No clear favorite in battle for Badgers' starting QB
This is the first in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 7
Projected starter: Curt Phillips (redshirt senior), Joel Stave (redshirt sophomore) or Tanner McEvoy (redshirt sophomore)
Key backups: Bart Houston (redshirt freshman)
The breakdown: This may be one of the most intriguing position competitions found anywhere in the Big Ten because nobody -- aside from perhaps the coaching staff -- has any idea who will be the Week 1 starter.
Curt Phillips and Joel Stave both have starting experience from 2012, but Tanner McEvoy is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster handpicked by the current coaches. McEvoy also better fits the mold of a dual-threat signal caller that Gary Andersen and company has been seeking.
Phillips and Stave, of course, are no strangers to entering fall camp locked in an intense battle to be the starting quarterback. Last fall, Danny O'Brien transferred in from Maryland and won the starting job. But he lasted just three games before being benched for his lack of consistency in moving the offense.
Stave replaced O'Brien at halftime of the Utah State game and helped lead Wisconsin to a 16-14 comeback victory. Although he completed just 2 of 6 passes for 15 yards, he was declared the starter the following week and made six straight starts until he suffered a broken collarbone against Michigan State on Oct. 27.
On the season, Stave completed 70 of 119 passes (58.8 percent) for 1,104 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.
Phillips took over as the starter for Stave and started Wisconsin's final five games, including the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl. For the season, he completed 46 of 81 passes (56.8 percent) for 540 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
When it comes to comparisons, Stave clearly possesses the better arm and is a pocket passer with a Big Ten frame (6-foot-5, 227 pounds). But Phillips (6-3, 215 pounds) is as tough as they come and undoubtedly possesses the respect of his teammates for everything he has endured during a six-year college football career. He has undergone three ACL surgeries and missed entire seasons in 2010 and 2011. He also played the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Between the two, Phillips is considered a more mobile threat. He was the only quarterback on the roster last season to rush for positive yards (99). Stave, meanwhile, lost a total of 51 yards because of sacks and rarely left the pocket.
The wildcard in all of this is how McEvoy will handle Wisconsin's offensive concepts during fall camp. The 6-6, 215-pounder comes to Madison via Arizona Western College, where he passed for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also ran for 414 yards with six touchdowns.
McEvoy has been through the daily rigors of the FBS already, having spent one season at South Carolina before he transferred to junior college. And his advantage comes in his mobility.
One of Andersen's go-to phrases when he praises a quarterback is having someone who can beat opposing defenses with his arm, with his legs and with his mind. Not surprisingly, Andersen used all those descriptors about McEvoy. He also shared similar sentiments about his former quarterback at Utah State, Chuckie Keeton.
Last season when Andersen was at Utah State, Keeton ranked 16th among FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards (619) and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. As a comparison, no quarterback on Wisconsin's current roster has scored a rushing touchdown for the Badgers.
Best position battle: As mentioned above, the starting quarterback job is completely up for grabs between Stave, Phillips and McEvoy with fall camp beginning. Phillips appeared to have a slight edge on Stave during spring practices, but both split repetitions during the spring game with the first-team offense.
For what it's worth, Stave completed 15 of 20 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions during the spring game. Phillips completed 8 of 13 passes for 82 yards without any touchdowns or interceptions. Stave displayed the better arm, and if a winner were declared on the day, it would have been him.
McEvoy didn't arrive on campus until this summer, but he has every intention of winning the starting job immediately.
"The new coaches coming in, them rotating three quarterbacks last year, they were looking for a quarterback to come in and compete and hopefully start," McEvoy told FOXSportsWisconsin.com in February. "That's what I'm trying to do is just get down there, learn the offense as best I can and just compete with those guys and see where it takes us."
Best of the Big Ten: 1. Braxton Miller (Ohio State); 2. Taylor Martinez (Nebraska); 3. Kain Colter (Northwestern)
What separates all three quarterbacks from the rest of the Big Ten is their ability to excel in both the passing and running games. Miller is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, while Martinez and Colter have proven themselves to be effective on the big stage. Martinez passed for 2,871 yards and rushed for 1,019 yards last season as a junior. Colter passed for 872 yards and rushed for 894 yards and helped guide the Wildcats to their first bowl victory since 1949.
Other Big Ten quarterbacks that rank a notch below these three include Michigan's Devin Gardner and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase -- both of whom can also run and pass well.
None of Wisconsin's quarterbacks are considered elite-level signal callers, but they do land somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten, likely alongside Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell as the 2013 season begins. Given that the Badgers have two of the top running backs in the country (James White and Melvin Gordon), a talented offensive line and a solid tight end unit, it could be enough for Wisconsin to push for a 10-win season.
Curt Phillips says: "Obviously, they're bringing somebody else in this fall. That's something we weren't necessarily expecting, but it's kind of been the norm for us here.
"If there's anything I've learned in the six years here, it's you can't be looking over your shoulder. You've just got to do the best you can do, make the most of your reps and we'll see what happens."
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