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Wisconsin enters 2015 season with a more confident Joel Stave

Joel Stave enters the 2015 season with the starting job, confidence and his eyes on the all-time Wisconsin record books.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- A post-it note sits on Joel Stave's desk, penned before his freshman season.

Most career wins. Most passing yards. Most passing touchdowns.

Lofty goals for a former walk-on.

Now, Stave enters his season senior season as the Wisconsin Badgers' starting quarterback with those goals within reach.

"Looking at it now, they're pretty much all within reach," Stave said.

Most career wins. Most passing yards. Most passing touchdowns. Stave could topple them all this season, which—love or hate him—would cement his status as one of the best quarterbacks in Wisconsin history.

He is 10 wins away from surpassing Brooks Bollinger’s record of 30, 2,738 away from Darrell Bevell’s mark of 7,686 and needs 22 touchdowns to surpass Bevell's 59 scores.

"I would need to have a good season, but luckily I'm planning on having a good season," Stave said. "That's everything I could have asked for coming to Wisconsin out of high school as a walk-on."

Speaking Thursday at Big Ten media days in Chicago, a confident and charismatic Stave was a quarterback with all day in the pocket: at ease and collected. The demeanor assuredly matched the Hollywood looks.

That present reality would have been a far-fetched dream just one year ago.

Stave concluded fall camp thinking he garnered the starting quarterback spot. Former head coach Gary Andersen and his staff decided otherwise, naming Tanner McEvoy the starter to open the season. What ensued was a loss in confidence from Stave and an official listing of "shoulder problems" that were, in reality, throwing yips.

"At some points, (the game) was almost too important to me," Stave said. "And when that happens, you start to tense up, you start to play a little tighter. And there's no one that's going to tell you they play anything better when they're stressed."

For his teammates, it was difficult to look on, wanting for the best, but seeing Stave struggle.

"His mind was shot," running back Corey Clement said. "It was like, he threw balls into the dirt. It sucked, because it seemed like he lost his dog or something."

Able to look back on it now, Stave says he figured out a solution.

"It's just a matter of relaxing and getting back to what you know," Stave said. "I've been throwing footballs since I've been throwing anything, so I just had to get back to that same kind of mindset."

Stave, relaxed, goes into his final fall camp as the named starter by head coach Paul Chryst. Despite starting multiple games in each of his three previous seasons, this is the first time that no starting quarterback controversy was staring down the 6-5, 220-pound quarterback.

Because there isn't any "uncertainty with who's going to start," Stave added that there's no need to be "looking over your shoulder in camp."

"It's more just trying to improve yourself instead of trying to be perfect."

"It's different," he said of having the job outright. "It will be fun to cut it loose in camp and not necessarily worry about what the other guy’s doing or what you're doing. It's more just trying to improve yourself instead of trying to be perfect."

That confidence isn't keeping Stave comfortable with where his game is at, however.

"Really, it’s just taking risks, trying to throw before you’re ready sometimes, trying to throw with timing and trusting your guys," Stave said.

Last season, Stave rebounded to take over the starter’s job following UW's upset loss at Northwestern. With him under center, Wisconsin won seven consecutive games, going from 3-2 to 10-2 and Big Ten West division champions.

His performance -- the most polarizing topic of conversation for Badgers fans this side of admissions standards -- was at times up, at times down. He appeared to be at his top form in the division-clinching game against Minnesota, going 11-of-18 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions; seven days later, in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, he went 17-of-43 with three interceptions.

"I woke up not feeling great," Stave said of the day after the Buckeyes demoralized Wisconsin 59-0. "It was tough. It was disappointing. They had beaten us handily and that's not the way you want to end your season. Obviously we still had the bowl game."

In the Outback Bowl against Auburn, it was both the best of times and the worst of times. Thankfully for Stave and the Badgers, the best of times bookended their 34-31 overtime victory.

After an opening-drive touchdown pass to running back Corey Clement, Stave threw three interceptions and Wisconsin trailed 31-28 with the ball and under three minutes to play. Stage. Set.

After five consecutive run plays, Stave completed a pivotal fourth down at the Auburn 33-yard line. He followed that with a third-down conversion to get the Badgers down to the 11-yard line.

"I think Auburn was the game when Joel was actually able to come back to life," Clement said.

After losing 2,740 total yards and over 40 percent of their total offense from 2014, the Badgers will rely on Stave to step up in the passing game come fall in order to defend their division title. The confidence from his teammates is there.

"Joel's a very smart person," Clement said. "He's majoring in civil engineering. Who does that really as a quarterback and has the time to do so and facilitate our offense? You have to take into fact that he's really putting his heart on the line for this team."

This season gives Stave, a rare Wisconsin four-year starting quarterback, a chance to cement his legacy, leave the team and the school with a good memory. As a civil engineering major, he has just one class to go before graduating at semester's end, saying it allows him to focus more on football.

For Stave and the Badgers, that's a good thing.

As for the records of Bollinger and Bevell, we'll just have to check back in December -- make sure to write a memo on a post-it, just so you don't forget.