -- 391 attempts away from Bevell's No. 1, 273 from Stocco for No. 2 in school history. Stave did pass 336 times in Andy Ludwig's offense in 2013.
  • Career completions (388) -- 258 completions away from Bevell for No. 1, only 146 away from Stocco for No. 2
  • Career completion percentage (.587, No. 5) -- Tyler Donovan only .001 ahead in fourth
  • Career touchdown passes (37, No. 5) -- 22 touchdown passes away from Bevell for tying for No. 1, 10 away from Stocco for No. 2
  • Career winning percentage as a starter (21-7 record = .750 winning percentage, No. 3) -- trails only Scott Tolzien (21-5, .808) and John Stocco (29-7, .806), with a minimum of 15 starts (Sorry, Russell)

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

Returning players

Stave (RS SR), Bart Houston (RS JR), D.J. Gillins (RS FR), Thad Armstrong (RS JR)

Departing players

Tanner McEvoy (RS SR -- moved to safety), Connor Senger (RS SO -- moved to wide receiver, transferred to UW-Oshkosh), Austin Kafentzis (FR -- transferred to Nevada)

Additions to position

Alex Hornibrook (Malvern, Pa.; early enrollee)

X-Factor: Joel Stave

How much can Stave rebound from a rough 2014?

Now back in Chryst's pro-style offense, Stave will have to further balance and complement a running game missing Gordon and three starters on the offensive line that helped account for 4,482 rushing yards and over 68 percent of the total offense last season.

In his only year as a full-time starter in 2013, he threw 22 touchdown passes -- second most in school history for a season -- along with completing almost 62 percent of his passes. He'll still have junior running back Corey Clement with a line anchored by returning starters Dan Voltz and Tyler Marz.

His receiving targets have matured another year, with senior and Biletnikoff Award watch list nominee Alex Erickson and junior Rob Wheelwright at wide receiver, along with tight ends Troy Fumagalli and Austin Traylor at tight end, coming back and now under the tutelage of Ted Gilmore and Mickey Turner, respectively.

Stave said he was able to use the spring practices to work and hone in on his skills and chemistry, something he couldn't do the previous three springs.

If Stave's progression continues into his senior campaign, the Wisconsin offense could re-achieve a greater balance seen prior to the 2012 season. In terms of his legacy, he could silence many of the critics who have disputed his 21-7 starting record and decried some of his decision-making over the years.

However, when asked after the spring game what he learned about his quarterbacks and what they need to work on, Chryst said there's still work to do on Stave's part before fall camp.

"He's played a lot of football," Chryst said.

"I think that he still needs to continue to learn this offense. There's the trust factor of trusting himself within the offense, and I think the lack of continuity at the receiver position, we've got to develop that. I think summer that is one area that he can spend a lot of time with them and build that."