In hindsight, the Wilson comparisons weren't realistic, although O'Brien had been successful as a redshirt freshman at Maryland. Wisconsin needed quarterbacks, and O'Brien, with two years of eligibility left and ACC starting experience under his belt, seemed like a solid option.
But it became clear early on that O'Brien wouldn't be the answer in Madison. And now his time as a Badger reportedly is over.
O'Brien has left the Wisconsin program, foxsportswisconsin.com reported Monday. O'Brien's high school coach, Todd Willert, told the Web site that O’Brien informed him he won’t return to Wisconsin for the 2013 season. O'Brien also confirmed to badgernation.com that he has left the program.
The decision isn't a major surprise after Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen tapped Curt Phillips and Joel Stave as the frontrunners for the team's starting quarterback spot coming out of spring practice. O'Brien competed for the job alongside Phillips, Stave and redshirt freshman Bart Houston in the spring but didn't measure up. Houston could be the team's quarterback of the future, and Andersen also brought in Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college transfer who arrives this summer.
O'Brien had to impress the new coaching staff after struggling in 2012. He opened the season as Wisconsin's starter but lost his starting job to Stave in Week 4. When Stave broke his collarbone in Week 9 against Michigan State, O'Brien relieved him but couldn't move the offense in an eventual overtime loss. After an open week, Wisconsin turned to Phillips rather than O'Brien.
O'Brien finishes his brief Badgers career with 523 pass yards on 52 of 86 attempts with three touchdowns and an interception. He also fumbled five times, losing three.
It's unclear whether he'll use his final season of eligibility.
"He's a great kid," Willert told foxsportswisconsin.com. "He'll find something. I really don't know what his plans are right now. If it's to keep pursuing football, obviously he still has one year of eligibility left. I'm sure if it's to pursue football, he'll be very successful in that. Whatever he does, he'll be successful in. He's just that kind of kid. But in this day and age of college sports, nothing surprises me anymore. Four different head coaches in four years is pretty crazy."
Willert brings up a good point about all the transition O'Brien went through. His career could have been very different if Ralph Friedgen had remained Maryland's coach (O'Brien was ACC Rookie of the Year under Friedgen in 2010). But he had his chances at Wisconsin and couldn't come through. Barring a wave of injuries, he wouldn't have been part of the Badgers' quarterback plans this season.