Big Ten: Dustin Sherer

You know times are changing when the candidates for preseason awards are being announced through Twitter, but that's exactly what's happening with the 2010 Manning Award.

We learned through the Sugar Bowl's Twitter page today that Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien has been named to the preseason watch list, joining Stanford's Andrew Luck. We'll find out more watch list candidates, including others from the Big Ten, in the coming days.

Tolzien led Wisconsin to a 10-3 record and a Champs Sports Bowl championship in his first year as the starter. Once an afterthought in the Badgers' quarterback race, Tolzien beat out Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips for the top job last summer. He went on to lead the Big Ten in pass efficiency (143 rating), passing for 2,705 yards and 16 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and completing 64.3 percent of his attempts.

Few pegged Tolzien to see much field time with Wisconsin, much less make preseason watch lists for national quarterback awards, so this is quite a story.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Two months ago, Scott Tolzien was the forgotten man at Wisconsin. His name barely got mentioned in discussions of the Badgers' quarterback competition, which most viewed as a two-man race between Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips. Now Tolzien is the starting quarterback of a 4-0 Wisconsin team that hopes to retain Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday at Minnesota (ESPN, noon ET). He leads the Big Ten and ranks 13th nationally in pass efficiency (164.3), and he earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors after tossing four touchdown passes in a win against Michigan State.
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Scott Tolzien has guided the Badgers to a 4-0 start heading into Saturday's game at Minnesota.

Tolzien checked in earlier this week to discuss his success and the challenges ahead.

How has your life changed here the last couple of weeks?

Scott Tolzien: Not too much. It hasn't been too much different. I'm just an Average Joe, I guess.

Have you exceeded your own expectations so far, or has it been what you expected?

ST: I came into the season with a lot of confidence. Every quarterback has to have that level of confidence if they want to be successful. But I don't think I've exceeded my expectations. I've played good football to this point, but there's still a lot of throws on the field that I haven't made that I can improve upon.

Where did that confidence come from? Was it the way you performed in camp?

ST: I'm a veteran. This is my fourth year, so it's not like this was anything I hadn't seen before. But it was also a good summer of work, watching film and throwing with the receivers. I just had a good camp and that boosted my confidence as well.

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The term game manager makes most quarterbacks cringe, especially in this era of silly stats and gimmicky offenses.

Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien has a different opinion.

"I take that as a compliment," he said. "If you're managing games, usually that's a good thing for your team. If someone wants to call me a game manager, I'm completely fine with that."
 
 AP Photo/Morry Gash
 QB Scott Tolzien (16) isn't afraid of the game manager tag.


Badgers head coach Bret Bielema decided to call Tolzien his starting quarterback, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior from Rolling Meadows, Ill., will lead the offense onto the field for Saturday's opener against Northern Illinois. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips also is expected to see time for Wisconsin, but Tolzien has earned the first opportunity.

Tolzien seemed like an afterthought in the quarterback competition entering preseason camp. Senior Dustin Sherer started the final seven games last season, and Phillips came on strong toward the end of spring practice and inched ahead in the race midway through fall camp.

But Tolzien picked up his play during the second full week of practice and gradually won over the coaches with his steadiness and consistency.

"My game is just playing steady, sound football," Tolzien said. "I felt like doing that would give me the best chance to win [the competition]. And also, just trying not to take the game too seriously, going out there and having fun with it."

Maintaining a relaxed approach isn't easy during a scrutinized quarterback competition, especially one for a team that needs improved play under center this fall. Then again, Tolzien has been through this before.

He competed with Sherer and eventual starter Allan Evridge last year and was a redshirt freshman when Evridge and Sherer lost out to Tyler Donovan in 2007.

"I've been around that and learned from the past on how to deal with it," Tolzien said. "Each year, you're supposed to get wiser, and I felt like I learned a lot from that, learned not to take it too serious and don't make it more than just a game."

After two seasons on the sideline, Tolzien saw his first game action last fall, completing 5 of 8 passes for 107 yards and an interception in three appearances. He also rushed for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Despite his limited experience, Tolzien isn't concerned about cracking in the spotlight. Often described as a heady player, his mental approach and consistency could be his biggest strengths.

"He just handled the whole camp a little bit better than anybody else, just the composure of day-to-day business," Bielema said. "But on the same account, he showed me an improved accuracy in throwing the football, did a better job than he did in the spring of handling everything that came at him, from pressures to getting things right at the line of scrimmage.

"I'm excited to see him go out there and play Saturday."

Asked if Tolzien fits the game manager mold, Bielema laughed.

"That's why we made the move," the coach said. "We hope he is."

And Tolzien seems just fine with the title.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you picked Scott Tolzien and Zach Brown to form Wisconsin's starting offensive backfield before training camp, hop on the first flight to Las Vegas.

Wisconsin will reveal its depth chart for the season opener at some point this morning, but Tolzien and Brown are expected to occupy the top spots at quarterback and running back, respectively. It's an unlikely pairing, to say the least, and further proves that nothing is guaranteed in preseason camp and strong performances are rewarded.

Both Tolzien and Brown looked like long shots for the starting jobs after the spring.

The quarterback race appeared to be between senior Dustin Sherer, who started the final seven games last fall, and versatile redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. After talking with offensive coordinator Paul Chryst last month, I wasn't surprised to see Phillips leapfrog Sherer in the pecking order. Last week, Wisconsin gave Phillips more reps with the first-team offense. Right around the same time, Tolzien started to make a push. While Phillips continued to struggle with his consistency, throwing four interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage, Tolzien continued his steady play.

Head coach Bret Bielema says he'll likely use multiple quarterbacks in the Sept. 5 opener against Northern Illinois, but Tolzien could walk out there first. Chryst obviously wanted to see more clarity in this year's QB race than last year's, when he "felt it was [won] a little bit by default." With all the shuffling, I'm not sure Wisconsin achieved separation, but Bielema sounded pleased with his quarterbacks following Wednesday's scrimmage.
"It's not like we've got a situation where we don't know who we are putting in there," Bielema said. "We're trying to find the best fit. I'm comfortable with what helps us win. Asked last spring if I'd ever play a two-headed monster at quarterback I said no. That pretty much would be my preference.

"But when you have [multiple] players playing well -- and I'm not saying we're at that point -- but if that is what it is, then that's what it is and you move forward."Brown might have pulled the bigger upset in supplanting John Clay for the top running back job. Though Brown certainly had some solid credentials, Clay finished as the Big Ten's seventh leading rusher last fall and was pegged as the obvious heir apparent to P.J. Hill. Clay's size, ferocious running style and local roots make him a fan favorite, but Brown simply outplayed him this month.

I can't say I saw this coming, but it certainly adds intrigue to the start of a critical season for Wisconsin.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Coming out of spring practice, it looked likely that Dustin Sherer and John Clay would open the season as Wisconsin's starting offensive backfield.

Now it appears neither man will take the field when the Badgers' offense lines up Sept. 5 against Northern Illinois.

Sherer, who started the final seven games last season at quarterback, has slipped back in the race. Head coach Bret Bielema confirmed that redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and junior Scott Tolzien have created some separation. Phillips has looked like the frontrunner for most of camp, but Tolzien came on strong last week.

"I said I think it was a week ago that a [veteran] player has got to show us a certain amount of things," Bielema said. "And other guys you've got to see what they can do with reps. Scott and Curt have taken advantage of those reps. Nothing against Dustin. He is doing some good things but we want to see where those guys can go in this week."

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Zach Brown has overtaken Clay at running back. Clay finished seventh in the league in rushing last fall (884 yards) despite backing up P.J. Hill, and he was expected to become a star this season. I named Clay as the 16th best player in the league this spring.

Instead, Brown could open the year as the starter.

[Running backs coach John Settle] made it clear Brown is the No. 1 tailback and it is looking more and more like he'll open the season as the No. 1 back, with John Clay No. 2.

Wow. Very interesting stuff in Madison.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Curt Phillips is taking most of the reps with Wisconsin's first-team offense this week, and I can't say that I'm surprised.

After talking with Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst two weeks ago, the signs suggested Phillips had a good chance to overtake senior Dustin Sherer and junior Scott Tolzien. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema told me this morning that all three quarterbacks have had good moments so far in camp, but the staff made the decision to give Phillips most of the work this week.

"[Phillips] hasn't gotten the reps that those other two guys have gotten," Bielema said, "and we want to see what he can do when he gets a lot of reps and a lot of work and if he can move forward as a football player. If it wasn't warranted, we wouldn't have done it. If he hadn't been performing, if he wasn't giving us reason to believe in something."

Phillips brings excellent athleticism to the quarterback spot and can scramble well if a play breaks down. He helped his cause with a strong effort in Wisconsin's spring game, completing 10 of 16 pass attempts for 122 yards and two touchdowns as well as running for a score.

The coaches have liked the carryover to preseason practice. Chryst wanted to have some degree of definition by Week 2 of camp, and Phillips appears to have provided it. Bielema identified Phillips' composure as one of his biggest strengths.

"I don't think much rattles him," Bielema said. "You always hear cornerbacks have to have short-term memories. They get beat on a play and have to bounce right back. Probably the people who need to have the shortest memories of all are quarterbacks. They have to make all the right decisions.

"We're not ready to crown anybody king yet, but the part that we can do is begin to see how we handle situations."

Bielema would like to have a starter in pace 10 days before the opener as Wisconsin begins its scouting report for Northern Illinois. True freshman Jon Budmayr will be redshirted in all likelihood, but both Sherer and Tolzien are still alive in the race.

Sherer started Wisconsin's final seven games last fall, and Tolzien has experience as a reserve and turned in his best practice of camp Monday night.

"Those guys are definitely moving forward," Bielema said, "and that's a good thing."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Paul Chryst has been here before. In fact, it seems like the Wisconsin offensive coordinator enters every preseason camp unsure of who will start at quarterback for the Badgers. This year will be no different as senior Dustin Sherer, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and junior Scott Tolzien compete for the top job this month.

 
  David Stluka/Getty Images
  Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is evaluating several quarterbacks this summer.
The quarterback position hurt Wisconsin throughout the 2008 season, as Allan Evridge struggled and was replaced by Sherer, who had mixed results. Wisconsin should be much better at wide receiver and just as good at tight end this fall, so if things improve under center, the offense should surge.

Chryst had some interesting thoughts about the competition when we spoke last week, proving why he's one of my favorite coaches to interview in the league. Let's see if you can read between the lines.

When we talked in the spring, you said you hoped to narrow things down to two quarterbacks. Are you there yet, or is more three guys?

Paul Chryst: We're getting closer. We're kind of there, but there's a window for all of the guys. You wouldn't eliminate anyone right way, but if it goes on like it did in the spring, it'll go to two [players] pretty quick. Because there is uncertainty, you don't feel like there's anyone you'd whack right now. They'll have a little window, but logistics wise, you've got to get to where [the top players] have got to get reps. Your first five days or so are installation, but Week 2, you've got to start focusing in a little bit.

Did Curt close the gap at the end of the spring to put himself in the mix? What are you looking for from him when you start up?

PC: He did some things through the course of the spring and he gave himself a chance. He gets more benefit of the doubt. He certainly made more mistakes than Dustin or Scott Tolzien did, the two older kids. But he did some stuff to warrant more work. He was far from perfect in the spring but did some good things.

With Curt's athleticism, how much does he bring there that allows you to open up the playbook a little more?

PC: Yeah, he can make some plays with his feet and his athleticism, but there's no dodging the fact that you've got to be able to make throws and plays in the passing game. That's a part of his game he's got to be able to use and we've got to put him in that situation. But the deciding factor will be, can he do it in the passing game?

What was your evaluation of Dustin coming out of the spring?

PC: I thought he started the spring better than he finished it. That was disappointing to me because you'd like to finish better than you start. He started out early and did some things to separate himself, and then did some things at the end of spring ball that you just can't do, things that will get you beat. He knows that and I'm anxious and looking forward to see how he comes into camp.

Was it just decision making or more of a technique thing that he wasn't executing as well as you'd like?

PC: It was bottom line, execution. You'd expect a higher level of execution.

Does the age of the quarterbacks ever play a factor for you in these decisions?

PC: You're lying if you're not aware of it, but you owe it to the team to go with the best player that gives you the best chance to win. Where it does come into play is the young guys and the old guys can make the same mistakes, but you're more disappointed in the older kid. So age does play in. You're not as disappointed in that mistake with the young guy. There's certain things you expect from your upperclassmen and you get to a point [with mistakes] where you have to be beyond that. Certainly this spring, Jon [Budmayr] and Curt had twice as many negative plays as Dustin and Scott, and yet some of the ones that Scott and Dustin made, they're to the point where they can't be making those.

So do the older guys have a shorter leash in camp?

PC: It is a shorter leash, only if the other ones are improving. That's what you struggle with in something like this. You want them all to grow and they need to grow because you don't know what's going to happen with the situation. You've just got to get out there and play. Expectations have to be high. Where the age doesn't come in is you don't sit there and say, 'Well, this guy's younger, so if he's not as good, maybe he'll be better.' You still need to play your best guy.

If you're at a point two weeks into camp and it's pretty even between the older guys and the younger guys, does age play any greater role then, where you can go with the younger guy because you have more time with him?

PC: That is true, if the young guy is still on the rise, if he's improving and will continue to improve. That's the benefit of youth. There's the belief that they'll keep improving. What I think will be important is Dustin's got a combination of youth in the sense that he's only started seven games, but he's also been here five years and we've done a lot of things. So we'll see if his learning curve or level of improvement is a little bit higher than one might think from a fifth-year guy.

Overall, do you feel different about the competition this year than last year?

PC: Because it's a different player and a different team, it's different. At this point, you'd like to have a returning starter. You'd like to have a guy that clearly emerged from spring ball. But it's also not a terrible situation right now. I'm not like, 'Geez, where we at?' The worst thing that can happen is what happened last year, where no one really wins it. You want someone to win it. Last year, I felt it was a little bit by default. That's the thing I want to avoid.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.

Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.

MICHIGAN

Camp opens: Monday

1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?

Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.

2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?

Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.

3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?

The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.

MICHIGAN STATE

Camp opens: Monday

1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?

Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.

2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?

None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.

3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?

Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to break down the most important position on the field, which should be much improved in the Big Ten this year. The league returns its top six rated passers and its passing yards leader in Illinois' Juice Williams.

Depth also plays a huge role at quarterback and could hurt teams that have a big dropoff in experience between the first and second strings. Keep in mind these rankings assess the entire position, not just the starters.

Here's the rundown:

1. Illinois -- The final step in Juice Williams' evolution takes place this fall. No Big Ten quarterback boasts more in-game experience than Williams, who had an amazing first half last season but struggled mightily down the stretch. He'll have the league's top wide receiving corps at his disposal. Eddie McGee has more experience than most Big Ten backups, and redshirt freshman Jacob Charest will push McGee for the No. 2 spot.

2. Minnesota -- I'm sure I'll take some heat for putting the Gophers this high, but there's a lot to like between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray. Weber has thrown 39 career touchdown passes and battled through some less than ideal circumstances the last two seasons. He reunites with All-America candidate Eric Decker to form one of the league's top passing combos. Weber will be the starter, but Gray has drawn rave reviews and figures to play an integral role in the offense.

3. Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor showed unmistakable signs of progress in spring ball, and his teammates saw leadership skills develop during the summer. The Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year still has a lot to prove, as does an offense that ranked 105th nationally in passing last year. Former minor league baseball player Joe Bauserman certainly has the arm strength to step in for Pryor, though Ohio State's overall depth at quarterback looks shaky.

4. Penn State -- Daryll Clark is the league's best quarterback and should have gotten the nod for preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Clark also appears to be the Big Ten's most indispensible player, mainly because of his skill but also because of who's behind him. If Clark goes down, Penn State would turn to a true freshman in Kevin Newsome who enrolled early. Newsome did some nice things in the spring but doesn't look ready for the spotlight just yet.

5. Iowa -- It's no secret that I expect big things from Ricky Stanzi, who showed impressive poise in bouncing back from mistakes last fall and still helped Iowa to a 9-4 mark. Stanzi will have much more pressure on his shoulders without Shonn Greene in the backfield, but he looks up to the task. Much like Penn State, Iowa doesn't have a proven backup and will turn to redshirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke if necessary.

6. Michigan State -- The race for the starting job is too close to call, and head coach Mark Dantonio might not settle on a guy until Big Ten play. But the Spartans appear to have two very good options in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins performed well as Brian Hoyer's backup last fall, while Nichol, the Oklahoma transfer, has drawn comparisons to Drew Stanton with his athleticism. Heralded recruit Andrew Maxwell also is in the mix.

7. Northwestern -- Mike Kafka isn't a stranger to the spotlight despite not starting since his freshman year in 2006. Kafka turned in a record-setting performance in relief of C.J. Bacher last November at Minnesota, rushing for 217 yards. He needs to complement his mobility with a more consistent passing game. Northwestern is fully prepared to play a second quarterback and will turn to sophomore Dan Persa, who did some nice things this spring.

8. Wisconsin -- Quarterback was the Badgers' Achilles' heel last fall, and there are some lingering questions about the position as camp begins. Senior Dustin Sherer did a decent job in a tough situation in 2008, but he'll need to become more consistent and limit his sacks. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips came on strong late in spring practice and brings athleticism to the quarterback spot. Phillips could provide the continuity at quarterback that Wisconsin fans desperately seek, but he still has more to prove this month.

9. Michigan -- Things definitely will get better for Michigan at quarterback this fall, but how quickly? True freshman Tate Forcier enters preseason camp as the frontrunner for the starting job after impressing his coaches during spring ball and the Michigan fans in the spring game. He'll be joined by classmate Denard Robinson, who boasts track-star speed. And don't forget about Nick Sheridan, who was showing progress this spring before breaking a bone in his leg. This group could soar up the list, but it has a lot to prove.

10. Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch has a ton of confidence in Ben Chappell, which is nice to see. But Chappell needs to become a bigger factor in the offense after completing just 52.3 percent of his passes for 91 yards a game last fall. He'll be working with a better offensive line but a young group of receivers that needs playmakers to emerge. Backups Teddy Schell and Adam Follett have little experience.

11. Purdue -- Miami transfer Robert Marve can't play until next year, and Purdue lost its projected starter Justin Siller to academic issues in the spring. Career backup Joey Elliott finally gets his chance to shin
e this fall, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs. Elliott is a very smart quarterback and a good leader, but his in-game résumé leaves a lot to be desired. The coaches are high on redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush, who could push Elliott for playing time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the forecast for Wisconsin in 2009.

1. Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips both start games at quarterback this fall -- Sherer figures to get the first shot and could stay there throughout the fall, but Phillips' athleticism and youth will tempt the coaching staff. Wisconsin needs some continuity under center, and Phillips might be able to provide it if he continues to make progress after a late-spring push. The quarterback position will once again frustrate Badgers fans at times, but with three solid tight ends and an improved group of wide receivers, the passing game should be better.

2. The front four will be the strength of the Badgers' defense -- Sure, three multiyear starters are gone (Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman and Matt Shaughnessy), but the line had an excellent offseason and boasts a nice mix of youth and experience. Senior end O'Brien Schofield is ready to lead, and Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt will be one of the Big Ten's most valuable additions this fall. Young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu also provide reasons for optimism up front.

3. Wisconsin capitalizes on a very favorable schedule -- This could easily be a six-win team that ends up 8-4, thanks to a beneficial slate. The Badgers open with four consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium, where they remain extremely tough to beat. Their two toughest home games (Michigan State and Iowa) are both winnable, and aside from a trip to Ohio State, the road slate doesn't look too daunting. Head coach Bret Bielema will stop the slide after seeing his wins total drop in each of the past two seasons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's nearly August, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham still doesn't know who will be throwing him passes this season.

What else is new?

 
  Tim Larson/Icon SMI
  Garrett Graham led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns last season.

"You get used to it, I guess," Graham said. "It seems like the same thing happens every year in our program. But I don't think a lot of guys worry about it. The best guy is going to play and you can't argue with that."

Graham has grown accustomed to Wisconsin's revolving door at quarterback. He worked with John Stocco in 2006, Tyler Donovan in 2007 and both Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer last year.

The uncertainty under center will create some concern among Badgers fans heading into the fall, but they have no such worries about the personnel turnover among the tight ends/H-backs.

Former All-American Travis Beckum has moved on, but Graham leads a formidable group that should once again be a strong point for the team.

Beckum's injury woes in 2008 created increased opportunities for Graham, who led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5). Graham enters the fall as a candidate for the Mackey Award and will be backed up by veterans Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner.

"We have to put the offense on our shoulders this year," Graham said.

Beckum put up big numbers in 2006 and 2007 at the H-back position, a place where Graham could see increased time this season. Graham and Turner both can move seamlessly between the tight end and H-back spots, and Kendricks, listed primarily as an H-back, is starting to gain the same versatility.

"I'm comfortable being on the line and motioning into the backfield, dropping back into a fullback position every once in a while," Graham said. "Then again, I'm fine with being split out on a single side."

Graham will be an asset to Wisconsin's quarterback no matter where he lines up. After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, the 6-foot-4, 248-pound Graham filed paperwork with the NFL to check his draft status before opting to return.

Graham declined to say where he was projected in April's draft but "never really seriously considered" leaving Wisconsin. He spent the offseason developing his speed and quickness to complement his sturdy frame.

"We incorporated a lot more speed and agility this year, and I feel as fast as I ever had and as agile," he said. "It definitely paid off."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin's unsettled quarterback competition is a hot topic throughout Badger Nation, even within the family of head coach Bret Bielema.

Bielema sent this amusing tweet Wednesday afternoon on his Twitter page.

"Have had my parents in town for a few days to relax with them... Problem is all my dad wants to do is ask a million questions about QB's."

Whether Arnie Bielema gets some inside information out of his son is unknown, but it's pretty funny that even he is asking about the quarterbacks. As for Bret, he'll be dealing with such queries until the situation is settled and a viable quarterback emerges for the Badgers.

Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips have emerged as the frontrunners in the competition, which resumes Aug. 10 as Wisconsin opens preseason practice.

Big Ten mailblog

July, 7, 2009
7/07/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Time to catch up on some of your questions.

Joe from Des Moines, Iowa, writes; This question seems very premature, but looking into the future I have been wondering if there would be any possible return to Iowa for Bret Bielmema. It's been well documented that the lack of success in the badger state has come down on his head. There is obvious ties to the Hawkeyes. Could he be a new "head coach in waiting?" Norm Parker is loved by Hawks fans and no one can dispute how he has had an effect on the defense, but how many 70 year olds can keep up this pace? Would Bielema accept a demotion (?) back to defensive coordinator if removed from Wisconsin or is it more tempting continue running his own program somewhere else? Is this a story line 4-5 months from now?

Adam Rittenberg: I wonder if there's an unwritten rule about how many schools someone can be tabbed head coach in-waiting. After all, Bielema already held the tag at Wisconsin. Though there does seem to be increasing outside pressure on Bielema, he would really need to struggle this season to lose his job. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez hired Bielema as his own successor, and Alvarez would need to be pushed heavily by his bosses to make a change. Norm Parker won't be succeeding Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, but neither will Bielema. It's an interesting scenario you present, but a highly unlikely one.


Adam from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: Who will start for UM at safety this year and how do you expect them to perform?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Adam, and I doubt even the Wolverines coaches know at this point. Stevie Brown was used as a linebacker-safety hybrid for most of the spring, and he'll likely spend more time in the box than in the secondary. Troy Woolfolk should be one of the starters at safety, most likely at the free position. Mike Williams appears to be the frontrunner at strong safety, but several other players (Brandon Smith, Jared Van Slyke) also are in the mix. But you could say safety is Michigan's biggest concern on defense heading into the fall.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin's quarterback competition added another contender as Nate Tice, the son of former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice, has joined the team as a walk-on.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema confirmed Tice's arrival Friday in a text message to ESPN.com.

Tice redshirted at Central Florida in 2007 before opting to leave the team weeks before the 2008 season. He attended a junior college last year in Florida. He'll have three years of eligibility left with the Badgers.

Tice, who attended high school in Edina, Minn., told Scout.com (subscription required) that he contacted both Wisconsin and Iowa to gauge their interest about walking onto the team.

"They both called me back in within a week. Iowa told me that were pretty set at quarterback and that I probably wouldn't play. Wisconsin called me a couple days after that and wanted me to come on a visit and were very positive of the whole thing. They were excited and they got me real excited. It's always nice to be back in the Midwest. I grew up in Minnesota, so it's only four hours away, and I always liked Wisconsin."

Wisconsin appeared to get some clarity in its quarterback competition toward the end of spring practice as Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips created some separation. Still, adding Tice isn't a bad idea because the Badgers have nothing to lose and quarterback play was a major problem last season.

"The whole quarterback situation is perfect," Tice told Scout.com. "It's not like there is going to be a four-year starter. Every year there is going to be a competition. If I play very good, I have a chance, and all I want is a chance. The tradition of playing in the Big Ten and playing for the chance at a Rose Bowl is overwhelming."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A team is often only as good as its backup quarterback, a fact that held true throughout the Big Ten in 2008.

Pat Devlin scored arguably the biggest touchdown of Penn State's season at Ohio State as the Nittany Lions rallied for a 13-6 win. Mike Kafka's record-setting rushing performance against Minnesota helped Northwestern to a huge win after injuries had hit several important positions. Several Big Ten squads also had backups emerge into starters, such as Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.

Several Big Ten backups haven't played a down in a college game, so it's tough to pass judgment on them. But here's my stab at ranking the league's backup signal callers coming out of spring ball.

1. Michigan State -- The competition for the starting job between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol remains too close to call, and that's not a bad thing. Both players performed very well during spring ball and particularly during the spring game. Whoever doesn't win the top job provides head coach Mark Dantonio with a solid No. 2 option. Cousins already held the role last fall and performed well.

2. Minnesota -- Head coach Tim Brewster reiterated throughout the spring that Adam Weber is his starter, but he also acknowledged that talented freshman MarQueis Gray will get on the field a lot this fall. Gray lived up to the hype in spring ball, and the Gophers likely will use a special package of plays to feature him in games. Should Weber go down, Minnesota should be fine with Gray.

3. Illinois -- The Illini boast the Big Ten's most experienced signal caller in Juice Williams, and they also have the league's most seasoned backup in Eddie McGee. McGee appeared in 12 games in 2007 and came up big against Missouri, Wisconsin and Penn State. The coaches have even used McGee on a series or two when Williams gets into trouble. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest provides another solid option.

4. Ohio State -- Overall depth at quarterback is the only reason the Buckeyes aren't higher on the list. The coaches have confidence that Joe Bauserman can step in if Terrelle Pryor goes down with an injury. Bauserman boasts a strong arm and good knowledge of the scheme. It remains to be seen what Ohio State gets out of third-stringer Kenny Guiton, a late signee in February.

5. Wisconsin -- The starting job is not set in stone, though senior Dustin Sherer remains the frontrunner heading into the summer. Curt Phillips' push toward the end of spring should ease offensive coordinator Paul Chryst's concerns about the position. Phillips brings speed and athleticism to the backfield, and junior Scott Tolzien is a smart player who has been in the system for some time.

6. Michigan -- True freshman Tate Forcier emerged from a solid spring as the frontrunner at quarterback, though he'll still be pushed by Nick Sheridan and Denard Robinson in August. Sheridan has been in the fire and showed some good signs during spring ball before breaking his leg. But he might not be as strong of a fit as Robinson, who boasts track-star speed and, like Forcier, provides the improvisation skills needed to run this offense.

7. Northwestern -- Pat Fitzgerald and his staff are fully prepared to play a second quarterback at times this season. The nature of Northwestern's spread offense elevates the injury risk for quarterbacks, and Dan Persa likely will see the field, much like Kafka did in 2008. Persa's size (6-1, 200) is a bit of a concern, though he brings above-average mobility to the pocket. Incoming freshman Evan Watkins likely will redshirt this fall, but he's considered the team's quarterback of the future.

8. Purdue -- The Boilers would have been much better off with Justin Siller still in the fold, but the coaches liked what they saw from redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush this spring. Career backup Joey Elliott will get the first shot under center this fall, but TerBush is a big kid (6-5, 222) who can step in if things go south. The problem here is depth, as Purdue can't play Robert Marve until 2010.

9. Penn State -- Devlin's decision to transfer really stings Penn State, which can't afford to lose Daryll Clark and keep its Big Ten title hopes afloat. True freshman Kevin Newsome did some nice things this spring, but he's got a long way to go before leading the Spread HD offense in a Big Ten game. Matt McGloin provides the Nittany Lions with another option under center, but Penn State should take every precaution to keep Clark healthy.

10. Indiana -- The coaches' decision to move Kellen Lewis to wide receiver not only reaffirmed their faith in starter Ben Chappell, but also the men behind him. Teddy Schell came to Indiana as a decorated high school quarterback in Illinois and should finally get a chance to showcase himself. But Schell is unproven on the college level, and the same goes for promising redshirt freshman Adam Follett.

11. Iowa -- Nothing against James Vandenberg or John Wienke, but the college canvas is pretty blank on both redshirt freshmen right now. Despite all the Jake Christensen hatred, many level-headed Hawkeyes fans wouldn't mind having him around this season to back up Ricky Stanzi. An injury to Stanzi could derail Iowa's Big Ten title hopes, particularly with four very difficult conference road games (Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State).

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