Badgers hand QB reins to another transfer

BY foxsports • July 26, 2012

This is the first in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 6 start of practice.

July 27: Quarterbacks
July 28: Running backs
July 29: Wide receivers
July 30: Tight ends
July 31: Offensive linemen
Aug. 1: Defensive linemen
Aug. 2: Linebackers
Aug. 3: Cornerbacks
Aug. 4: Safeties
Aug. 5: Specialists
Aug. 6: Coaches

Today's position: Quarterbacks

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 7

Projected starter:
Danny O'Brien (graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining)

Key backups: Joel Stave (redshirt freshman), Joe Brennan (redshirt sophomore), Curt Phillips (redshirt senior)

The breakdown: For the second straight season, Wisconsin is expected to hand the starting quarterback reins over to a graduate-student transfer. And while expectations from Badgers fans remain extraordinarily high, new quarterback Danny O'Brien must prove he is worth the hype.

O'Brien transferred from Maryland after having a falling out with new Terrapins coach Randy Edsall, but he proved his capabilities in 2010 while running a pro-style offense under then-coach Ralph Friedgen. That season, O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year when he threw for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 starts. He also led the Terrapins to a 9-4 record.

That kind of success leads many to believe O'Brien will thrive in Wisconsin's pro-style system under coach Bret Bielema. O'Brien arrived on campus at the start of June, giving him two full months to acclimate himself with teammates. As a point of reference, Russell Wilson arrived last year in July and had just one month to learn the team's playbook.

Whether fair or not, O'Brien will almost certainly be compared to Wilson because they share similar transferring circumstances. Wilson left North Carolina State and produced one of the great single seasons in Wisconsin football history in 2011, throwing for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

The pieces are in place to give O'Brien an opportunity to succeed, even if he doesn't match Wilson's numbers. O'Brien has a returning Heisman Trophy finalist at running back in Montee Ball, one of the biggest and most talented offensive lines in the country, one of the top tight ends in the nation (Jacob Pedersen) and a proven player at wide receiver (Jared Abbrederis).

O'Brien staying healthy will be especially important to Wisconsin's success in 2012. Badgers coach Bret Bielema already has announced that quarterbacks Jon Budmayr and Bart Houston will miss the year with injuries, and redshirt senior Curt Phillips continues to recover from a knee injury.

That means Wisconsin will enter fall camp with just three fully healthy quarterbacks in O'Brien, Joel Stave and Joe Brennan. Stave showed some savvy during spring practice, but O'Brien clearly gives Wisconsin the best chance to win right away — and possibly capture a Big Ten championship for the third straight year.

Best position battle: What makes the quarterback battle especially intriguing is that, technically, O'Brien hasn't earned the starting nod because he's yet to even practice with the Badgers. While it appears a foregone conclusion, the first couple weeks of practice should be particularly intense under center.

Assuming that O'Brien does become the starter — and most people already have made this assumption — then the battle will begin for Wisconsin's backup quarterback. Joel Stave and Joe Brennan entered spring practice in a virtual tie, but Stave showed more poise and consistency to pull ahead, eventually earning reps with the No. 1 offense.

At 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, Stave has the body to be a Big Ten quarterback. During the spring game in April, he completed 14 of 25 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Brennan, meanwhile, went 2 for 11 for 24 yards while playing mostly with the No. 2 offense.

Wisconsin coaches certainly hope O'Brien remains healthy, but if he doesn't, the season could fall in the hands of Stave, who hasn't thrown a single pass in an actual college game.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Denard Robinson (Michigan); 2. James Vandenberg (Iowa); 3. Braxton Miller (Ohio State).

It's hard to place Danny O'Brien among the top Big Ten quarterbacks because he hasn't actually played a game at Wisconsin, so we'll list O'Brien a notch below the top tier as fall camp begins. He also isn't a dual-threat quarterback like Robinson, Miller and other Big Ten signal callers. O'Brien carried the ball 64 times in two seasons at Maryland. His net yardage gain in 64 carries was nine yards.

Still, O'Brien clearly possesses the arm to become one of the conference's best, and he's surrounded by some serious offensive talent at Wisconsin. The Badgers' backfield of Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon should take some pressure off O'Brien and allow him to thrive in his first season with the team.

Joel Stave says: "People are going to think and say what they're going to say. I can't let it affect me because I have no control over the situation, over what (O'Brien) does. I can only control what I'm doing. …

"Nothing has really changed for me. I was told I'm going to be able to compete for the (starting) spot, and I'm going to continue to do that."

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.

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