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Can Badgers QB Tanner Mordecai replicate the success of Russell Wilson at Wisconsin?

QB Tanner Mordecai transferred to Wisconsin this offseason following two successful years at SMU.

The Wisconsin Badgers have won football games for decades through an overpowering run game and a stifling defense. However, they recently seemed to barely get by at the quarterback position with the exception of one season in 2011.

Russell Wilson was the one quarterback who truly elevated the Badgers' offense with both his legs and his arm. He was an exceptional talent who transferred in from NC State for his final season of eligibility.

Wilson led the Badgers to an 11-3 season including a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. He ultimately threw for close to 3200 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions on a 73% completion percentage. Wilson also finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting that year and was named first-team All-Big Ten as well.

Wilson was the best quarterback the Badgers had ever placed on a football field, and he was essentially just a single-season rental.

Since then, the Badgers have fielded the following starting quarterbacks: Joel Stave, Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, and Graham Mertz.

Stave’s best season came in 2013 when he threw for 2500 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. The Badgers went 9-4 with a Citrus Bowl loss to South Carolina.

Hornibrook’s best season was in 2017 as he threw for 2644 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. This was easily the most memorable season in Wisconsin football history as the team went 13-1 including a perfect regular season record and an Orange Bowl victory.

Jack Coan was productive in 2019, throwing for 2727 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions while leading the Badgers to a 10-2 regular season, a Big Ten Championship appearance, and a Rose Bowl appearance as well.

Lastly, Mertz’s 2022 campaign was his best season as he threw for 2136 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Mertz was supposed to be the next star QB at the university but never lived up to those expectations.

None of these quarterbacks came remotely close to matching the numbers that Wilson put up in that single season. And yes, the Badgers played a completely different kind of offense within the last decade. However, it’s unlikely that any of the quarterbacks listed above could have replicated Wilson’s numbers, efficiency, or play on the field.

With that being said, the Badgers have a new quarterback in town and he’s been one of the best in the nation.

Tanner Mordecai, the transfer from SMU, has put up exceptional numbers in his 2 seasons as a starter with the Mustangs.

Mordecai threw for 3628 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in his first season and 3524 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in his second season as a starter. Mordecai is also a 2x Davey O’Brien Award Semifinalist and was a Maxwell Award Semifinalist in 2021.

In his first season at SMU, Mordecai played under offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. Riley was recently named the top coordinator in football following his 2022 season with TCU and has a great record of developing quarterbacks.

Now, under new Badgers OC Phil Longo, Mordecai can potentially put up elite numbers yet again.

Phil Longo, one of the brightest offensive minds in college football, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ole Miss in 2017 and 2018, and at North Carolina from 2019-2022.

At Ole Miss, the offense thrived under Longo and finished 5th in passing yards, 7th in passer rating, 5th in total offense, and 18th in scoring throughout all power-5 schools. This was good for 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and 5th in the SEC respectively.

Longo’s quarterbacks at Ole Miss:

2017: Shea Patterson - 63.8 CMP%, 2259 yards, 17 touchdowns, 9 interceptions

2017: Jordan Ta’amu - 66.5 CMP%, 1682 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

2018: Jordan Ta’amu - 63.6 CMP%, 3918 yards, 19 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

At UNC, the offense was even better. They finished 3rd in passing yards, 4th in passing touchdowns, 4th in passer rating, 4th in rushing yards, 5th in total offense, and 9th in scoring throughout all power-5 schools. UNC ranked 1st in the ACC in all the categories listed above besides scoring in which they finished 3rd.

Longo’s quarterbacks at UNC:

2019: Sam Howell - 61.4 CMP%, 3641 yards, 38 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

2020: Sam Howell - 68.1 CMP%, 3586 yards, 30 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

2021: Sam Howell - 62.5 CMP%, 3056 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions

2022: Drake Maye - 66.2 CMP%, 4321 yards, 38 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

Now, none of the quarterbacks listed above played in frigid conditions up north against the most elite defenses in the country. But one can’t argue that both Sam Howell and Drake Maye wouldn’t put up elite numbers in the Big Ten.

It is yet to be seen how well Longo’s offense translates to Big Ten football, however, under head coach Luke Fickell’s guidance and one of the best run games in the nation, this lightens up the pressure on Mordecai to immediately make a splash.

College football analyst Josh Pate called Mordecai an “under-the-radar portal player you need to know about” earlier this week on his podcast.

“It would not shock me, with the way they’re going to use him, if he didn’t challenge for those 3500 and 35 total touchdown-type numbers again this upcoming year,” said Pate.

It will likely take a few weeks to really get things clicking offensively once the season begins, but I have no doubt Tanner Mordecai will be a major upgrade for this offense.

So, can Tanner Mordecai replicate the success of Russell Wilson at Wisconsin?

Without a doubt.

Mordecai’s athleticism and ability to make plays out of nothing is one of his greatest strengths. He also excels in ball placement and making quick decisions.

As seen throughout the spring, he is an accurate quarterback and he plays with the confidence this offense needs in its leader.

It will likely take some growing pains as previously seen in the Wisconsin Spring Game, and Mordecai can sometimes have a tendency to turn the ball over.

But, behind a strong offensive line led by standout tackle Jack Nelson, star running backs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi in the backfield, and a revamped wide receiver room including Chimere Dike, CJ Williams, Bryson Green, and Will Pauling, this offense should find itself as one of the best in the conference.

Lastly, the Badgers have a favorable schedule this season. Their games against their two toughest opponents, Ohio State and Iowa, are both played at home. They also avoided playing Michigan, Penn State, and Maryland out of the East and their four-game stretch to finish the season isn’t too daunting (@Indiana, vs Northwestern, vs Nebraska, @Minnesota).

Everything seems to be set up for Mordecai to be successful and hopefully enter his name into the NFL Draft to be the first Badgers QB drafted since Russell Wilson.