MADISON, Wis. — Danny O’Brien will be long gone by then, but the football programs at Wisconsin and Maryland will cross paths again in 2020 and 2021 — more directly, anyway.
Wisconsin officials announced Thursday a home-and-home series to be played between the two schools. The Badgers and Terrapins will play for the first time in history in 2020 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The following season, Wisconsin will travel to Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md.
O’Brien transferred to Wisconsin this spring from Maryland after playing two seasons for the Terrapins. He started the Badgers’ first three games at quarterback this season before being pulled in favor of redshirt freshman Joel Stave.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema said following Thursday’s practice that scheduling nonconference games years in advance has become even more important of late. The Football Bowl Subdivision will implement a playoff system beginning in 2014 that focuses more heavily on strength of schedule.
“I think the world of college football during my tenure has changed so much in contracting, (with) people backing out, so you’ve got to make sure the contract is worded the right way so you don’t get someone to back out of your deal and pay fines and all that stuff,” Bielema said. “Obviously, in the world of college football, after these next two years, it changes dramatically. The strength of schedule is going to be a big part of it.”
Beyond the O’Brien connection, there are no ties between Wisconsin and Maryland. The scheduling was done to continue the Badgers’ effort to beef up their nonconference slate in the coming years.
Wisconsin will now face at least one BCS conference opponent in each of the next nine seasons. In addition to the Maryland series, UW has home-and home games scheduled with Washington State (2014 and 2015), Virginia Tech (2016 and 2017) and Washington (2018 and 2019). Wisconsin also recently finalized a three-game series with BYU to be played in 2013, 2017 and 2018.
Bielema said the contract with Maryland took roughly 18 months to finish.
“A lot of these deals you’re signing now,” Bielema said, “they also kind of have a little asterisk if someone’s not in that conference anymore, or if they jump to a conference that’s playing a nine-game conference schedule. Same thing with us because at one time we were going to nine and now we aren’t. There’s a lot of moving parts that I’m not involved with.”
The last time Wisconsin faced an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent was a 20-14 victory against Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl. The last regular-season meeting with an ACC team came in 2005, when Wisconsin defeated North Carolina, 14-5.
Maryland has been to seven bowl games in the last 11 seasons. Under second-year head coach Randy Edsall, the Terrapins (4-2) have doubled their win total from last season. They also stand 2-0 in the ACC.
Wagner out: Bielema said Badgers left tackle Ricky Wagner won’t play this week against Minnesota after suffering a right knee injury last week against Purdue.
“Obviously when you saw it on film, it looked pretty nasty, which is a tribute to how athletic he is and how well his body bends,” Bielema said. “I don’t know if we’ll have him Tuesday or Wednesday. But my guess is some part of the middle of next week we get him back.”
If Wagner, an Outland Trophy candidate, is able to return next week, it will put him on track to play against Michigan State on Oct. 27.
Ryan Groy, who filled in for Wagner last week, will once again move from his usual spot at left guard to left tackle against Minnesota. Zac Matthias took Groy’s left guard position last week and will battle with Robert Burge for playing time on Saturday.
Stave’s improvement showing: Bielema continues to rave about the way quarterback Joel Stave has taken to the Badgers’ starting role as a redshirt freshman. This season, Stave has completed 54 of 92 passes (58.7 percent) for 871 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
In Stave’s four starts, the Badgers are averaging 33.3 points per game. They averaged 16.3 points per game in the three games he did not start.
“I think the biggest jump he’s made is in handling the game,” Bielema said. “Whether it’s making a call here or there, a protection, understanding awareness. ‘Hey it’s second and 12, I’ve got to get half of it back.’ Just managing the game overall.”
Bielema noted that Stave is a better game quarterback than he is a practice quarterback and needs to continue to improve his practice habits.
“He’s really a pretty care-free spirit,” Bielema said. “But it’s just his personality and it’s us getting to know him a little bit, too. …
“The one thing Joel is, he’s a gamer. He’s competitive. I think he relies a lot on his God-given abilities and has a lot of faith in that. But the more he learns to practice better, he’s even going to play better.”