At quarterback, clearly this is the year that everything changes for Wisconsin. The malaise of the past is gone, sent to that surprisingly draftable farm upstate. This time, as the Badgers get ready to begin spring practices on Saturday. It's a new year, which means Wisconsin has a new quarterback and everything is going to be OK. We're going to make passing great again.
The 2016 season begins a transition for the Badgers after the seemingly 44-season run of Joel Stave as the starting quarterback, and the bridge to the future -- barring injury or getting caught up in something dumb or malicious -- will be Bart Houston, the senior from Dublin, Calif. A former Elite 11 high school prospect, Houston was impressive in relief of Stave in last season's Illinois game, going 22-of-33 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. That said, he threw two interceptions at the goal line in that game, and while he is the most experienced of Wisconsin's quarterbacks, he has only 51 attempts in three seasons of game action.
Houston is also the most experienced punter the Badgers have on the roster, but that's another story for another time.
Behind Houston, there's a really interesting battle shaping up for the backup job. Last year's in-season transfer of Austin Kafentzis and the subsequent off-season transfer of D.J. Gillins have cleared the decks, and whether it's West Chester, Pa., redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook or the early enrollee from Chandler, Ariz., Kare' Lyles, the winner of the battle has the inside track to be the starter for three seasons.
Hornibrook was impressive in spring ball last season, and the lefty defintely has an early edge. But Lyles has a big arm and was one of the keys that helped build the impressive recruiting class of 2016. Don't count out the possibility of Lyles winning the backup battle.
Leaders at position (2015 stats)
Bart Houston: 57.4 completion percentage, 281 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions; -17 rushing yards, -4.25 yards per carry
Bart Houston (RS SR)
Alex Hornibrook (RS FR)
D.J. Gillins (transferred to Pearl River C.C.)
Additions to position
Andres Castillo (Olney, Md.)
Conor Blount (Waukesha, Wis.)
X-factor: Bart Houston
I've argued for putting the entire position as some kind of reference to the hated early-2000s WWE stable as an X-factor, because the Badgers are indeed one injury away from starting a freshman in the teeth of a very difficult schedule. We're looking at a quarterback who was likely going to be the starter even if Gillins didn't transfer, and Houston did show a certain dynamism and fearlessness in throwing the ball in extended action with a patchwork offensive line.
That said, the reason why Stave became such a polarizing figure in Badgers fandom was the fact that roughly every 28th pass he threw was an interception. It is potentially present with Houston. Houston's two picks in the Illinois game both took points off the board. It's absolutely true that we're in the small sample-size game with Houston, as he is 7-for-18 in a mop-up capacity. So the statistical significance is small enough that while it warrants mentioning, it is also potentially an unnecessary worry.With that warning in mind, the line between play-making hero and pick throwing goat is a thin one.