How Does O’Brien Impact the Big Ten Race?
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 29, 2012
It’s Tuesday. No, it’s Thursday. But think back to Tuesday, or even as late as Wednesday morning. Call it P.D.O.B.: Pre-Danny O’Brien. His arrival drastically alters Wisconsin’s fortunes heading into 2011, helping the Badgers avoid what could have been a painful situation at quarterback. Wisconsin’s gain is the rest of the Big Ten’s loss, to one Legends division rival in particular. Again, think back to Tuesday: How would you have projected the division to play out if the Badgers had gone into the fall with either Joe Brennan or Jon Budmayr starting at quarterback?
Any projection most likely still had the Badgers winning the Leaders. But it would have been far from a sure pick, unlike a season ago, when Wisconsin was the division’s overwhelming favorite. Even with quarterback issues, which Leaders rival had what it took to unseat the Badgers from atop the division?
In a way, Wisconsin’s addition of O’Brien doesn’t significantly impact the Leaders race — if you already viewed the Badgers as the favorite, the new quarterback only solidifies that belief. A better question asks how you’d view the Leaders if Penn State, not Wisconsin, had landed O’Brien. Then you might have a rationale for altering your projected final standings, perhaps to look like this:
That’s the greatest impact O’Brien’s transfer has on the Leaders division: He chose Wisconsin, not Penn State, keeping out of the Nittany Lions’ hands the sort of quarterback the offense needs to be taken seriously as a Rose Bowl contender in Bill O’Brien’s first season.
The impact O’Brien’s arrival has on Ohio State is simpler. Brief and to the point: O’Brien makes Wisconsin better, of course, and the Buckeyes’ chances at earning a win at Camp Randall — where O.S.U. is always in for a dogfight — takes a serious hit. Not that it matters, considering that the Buckeyes are playing this season under a one-year postseason ban.
Looking at the Big Ten race as a whole, adding O’Brien greatly increases Wisconsin’s shot at reaching the Rose Bowl for the third straight year. Let’s say that the Badgers were able to survive the Big Ten season with Brennan the starter — that wouldn’t be such a long shot, considering that if all else fails, Wisconsin can just call on Montee Ball and James White to carry the load offensively.
But would Wisconsin be strong enough to get past Michigan in a hypothetical Big Ten title game? You’d already know the answer when it comes to Nebraska and Michigan State, two teams the Badgers will play during the regular season, but the Wolverines might have been too complete a football team for Wisconsin to handle.
They may be still; if all goes according to plan, we’ll find out in December. The bottom line for Wisconsin is that O’Brien represents a huge upgrade over the what-might-have-been scenario. Think of the impact: Penn State misses out on its quarterback; the Leaders division no longer seems up for grabs; and the road to the Rose Bowl becomes far more intimidating for the favorites in the Legends division.
Penn State takes the biggest hit. You can’t overestimate what it would mean to the Nittany Lions to have landed a proven pro-style quarterback of O’Brien’s caliber. It would have immediately legitimized Bill O’Brien’s first offense; instead, he’ll go to work with the triumvirate of McGloin, Bolden and Jones, hoping for the best.
Tags: Big Ten, Bill O'Brien, Danny O'Brien, Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin
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