Most Important Badgers No. 2: Joel Stave

Joel Stave completes 61.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns.

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No. 2 — Joel Stave, quarterback

Why he’s No. 2

Joel Stave detractors will cringe at seeing the quarterback ranked so highly on this list. But he still has been the team’s starting quarterback for the better part of two seasons, and the No. 1 job will be between him and Tanner McEvoy when fall camp arrives. If you’re a fan that wants to see Stave succeed, here are some numbers that should help the cause.

A year ago, Stave started every game for Wisconsin and finished fifth in program history for single-season passing yards (2,494), third in pass completions (208), sixth in completion percentage (.619) and second in passing touchdowns (22). Yes, he also struggled with his consistency on occasion with downfield throws and short dump-offs, but you simply can’t discount how good he played for much of the season with basically one wide receiver (Jared Abbrederis).

Stave is 13-6 in 19 career starts, he knows Wisconsin’s system and he continues to improve. He’s as essential as any player to the team’s success in 2014.

Expectations for 2014

Stave must beat out McEvoy for the starting job, and that will be no easy task. McEvoy played reasonably well during Wisconsin’s spring football game while Stave missed the last week recovering from a shoulder injury sustained Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. Obviously, Stave can’t win the job without first being healthy.

If Stave does indeed continue in his role as the No. 1 signal caller, his biggest area of improvement will need to be limiting turnovers. A year ago, he threw 13 interceptions on 336 throws. Over the previous two seasons, all Wisconsin quarterbacks threw a total of 11 interceptions on 619 throws. Stave also will have to demonstrate what offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig calls "repetitive accuracy" for all his throws. It isn’t good enough to wow spectators with a great 50-yard play-action pass if you can’t complete the 8-yard slant or you get picked off throwing an out route.

Stave has a real opportunity to leave Wisconsin as one of the top statistical quarterbacks in program history. He won’t be granted that chance, however, if he doesn’t improve his pocket presence, maintain better feet positioning and complete more passes.

What would they do without him?

If Stave is unable to fully recover from a shoulder injury or can’t play for any other reason, then Tanner McEvoy will be the guy at quarterback. Many fans want to see what McEvoy can bring to the team because he represents the dual-threat, athletic quarterback of the future at Wisconsin. McEvoy certainly has the ability to run in a way Stave doesn’t. It remains to be seen, however, what type of thrower McEvoy would be over the course of a long Big Ten season.

Some Badgers fans likely have taken Stave for granted the past two seasons, spoiled by Russell Wilson’s one year of success in 2011 and hopeful that someone else would come along to replicate that greatness. But Stave’s accomplishments in two seasons should not go overlooked. His college career could be at a crossroads this August, and it’s up to him to decide where that career goes.

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