Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 6 — Tanner McEvoy, quarterback
Why he’s No. 6
We don’t yet know what McEvoy’s impact will be on the team in 2014. So for now, he’s listed at No. 6, with a potential to rise once head coach Gary Andersen reveals his starting quarterback. McEvoy, at 6-foot-6 and 223 pounds, is a tremendous athlete whose football ceiling continues to rise. Consider that the guy finished with 27 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception last season for Wisconsin while playing safety for the first time since high school.
McEvoy wasn’t really the beneficiary of a fair fight last fall in the battle to be the team’s starting quarterback. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips fought the previous spring while the Badgers learned a new playbook in Andersen’s first season. By the time McEvoy arrived in the fall, he was behind those 15 practices and never could catch up. When he sustained a wrist injury early in the fall, his shot at being the starter was gone. But with a full year to learn the playbook, McEvoy could be the answer to Wisconsin’s quarterback question.
If you’re of the belief that McEvoy is better than Joel Stave and was brought to Wisconsin to play quarterback, then McEvoy will be Wisconsin’s starting signal-caller at some point during the 2014 season. If you believe Stave still has a stranglehold on the No. 1 job after putting together one of the top-5 seasons for a Wisconsin quarterback in history, then your expectations of McEvoy are less enthusiastic.
Will McEvoy only play in specific packages that utilize his legs? Will he return to safety, where he excelled despite limited time to learn? Will he be the team’s starting quarterback for the season opener against LSU, or will he serve as a backup to start and then overtake Stave midway through the season?
So many questions right now with so few answers, though McEvoy, as expected, is determined to be the starter.
"That’s been my goal ever since I got here," McEvoy said after the spring game in April. "I just want to compete every day. In the long run, we’re going to make each other better, whoever wins it. So I’m looking forward to that. We’ve got a long summer before camp. Got a lot to work on."
McEvoy used the end of spring practices to showcase himself as Stave was shut down while recovering from a shoulder injury. He didn’t exactly win the starting job, but he did enough to make sure that this fall will feature a two-man competition. McEvoy officially completed 4 of 10 passes for 55 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for the Cardinal Team during the second half of the spring game, which featured actual clocks and scoring.
But during the first segment, which was not scored, McEvoy completed 1 of 3 passes for 27 yards with a touchdown. He also carried the ball three times for 50 yards with a touchdown, including a 35-yard scramble and a 7-yard score, which capped off the first half.
"He carries himself like a quarterback," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said after the team’s spring game. "I think when he walked in here before, he carried himself like a quarterback that was absorbing a very difficult offense and new terminology. So much of the run checks that he has to handle and the demeanor that he carried himself with last August and the way he carries himself today is really completely different.
"He walks up to the huddle, he looks more comfortable, and I think the football team is more comfortable around him, similar to how they were with Joel walking in and saying, ‘Hey, this guy can get it done for us.’"
What would they do without him?
Well, without McEvoy, there really wouldn’t be much of a quarterback competition, would there? Stave would be the starter, and fans would continue lamenting his occasional overthrows and sacks. With McEvoy, Stave’s detractors have a man on which to place their hopes. It remains to be seen whether McEvoy truly is the answer at quarterback. We know he presents that dual-threat option for which Andersen has been looking. But can he truly excel at the highest level of college football? And if he isn’t the starter, will coaches move him to a place where he’d be more effective?
We’ll finally know the lay of the land in a few months. Until then, the debate as to which man will be the starting quarterback rages on.