Ed. note: We mistakenly wrote that Brooks Bollinger was at the helm for both the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls. He only played in the 2000 Rose Bowl, so we have updated the story below and regret the error.
On Tuesday, our great nation comes together to elect the new leader of the #freeworld. Thank God this nightmare is almost over. 2016 has been the most gawd-awful, unpleasant, partisan and brutally ugly election season since the good ol’ U-S-of-A decided James Buchanan was a good idea, pitting two historically disliked candidates against one another in a knock-down, drag-out grudge match that made Nixon look like Honest Abe and the Hunger Games look like a pillow fight.
In honor of the conclusion of this epic Slytherin Head of House vote, I bring to you a grab bag of non-controversial opinions on all things Badgers that will unify us, just as our two fine candidates have unified our country. These easily supported positions will cleanse the palate ahead of the great clearing of our heads on Wednesday (or Thursday, or January 2021, depending on your hangover level and political persuasion).
And we’re off...
Joel Stave is the best quarterback in University of Wisconsin history.
Let’s get this out of the way. In terms of pure talent, Russell Wilson is the best Badger quarterback we will most likely ever see. Had he been a Badger for four years under Paul Chryst, there is no telling what glories he may have accomplished.
But he wasn’t. He was here for one really amazing year, and then, like that, he was gone. So, much like that amazing week you spent with that redhead at Band Camp sophomore year, he doesn’t count.
Taking Russell out of the equation, let’s look at the other contenders for “Best” Badger quarterback ever:
- Joel Stave: 31-10 as a starter (.756 career winning percentage). 7,635 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, 129.8 quarterback rating. Career wins leader among Wisconsin quarterbacks. Records for pass attempts in a season (370), most 200-yard passing games in a season (nine) and career (18), and most pass completions in a season (225).
- Brooks Bollinger: 30-12 as a starter (.714 career winning percentage). 5,627 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 126.9 quarterback rating. 1,767 yards rushing, 26 rushing touchdowns. Three bowl wins, including two Rose Bowls.
- Darrell Bevell: 26-14-3 as a starter (.640 career winning percentage). 7,686 passing yards, 59 touchdowns, 133.9 quarterback rating. Records for career passing yards, most yards in a game (423), most passes completed in a game (35), highest completion percentage in a game (.944) most passing touchdowns in a game (five), career pass attempts (1,052).
- John Stocco: 29-7 as a starter (.806 carer winning percentage). 7,227 passing yards, 47 touchdowns, 134.1 quarterback rating. Records for most consecutive 200-yard passing games (seven) and most 300-yard passing games in a career (four).
- Scott Tolzien: 21-5 as a starter (.808 career winning percentage). 5,721 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 153.2 quarterback rating. Records for highest completion percentage in a season (.729) and career (.681). 2010 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner for Most Outstanding Senior Quarterback.
In Stave, I see a quarterback who compares favorably with the most successful quarterbacks in Badger history in both wins and statistics. Bollinger wasn’t nearly as prolific through the air and, though significantly better running the ball, he also played on historic Badger teams with a generational back in Ron Dayne (and a freshman Lee Evans in 2000) which made his job infinitely easier. Bevell’s stats are better, but his teams didn’t win nearly as much. Stocco compares favorably, but almost across the board, Stave’s stats are a little better. Tolzien has a higher win percentage, but played fewer games and his statistics aren’t as good.
When taking both wins and statistics into account (and how else would one define “best” aside from “amount of games won” and “statistics racked up along the way”), I think the choice comes down to Stave and Bollinger. Bollinger was at the helm for the 1999 Rose Bowl season when the Badgers were favored by 11 (and failed to cover). Again, Bollinger’s passing stats aren’t nearly as good, but his threat in the ground game is an element that Stave just... well... let’s just say Stave wasn’t frequently a threat with his feet.
Otherwise, Stave holds his own and had a great deal of success on teams that weren’t as strong as Bollinger’s. He was the Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP in the win against a favored USC. He was at the helm when the Badgers won the Outback Bowl against a favored Auburn. And don’t forget, Stave lost out on two more wins (Arizona State and Northwestern) due to
gut-wrenchingly incompetent officiating errors. With those, he would be over .800 for his career winning percentage.
So put aside the hatred and embrace the truth. Joel is No. 1.
The offensive line’s troubles this year are in part due to Joe Rudolph.
First off, know that I like Joe Rudolph a lot as a coach. There is no doubt whatsoever that in the time it has taken me to type this sentence he has forgotten more about football than I will ever know. But in Owen Riese’s great breakdown on the offensive line’s troubles this past week, he highlighted a number of technique breakdowns in the line. Doesn’t that fall on the o-line coach, at least a little bit?
Rudolph has traditionally been a tight ends coach, serving in the role at Nebraska (2007), Wisconsin (2008-11) and at Pitt while also serving as the offensive coordinator (2012-14). When he followed Chryst back to Wisconsin as OC and associate head coach, there were questions about whether coaching offensive line was his best fit. Nearly two seasons into the experiment, it is not clear that we have an answer.
Early-season returns this year were positive and the line’s depth has been ravaged through injury, but aside from revelation Ryan Ramczyk, it’s not clear that any of the other linemen are playing better now than they were at the beginning of the year. The Badgers have been seemingly unable to block for the screen pass all year long. The running game has stagnated at long stretches, even against not-so-great teams (#Iowa). Player growth is primarily the responsibility of the position group coach; I posit that a lack of definitive growth in the o-line has to be Rudolph’s responsibility.
Gary Andersen and Dave Aranda’s introduction of the 3-4 defense is as important to Wisconsin football as Barry Alvarez’s “Big Palooka” offensive model.
We all know the origin story. Barry Alvarez cracked the code for recruiting at Wisconsin by seizing upon its natural advantages (i.e., large, corn-fed linemen) to plow the road in front of a power run game. That has been the base model for Wisconsin offensively ever since, and because it matches so well with the talent pool the Badgers can get to Madison every year, it is also one of the keys to the program’s sustainability, along with the walk-on program and curds.
Upon his arrival to Madison, Gary Andersen sought to instill speed and athleticism into the program. One of his first moves was to scrap the traditional 4-3 front for a 3-4 front that he’d used while at Utah State, bringing in follically-challenged genius Dave Aranda to run the show.
While Andersen has been much maligned for other reasons, his emphasis on speed and the conversion to the 3-4 may have been the innovation necessary to continue sustained success at Wisconsin. By emphasizing creativity and allowing for exotic blitzes and coverages, the 3-4 closes the talent gap, maximizing the smart, undersized pool Wisconsin has made hay with on the recruiting trail over the years. It also allows for greater mixing and matching of talent in the linebacking corps and secondary, which, again, plays to a favorable recruiting pool.
We have seen what happens when traditional powers lose their recruiting base (see, e.g., Nebraska’s woes when its Texas pipelines started to dry up). With so many teams moving in the same way schematically (and looking for the same skill sets in players to run those schemes) the ability to build a program to suit undervalued talent is critical for programmatic sustainment in a competitive environment. Don Barry may have cracked the initial code, but Andersen did as much as Alvarez to set the Badgers up for long-term success in the 2010s and beyond.
Red facemasks > White facemasks
This is self-evident. Unless you are a fan of the 1987 AFC East.
Be safe and smart out there this week. I look forward to your reasoned and measured comments.