Raining on Wisconsin’s Parade (Sort Of)
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 29, 2012
Continuity, the supporting cast and the knowledge that he’d be in good hands are the prime factors that drew Danny O’Brien to Wisconsin ahead of Penn State, Vanderbilt and Mississippi, the other three schools on his final shortlist of transfer destinations. O’Brien touched on these points during yesterday’s teleconference, saying that “the vibe [he] got at Wisconsin was special,” and noting how the path blazed by Russell Wilson last fall proved that it’s possible — especially in Madison — for a transfer to hit the ground running at a high level during his first season in a new offense.
At this time yesterday, the Badgers’ two-deep at quarterback featured sophomore Joe Brennan as the starter and former walk-on Joel Stave, a redshirt freshman, as his backup. This was due to injuries to Wisconsin’s three other options — Curt Phillips’ knee, Jon Budmayr’s elbow and Bart Houston’s shoulder.
In his university-issued statement yesterday afternoon, Bret Bielema made it clear that O’Brien was not guaranteed anything more than an equal chance at the starting nod. “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.”
The depth chart will shuffle, but not until the fall. O’Brien still needs to earn his degree at Maryland, which will keep him in College Park through May. During his teleconference, O’Brien said that he’ll leave for Madison shortly after graduation in order to participate in summer workouts. He’ll follow the same timetable that Wilson was on last year.
But by August, look for the depth chart to read as follows: O’Brien, Brennan, Stave. If he recovers some of the arm strength robbed by his nerve issues, Budmayr should end up as O’Brien’s backup; if he can’t, look for Wisconsin to try to gain a medical redshirt for either 2011 or 2012.
This would slow Budmayr’s clock by a year: currently a redshirt junior, Budmayr would exhaust his eligibility at the same time as O’Brien if the Badgers fail to land him a hardship waiver. In a perfect world, perhaps, Wisconsin would have a healthy Budmayr, then a sixth-year senior, compete with Houston for the starting role after O’Brien’s two years with the program.
This is putting the cart well ahead of the horse. But as we’ve seen over the last two years, Wisconsin needs to do a better job planning for the future at the quarterback position. Bielema’s recruiting strategy is to recruit only one quarterback and one running back in each class. This hasn’t hurt him at running back, but the strategy is to blame for his team’s quarterback woes.
It has opened Wisconsin up to the everyday issues that occur with every team: injuries and attrition. Others offset such losses by taking three or more quarterbacks over a two-year span; over the same period, the Badgers add only a pair of options at the position.
How much longer can Wisconsin afford to roll the dice with high-profile transfers? One factor that’s gone under the radar in terms of O’Brien’s addition is that he has two years of eligibility remaining, unlike in Wilson’s case. What that does for the Badgers is allow them to develop Houston, Brennan and another youngster — in the recruiting class of 2013 — while O’Brien holds down the fort.
At some point, however, the Badgers need to hit a home run with its own quarterback, not a rental from another B.C.S. conference. It’s somewhat easy to forget that for the better part of a decade, Wisconsin’s quarterback consistency was the envy of all but a select few F.B.S. programs. From 2000 through 2010, the Badgers had multiple-year starters in Brooks Bollinger, Jim Sorgi, John Stocco and Scott Tolzien.
Landing O’Brien waylays the overriding concerns over the quarterback position for at least two years. In 2014, after he’s exhausted his eligibility, Wisconsin may be back in the same boat. It would be foolish for Bielema to simply take the same tack — entering the transfer pool — when looking for his next starter two years down the road.
O’Brien is a Band-Aid in the same way that Wilson was a Band-Aid, with the difference being that O’Brien is a two-year rental. There’s nothing wrong with this: If he’s anything like Wilson, O’Brien might lead the Badgers to even greater heights in 2012 and 2013. But lightning rarely strikes twice. Even if O’Brien is a hit — and here’s guessing he will be — it’s even less likely that lightning will strike a third time in 2014.
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