- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Wisconsin fans probably got worried Monday when photos of Danny O'Brien wearing a Penn State jacket at the Nittany Lions' first spring practice began making their way around the Web.
Sure, O'Brien reportedly had enjoyed his visit to Madison during the weekend. But the coveted quarterback transfer was making his second trip to Penn State, which could show off a straight-from-the-NFL offense and a head coach (Bill O'Brien) who weeks ago was working with Tom Brady. Two SEC schools, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, also reportedly courted Danny O'Brien, the former ACC Rookie of the Year who decided to transfer from Maryland last month.
Wisconsin had some nice selling points, too: a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back (Montee Ball), Big Ten championship trophies from the past two seasons and a path to success blazed by another ACC quarterback transfer (Russell Wilson). A great college town doesn't hurt, either.
But the Badgers also had four new offensive assistants, including a new coordinator in Matt Canada. They were losing three stud offensive linemen and their top receiver. Despite three consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins, Wisconsin looked like a team that might have missed its window to become elite.
In many ways, Wisconsin had a tougher sell with O'Brien than it had with Wilson.
But by late Wednesday morning, any angst in Badger Land had turned to joy. Danny O'Brien will suit up for Wisconsin in 2012 and 2013.
O'Brien's decision to pick Wisconsin, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, confirms that the program remains an appealing destination despite the recent transition. While some fans grumbled when Wisconsin signed only 12 recruits in February, they were giddy about the 13th. Penn State would have been a good spot for O'Brien. He had ties to Vanderbilt because of head coach James Franklin. But in the end, he picked Wisconsin.
Here's coach Bret Bielema's statement on O'Brien's arrival:
"We're excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin. The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny's interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program. From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character. He had a fantastic visit and our current players who met him came away impressed. Having graduated from Maryland in just three years, you know right away that he is a smart kid.
"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."
There are several reasons Wisconsin should be excited -- and relieved -- about this addition.
The Badgers currently have only two healthy quarterbacks practicing this spring in Joe Brennan and Joel Stave. Neither is proven in games, and there are no guarantees that Jon Budmayr or Curt Phillips will be ready to go by the fall. People will mock Wisconsin for taking another transfer quarterback, but there's really no downside to this move. The Badgers need bodies at the quarterback spot.
Unlike Wilson, who played just one spectacular season in Madison, O'Brien has two years of eligibility left after graduating from Maryland in three years. Should he win the starting job this fall, he could establish some continuity under center for a team that hasn't had too much of it in recent years other than Scott Tolzien.
Wilson said former Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was a huge factor in his decision to pick Wisconsin over Auburn. Chryst is no longer at UW, leaving to become Pitt's head coach, but the program still appealed to O'Brien more than several others in major conferences. This is a good sign.
Moments after Wisconsin announced O'Brien's signing, Ball tweeted, "Danny o brien just messaged me this.. 'let's do this'... it shall be done then my man. #wiscONsin."
The Wilson comparisons will be made, but it's unfair to expect O'Brien to replicate what No. 16 did. O'Brien is a different type of quarterback. He struggled last season at Maryland, throwing 10 interceptions and seven touchdowns and lost his starting job. Then again, he thrived for the Terrapins under coach Ralph Friedgen in 2010 and didn't seem to fit with what the new staff wanted.
O'Brien clearly is a sharp guy, and he'll have to quickly absorb Wisconsin's offense, as Wilson did last summer.
It's not ideal for a program to take graduate quarterback transfers in consecutive years. But injuries have left Wisconsin in a unique position, and you can't fault the coaches for trying to get better. The Badgers undoubtedly got better Wednesday.
While it's unlikely the transfer trend continues beyond 2013, Wisconsin has reached a level of success as a program that when it needs personnel help, it can attract good prospects.
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