Maryland's O'Brien to transfer to Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — Speculation circulated for more than a month that Danny O'Brien represented the perfect fit at quarterback for Wisconsin's football team. But the only way O'Brien could know for certain was to visit the players on campus during spring practice and see for himself.
What O'Brien took away from his only visit to campus last weekend convinced him Wisconsin was the place to be and confirmed what others had been suggesting for weeks. Not even a second trip two days later to Penn State, O'Brien's other finalist, could sway his decision.
On Wednesday, O'Brien officially announced his intention to transfer from Maryland, where he played the past two seasons, to Wisconsin. He becomes the second quarterback in as many years at Wisconsin to take advantage of the NCAA graduate transfer rule, joining last season's starter Russell Wilson on that short list.
"One thing I know that was big for me on my visit was fitting in with the players and the atmosphere," said O'Brien during a conference call on Wednesday. "Obviously you've got to come in and work hard and earn your respect. The guys there are hard working guys. No big egos on the team. A lot of guys that are hungry to win, and I respect that. That's kind of how I approach the game, so I think it'll be a good fit."
O'Brien is expected to graduate from Maryland in mid-May, and he said he intends on coming to Wisconsin before the summer graduate programs begin in early June. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining and won't be required to sit out a year.
Last season, Wilson transferred to Wisconsin after graduating from North Carolina State but had just one year of eligibility remaining. Wilson threw for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading the Badgers to an 11-3 finish and a spot in the Rose Bowl.
O'Brien's decision to transfer comes at the perfect time for Wisconsin, which had been desperate for a quarterback with game experience. During spring practice, the Badgers had a total of two healthy quarterbacks — Joe Brennan and Joel Stave — to participate in live drills, and neither possessed the experience of O'Brien.
Brennan, a redshirt freshman, appeared in six games during mop-up duty in 2011 behind Wilson. He completed 6 of 15 passes for 48 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Stave, a freshman from Greenfield, Wis., did not appear in a game in 2011.
The other two quarterbacks on the depth chart, Jon Budmayr (elbow) and Curt Phillips (knee), have been sidelined with injuries for a considerable amount of time.
O'Brien clearly represents a significant upgrade to Wisconsin's program.
In 2010, under coach Ralph Friedgen's pro-style offense, O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year at Maryland. He threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 10 starts. He led the Terrapins to a 9-4 record, but the team fell to 2-10 in 2011 while O'Brien threw for only 1,648 yards and seven touchdowns with 10 interceptions in nine starts.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound O'Brien struggled last season in new coach Randy Edsall's spread offense. His 2011 season ended Nov. 12, when he suffered a broken bone in his non-throwing arm during a loss to Notre Dame.
Reports of O'Brien potentially playing for Wisconsin first surfaced when he was granted a release to transfer by Edsall on Feb. 22. One month later, O'Brien finally made the trip to see Wisconsin's football team, which operates out of a similar pro-style offense that O'Brien ran in 2010 at Maryland.
"We're excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin," said Badgers coach Bret Bielema in a statement. "The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny's interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program. From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character.
"He had a fantastic visit, and our current players who met him came away impressed. Having graduated from Maryland in just three years, you know right away that he is a smart kid.
"As is the case with any player who joins our program, we have not promised Danny anything other than the chance to come in during the fall and compete for the starting quarterback position. He understands that and is excited for that opportunity."
O'Brien said he met with members of Wisconsin's offensive line and backfield during his visit on Saturday, in addition to first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and came away impressed with the size and strength of the linemen.
"You hear how big those guys are, but when you actually see them practice, it does them justice," O'Brien said. "Any time you can have a solid running game, not only is that big, but it allows so many other things to happen — be it one-on-one matchups outside, play-action game, naked (bootlegs), things like that. If you can start with a good running game, it really helps your offense in a lot of ways."
With O'Brien in the fold, Wisconsin appears to be a contender to win a third straight Big Ten championship. And O'Brien understands he'll be building off the success of Wilson, with whom he now shares a similar path.
"I did not talk to him in the process," O'Brien said. "Still haven't. But obviously his success was something I followed a little bit being that I played with him in the ACC. The fact that he kind of showed that it's possible was big."
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