NCF Nation: Joe Brennan

There was slightly more suspense about Wisconsin's quarterback situation this summer than last, but not much.

Much like with Russell Wilson in 2011, the Badgers didn't bring in graduate transfer Danny O'Brien to sit on the bench. O'Brien, who started 17 games for Maryland the past two seasons before transferring to Wisconsin in June, will lead the Badgers' offense in the season opener Sept. 1 against Northern Iowa.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made the announcement via Twitter, writing, "want everyone to know we are going to start Danny O'Brien in our opener against UNI." Bielema added that senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave both "had great camps as well." Joe Brennan, who dropped on the depth chart in recent weeks, is expected to transfer and is no longer listed on the team roster.

The 6-foot-3, 223-pound O'Brien completed 342 of 603 passes for 4,086 yards with 29 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in two seasons at Maryland. He has two years of eligibility left for Wisconsin because he redshirted in 2009 and graduated in three years.

Despite O'Brien's struggles in 2011 in Randy Edsall's offense, he remains the best option for Wisconsin, which has had significant depth issues at quarterback since Scott Tolzien left. Although Phillips' recovery from multiple knee surgeries is admirable and Stave, a former walk-on, made some strides, neither man has the potential of O'Brien, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2010.

O'Brien stood out during camp, throwing only one interception during the first two weeks. He's not Wilson and likely won't make the same type of impact as his predecessor, but he has made a smooth transition to an offense that brings back some very good weapons, led by running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Will O'Brien be pushed during the next two years? Sure. But he's got the top job and the chance to hang onto it for the next 25 games or so.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: What will be the impact on the Big Ten race from quarterback Danny O'Brien's transfer to Wisconsin?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

In my mind, O'Brien's arrival makes Wisconsin the Leaders Division favorite by a slightly more convincing margin. I already was leaning toward the Badgers repeating as division champs, mostly because Ohio State is ineligible to go to the Big Ten title game, because Penn State and Illinois are going through coaching transitions, because Purdue hasn't shown enough consistency yet and because Indiana is, well, Indiana.

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Rob Carr/Getty ImagesDanny O'Brien will have two seasons of eligibility remaining at Wisconsin.
The biggest concern about Bret Bielema's team, of course, was the quarterback spot, which lacked any real experience and was decimated by injuries. O'Brien immediately stabilizes the position and gives the Badgers a veteran presence. But while it's tempting to compare O'Brien's arrival to that of Russell Wilson -- after all, they are both ACC graduate transfers -- we shouldn't. Wilson was already a highly successful, well-decorated quarterback before he ever got to Madison; O'Brien has a career completion percentage of under 57 percent, and he threw 10 interceptions with only seven touchdowns last year. Yeah, you can blame the coaching and system change at Maryland for O'Brien's decline as a sophomore, but isn't he going to go through the same thing at Wisconsin?

Still, O'Brien doesn't have to be Davey O'Brien to help the Badgers win, as they just need someone to make a few plays downfield and manage the game while Montee Ball and the offensive line rule the day. Penn State was also heavily in the mix for O'Brien, but I feel like Matthew McGloin or one of the other quarterbacks can produce similar results in Bill O'Brien's offense, which will likely feature a lot of manageable throws to tight ends and receivers. So the Nittany Lions won't be much worse off. Yet there's no question that the defending Leaders champions just got a little bit better.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin might have been the default Leaders division favorite even if O'Brien didn't come to Madison, but his arrival solidifies the Badgers as the team to beat in a year where Ohio State can't reach Indianapolis. The quarterback situation would have been dire in 2011 had Russell Wilson not come aboard, and it might have been just as tenuous this season as only two healthy signal-callers (Joe Brennan and Joel Stave) are practicing right now in spring ball. Wisconsin faces some important road tests in 2012, namely trips to Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue. Having a quarterback with some experience on board could really help.

I agree that it's unfair and likely unrealistic to expect O'Brien to be just like Wilson. They're different players with different skill sets at different stages in their careers. Wilson had a stronger résumé, but unlike O'Brien, he didn't go through a coaching change at his previous stop. Although O'Brien could be closer to the quarterback we saw in 2010, I don't expect him to be the game-changer Wilson was in 2011. I do expect him to be just as sharp in picking up Wisconsin's offense. It would be a surprise if he didn't claim the starting job, just as it would have been a shock had Wilson not led the offense last fall.

Wisconsin can win the Leaders division in 2012 without a first-team All-Big Ten, NCAA record-setting quarterback. It likely could not win the division with a major liability under center. The Badgers have other areas to address, namely identifying a No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver, an elite pass-rusher and more speed on the defensive side. But their biggest issue was quarterback depth, which is now addressed. O'Brien really could have helped Penn State as well, as the Lions might return the best defense in the division but need much more from their offensive field general. While you might be right about McGloin, I really think O'Brien would have given Penn State a little bit more in Bill O'Brien's offense. Although Penn State should by no means be counted out in the division, Wisconsin will enter the fall as the clear favorite.
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.

[+] EnlargeDanny O'Brien
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyBecause quarterback Danny O'Brien graduated from Maryland in three years, he will have two seasons of eligibility at Wisconsin and can play right away.
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.
If I were Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, I'd probably be putting the full court press on former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien right now.

Not only did the Badgers have great success with an ACC transfer last year in Russell Wilson, but their search to find Wilson's successor has taken another troubling turn.

Bielema told reporters attending Wisconsin's pro day on Wednesday that sophomore Jon Budmayr has suffered another setback with the nerve in his throwing arm and will likely miss all of spring practice. Budmayr was set to be the Badgers starter last year before Wilson transferred in, but he wound up missing all of last season because of a nerve problem in the arm that required surgery. Budmayr was expected to come back and compete for the No. 1 job this spring, and Bielema had recently said his recovery was going well.

You can't help but feel bad for Budmayr and this latest bad break. At the same time, you can't help but wonder whether he'll ever be healthy enough to play quarterback for the Badgers.

The Budmayr news comes one day after it was revealed that highly-touted incoming freshman quarterback Bart Houston would need surgery on his throwing arm. Bielema said on Wednesday that Houston's surgery would involve removing a cyst from a previous injury. That procedure could cause Houston to miss at least part of fall camp, making it unlikely that he could compete for the starting quarterback job early on.

That means Wisconsin's quarterback options are dwindling. Joe Brennan, who backed up Wilson last year, is probably the leader at the position in the spring, but hasn't played in any significant situations. Curt Phillips is trying to come back from two ACL tears. Walk-on Joel Stave will get some reps, too.

The quarterback picture doesn't look too promising for a team that will most likely be favored to repeat as Leaders Division favorites. So if I were Bielema, I'd make sure O'Brien knew just how much the Badgers needed him.

Spring preview: Leaders Division

February, 17, 2012
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After taking a look at the Legends Division outlook for spring practice, it's time to turn the focus to the Leaders Division.

Away we go ...

ILLINOIS

Start of spring practice: March 7
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces in new roles: Tim Beckman and his assistants get their first chance to work with the players on the field. Beckman retained only one assistant (defensive line coach Keith Gilmore) from the previous staff, so it'll be important for the players and coaches to get acclimated. It's also a big spring for co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty, both of whom will be primary playcallers for the first time at this level.
  • The quarterbacks: Nathan Scheelhaase is a two-year starter, but he'll have to re-establish himself as the team's top option at quarterback. Reilly O'Toole received a decent amount of field time last season, and Illinois should have a competition under center in spring practice. Both men will have to learn a new offense and show good decision-making skills after combining to throw 12 interceptions last fall.
  • No Merci: All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus is gone, and Illinois will be looking for his replacement this spring. The defensive line could once again be a strength for the Illini, especially with Gilmore back and an aggressive defensive coordinator in Tim Banks. It'll be interesting to see how the coaches use Michael Buchanan and Justin Staples, who played the "bandit" position in the previous scheme and boast speed but don't have typical defensive end size.
INDIANA

Start of spring practice: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Juco fever: Indiana needs a quick fix on defense, and it hopes an influx of junior college players can provide one. Six juco players already are enrolled and will participate in spring practice, including five on the defensive side. It will be interesting to see how players such as defensive back Tregg Waters and linebackers Justin Rayside and Jacarri Alexander perform this spring as they compete to play right away.
  • New direction on offense: Coach Kevin Wilson wants to be more productive in the passing game, and he hired an offensive coordinator in Seth Littrell who can help in that area. Littrell guided an Arizona offense that last season ranked third nationally in passing (370.8 ypg) and 27th in pass efficiency (145.2). He'll try to help Tre Roberson, who Wilson said he thinks can elevate his game significantly as a passer despite throwing twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (three) as a freshman.
  • Who has grown up: Indiana played 32 freshmen (16 true, 16 redshirt) in 2011, the most in the FBS. The early experience should pay off for several players, and Indiana needs them to grow up quickly during the spring. Roberson showed a lot of promise at quarterback, and safety Mark Murphy finished second on the team with 76 tackles. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Bobby Richardson and receiver/returner Shane Wynn.
OHIO STATE

Start of spring practice: March 28
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Urban renewal: The mood has improved around Ohio State's program from the moment Urban Meyer stepped to the podium Nov. 28. After putting together his staff, signing an elite recruiting class and ticking off some of his Big Ten coaching colleagues, Meyer finally gets a chance to work with the players on the practice field. After a lackluster final season at Florida in 2010, Meyer says he's refreshed and recharged, and it'll be interesting to see how he attacks practices.
  • The new offense: Ohio State fans can't wait for a new offense after suffering through a 2011 season that featured some extremely questionable play-calling. Meyer's offensive system is well-known throughout college football, but the interesting thing this spring will be how Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman blend their ideas. Herman is a dynamic young coach who impressed a lot of folks at Iowa State. But Ohio State is a different animal, and expectations will be high for quarterback Braxton Miller and the unit.
  • Fickell back on defense: After spending last season as Ohio State's head coach, Luke Fickell returns to an assistant role on the defensive side. And for the first time, Fickell will be the Buckeyes' primary defensive playcaller. Ohio State's defense took a step back last season and will be looking to regain its traditional form. Fickell will work alongside co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers and look to identify some leaders to complement defensive lineman John Simon.
PENN STATE

Start of spring practice: March 26
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • O'Brien's time: Much will be made of Penn State opening spring ball without Joe Paterno, but the real story is how critical these practices will be for new coach Bill O'Brien and his team. Penn State will be acclimating to new systems on both sides of the ball and a new coaching style from O'Brien and his assistant coaches, all but two of whom are from the outside. The learning curve will be accelerated for all involved, as Penn State needs to get a lot done in 15 workouts.
  • The quarterbacks: It's good that O'Brien has extensive experience coaching quarterbacks because no position needs a bigger upgrade at Penn State. The Lions struggled mightily under center last season and need a major boost beginning this spring. Can O'Brien get more out of Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden, both of whom have seen extensive time in the Big Ten? How does Paul Jones factor into the mix? It'll be interesting to see how the signal-callers perform this spring.
  • Filling gaps on defense: Penn State should have one of the nation's best linebacker groups this season, but the Lions need to fill some holes on the line and in the secondary. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still departs, and Penn State will be leaning on Jordan Hill and others to step up. A bigger concern is the secondary, which loses two multiyear starters at safety (Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay). Penn State also has a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof, who will be looking for better results than he had at Auburn.
PURDUE

Start of spring practice: March 7
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Another quarterback competition: Boilers coach Danny Hope loves having options at quarterback, and he'll once again get his wish during spring practice. Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve,Rob Henry and Sean Robinson all boast starting experience and will vie for the No. 1 job when workouts resume. Henry, who sizzled last spring and would have started the season if not for a torn ACL, has been cleared to participate in noncontact drills. Marve received an extra year of eligibility and will be in the mix. TerBush started every game last season.
  • Tisebar takes over: Purdue has a new defensive coordinator for the third consecutive season, as Tim Tisebar takes over this spring. Tisebar returns to college football after spending the past three seasons with the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. Hope hired Tisebar to help Purdue improve against the spread offense and the zone-read game. It will be interesting to see what spin Tisebar puts on the defense as the Boilers enter a pivotal season.
  • Offensive line depth: One of Purdue's strengths last season is a bit light on bodies following several departures. The Boilers need a left tackle to replace Dennis Kelly, and they also must increase depth on the interior line. Purdue already has moved tight end Robert Kugler to center, and Hope said earlier this month that several other tight ends could practice at offensive tackle during the spring.
WISCONSIN

Start of spring practice: March 17
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • A revamped staff: Bret Bielema hired six new assistant coaches during the winter months, including offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The new coaches will have their first opportunity to work with players on the field this spring. It's important for both sides to acclimate, mainly because Wisconsin has had tremendous success the past two seasons and doesn't want the staff shakeup to throw things off course. Quarterback Russell Wilson made a seamless transition to the program last summer. Let's see if the new assistants can do the same in spring ball.
  • The quarterbacks: Speaking of Wilson, he departs Madison, leaving a major void under center. Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips are coming off of major injuries, and while they're both making progress it could be tough to get a gauge on them this spring. Canada will spend much of his time working with Joel Stave and Joe Brennan, who need to get comfortable with Canada's adjustments to the offense and start establishing themselves as potential team leaders.
  • Reloading up front: Wisconsin will have to replace two All-American offensive linemen for the second consecutive year, and the Badgers lose three All-Big Ten selections up front (Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Josh Oglesby). While the Badgers are built to reload, offensive line coach Mike Markuson has a lot of evaluating to do this spring. On the defensive line, Wisconsin loses two starters (Patrick Butrym and Louis Nzegwu) and will be looking for some difference-makers. End David Gilbert returns to the mix after missing most of last season with a broken foot.
Russell Wilson did more than lead Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. He made Wisconsin a top destination for transfers.

Head coach Bret Bielema said in December that the staff had heard from about 10 players interested in transferring to Wisconsin, twice the number usually interested in heading to Mad-town. One of them, Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, ended up transferring to Kansas after visiting both KU and Wisconsin.

There's another quarterback transfer on the table, and like Wilson, he's leaving an ACC program. Like Wilson, he's on track to graduate and would be able to play immediately.

Maryland announced Monday that Danny O'Brien will transfer, continuing the exodus from College Park since Randy Edsall became head coach.

So where is O'Brien headed?

From The Baltimore Sun:
Those close to O'Brien said Wisconsin, Stanford and Vanderbilt could be among his transfer options. It's not known whether those schools are interested.

His release excludes Vanderbilt, meaning that's not an option. It also excludes upcoming ACC opponents as well as upcoming nonconference opponents such as West Virginia and Temple. Maryland, which was 2-10 last year, opens the season against William & Mary on Sept. 1.

Just to clarify, O'Brien could rejoin former Maryland assistant James Franklin at Vanderbilt, but he couldn't receive a scholarship from the school. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that O'Brien has yet to contact Wisconsin.

Wisconsin certainly could use another quarterback, especially one with starting experience in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference. Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips both are coming off of major injuries, and Joel Stave, Joe Brennan and incoming freshman Bart Houston all are unproven.

While O'Brien struggled in 2011, completing just 56.4 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, his issues could be traced, at least in part, to the team's spread offense. O'Brien fared better in the pro-style system Maryland ran in 2010, when he earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors and passed for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He wouldn't have to worry about playing in the spread at Wisconsin, which will keep its pro-style system despite a coordinator change.

Wisconsin doesn't want to get in a habit of taking transfer quarterbacks every year. But like in 2011, there's a glaring need at quarterback for the Badgers, who have some excellent pieces on offense, namely Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball. While it's unrealistic to expect another Wilson to walk through the door, Wisconsin doesn't need a first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to win the Leaders division in 2012.

The Badgers need options under center, and O'Brien would give them another.
The offseason is here, and while teams are focused on recruiting right now, they will soon turn their attention to fixing problem areas and gearing up for 2012.

With that in mind, we present the offseason to-do lists for every Big Ten club, beginning with the Leaders Division. We're not going to talk about recruiting needs here, as we'll focus on that in the very near future. Instead, we're taking a look at a couple of areas each team needs to repair or restock in the coming months.

Illinois

  • Spread it on: An Illini offense that needed a GPS to find the end zone the last half of the season is in for a jarring change. New head coach Tim Beckman will implement the spread offense and demand a higher tempo. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase must regain his freshman-year form if he is to hold off Reilly O'Toole for the starting job, and Illinois must replace its best receiver in A.J. Jenkins. Finding a reliable running back is high on the priority list as well. This offense will get a total makeover and needs to make the most of the spring and summer to get ready.
  • Locate defensive leaders: We wondered this time last year how Illinois would replace Corey Liuget. Then Whitney Mercilus jumped up with an All-American season. Who will be the next big playmaker now that Mercilus is off to the NFL? Can Michael Buchanan replicate Mercilus's production off the edge? Will Jonathan Brown capitalize on his potential? New defensive coordinator Tim Banks needs to keep up the level of performance this defense had in '11.
Indiana

  • Build toughness on defense: This one is obvious, as the Hoosiers ranked 114th in points allowed (37.3) and 109th in total defense in Kevin Wilson's first season and gave up at least 40 points in five of their eight Big Ten games. Wilson played a ton of youngsters in 2011 and has a promising future leader in rising sophomore Mark Murphy. But Indiana simply must get more physical up front and tackle better to have any hope of making significant strides.
  • Develop Tre Roberson: One of the bright spots in IU's 1-11 season was the emergence of freshman Roberson at quarterback. His athleticism allowed him to make plays in and out of the pocket. With Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker leaving the program, the offense now solely belongs to Roberson, with juco transfer Cameron Coffman his likely backup. Roberson must continue to make progress as a sophomore, or else it could be another long year in Bloomington.
Ohio State

  • Urban renewal: Jim Tressel may have been gone last season, but his influence was still heavily felt as former Tressel assistant Luke Fickell and most of Tressel's staff remained in place. So the Buckeyes players are about to experience a whole new way of doing things under Urban Meyer. Most of the change will come on offense, where there will be a new system and new terminology, and spring practice will prove critical for getting everything installed. Meyer's biggest challenge may be reshaping an offensive line that lost three longtime starters in center Mike Brewster and tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.
  • Upgrade the passing game: Braxton Miller improved as a passer as the season went on, but the Buckeyes' passing game still left a lot to be desired most of the time. Miller will need to spend as much time as possible with new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman to improve his throwing, and a group of young Buckeyes receivers like Devin Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Chris Fields needs to come of age and turn into reliable playmakers.
Penn State

  • Come together: New coach Bill O'Brien's most daunting task likely will come off the field, where he'll be responsible for repairing a fractured community. He can begin to do so by embracing former players, building bridges to the alumni on the speaking circuit and being more open than his famous predecessor. O'Brien must show recruits that it's OK to come to State College again. Fans will be hungry for football by the spring, and O'Brien should use that optimism to his advantage.
  • Fix the offense: There's little question that a Stone Age offense was holding Penn State back, and O'Brien seems intent on being his own offensive coordinator. He'll need to settle on a quarterback, whether that's Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden or someone else, and ingrain his NFL concepts to a bunch used to a vanilla scheme. O'Brien has a solid building block in star tailback Silas Redd but must replace top receiver Derek Moye and an offensive line gutted by graduation.
Purdue

  • Establish an identity: The Boilermakers were the epitome of a mediocre team in 2011, going 6-6 and never winning back-to-back games in the regular season before edging out a MAC team in a lower-level bowl. What exactly is the defining trait of Danny Hope's team? It's time to create an identity, especially on defense where Purdue was inconsistent last season. Old defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel is out and Tim Tibesar is in from the CFL to take over. Tibesar needs to maximize the talent of budding stars like Kawann Short and Ricardo Allen and put his stamp on that side of the ball.
  • Create a quarterback pecking order: After dealing with crippling quarterback injuries the past two seasons, Hope must be thrilled by the new-found depth at the position. Robert Marve received a sixth year of eligibility and will be back alongside 2011 starter Caleb TerBush. Meanwhile, projected '11 starter Rob Henry makes his way back from a knee injury. Competition should make the position better, but Purdue must figure out who and how it wants to play at quarterback.
Wisconsin

  • Find a quarterback: Russell Wilson leaves large cleats to fill after just one season in Madison, and there is no obvious heir apparent. Will Jon Budmayr's elbow allow him to compete for the job? Will Joe Brennan take the next step in his development? Will hyped incoming freshman Bart Houston be ready? The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl the past two seasons with seasoned, senior quarterbacks. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada won't have that luxury this year and has some work to do in the offseason. At least he can lean on a stout running game led by Montee Ball while the quarterback situation crystallizes.
  • Build staff chemistry: Canada will be one of six new coaches on Bret Bielema's staff in 2012 and will be part of an almost entirely new offensive brain trust. The Badgers have their style of play on that side of the ball down to a science at this point, but it's not easy to blend that many new coaches and personalities into a program all at once. Bielema has to get them all up to speed and on the same page in a hurry, and the new coaches have to establish rapport with the players right away. That might be one of the Badgers' biggest obstacles on the way to a second straight division title.

QB Crist picks Kansas over Wisconsin

December, 22, 2011
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After visiting both Wisconsin and Kansas late last week, former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist took several extra days to finalize his transfer destination.

[+] EnlargeCrist
AP Photo/Michael ConroyFormer Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist will reunite with coach Charlie Weis at Kansas.
It's pretty clear why Crist waited.

He wanted to know whether Paul Chryst would remain Wisconsin's offensive coordinator in 2012. He learned Thursday it wouldn't be the case, as Chryst has officially been named head coach at Pittsburgh.

Not surprisingly, Crist announced via his Twitter page that he would transfer to Kansas to play his final season. Crist will be reunited at KU with new Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis, who recruited the quarterback to Notre Dame before being fired after the 2009 season.

As one of our Twitter followers pointed out, Wisconsin has had a tough "Crist/Chryst-mas" season already. Yet while Badgers fans hoped Chryst would stay and Crist would transfer, they can't be too shocked with either decision. It was only a matter of time before Chryst became a head coach. While Crist would give Wisconsin another option at the shaky quarterback position, he likely wouldn't replicate what Russell Wilson has done this season after transferring from NC State.

Wisconsin now must move forward at both the offensive coordinator and quarterback positions. Will Bret Bielema replace Chryst with an internal candidate, most likely offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Bob Bostad, or look to the outside?

Bielema said Wisconsin has received a lot of interest from transfer candidates following Wilson's success, so you still could see a quarterback enter the mix. But more than likely the Badgers will be looking at returning players Joel Stave, Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips, as well as decorated incoming freshman Bart Houston. Phillips has had multiple knee injuries and Budmayr missed the 2011 season with an injury to his throwing elbow that flared up in August.

The quarterback position is a major mystery for Wisconsin entering 2012, but the offense still will return some quality pieces.
Russell Wilson's success at Wisconsin this season after transferring from NC State has caught the eye of other players looking for new destinations.

[+] EnlargeCrist
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCould QB Dayne Crist go from playing at Notre Dame to leading the Wisconsin Badgers?
"Because of the success of Russell Wilson," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said last week in Indianapolis, "I've been contacted by almost 10 players who want to talk about the opportunity to transfer in to the University of Wisconsin."

One of those players is quarterback Dayne Crist, who recently asked for an received his release from Notre Dame. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this week that sources say Crist is very interested in Wisconsin as a transfer destination. He has one year of eligibility remaining, and because he's set to graduate this month, he could play in 2012. It was the same situation with Wilson, who completed his undergraduate requirements at NC State and could play immediately for Wisconsin.

Crist started the past two season openers for Notre Dame but had his struggles and some bad luck in South Bend. He tore the ACL in his right knee during his sophomore season in 2009 and ruptured the patella tendon in his left knee in late October of last season. Crist won the starting job entering this fall but was benched at halftime of the season opener against South Florida. Tommy Rees has been the Irish starting quarterback ever since.

ESPN.com has learned Crist had Wisconsin on his radar screen soon after the benching against South Florida.

Crist came to Notre Dame as a decorated recruit set to play in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense. He had to adjust to Brian Kelly's scheme after Weis was fired.

Wisconsin makes sense for Crist, who could be a good fit in the Badgers' pro-style system.

The bigger question: Should Wisconsin add a one-year transfer quarterback for the second consecutive season?

Given the uncertainty at the QB position, the answer is yes. Wisconsin doesn't want to get in the habit of doing this every year, but there are major question marks with the Badgers signal callers after Wilson departs. Jon Budmayr, the projected starter coming out of spring practice, hasn't played all season because of nerve problems in his throwing elbow. It's a tricky injury, particularly for a quarterback. Curt Phillips, meanwhile, hasn't played since 2009 because of a series of serious knee injuries.

Reserves Joel Stave and Joe Brennan are in the mix, and highly touted recruit Bart Houston arrives next season. But none of the Badgers' quarterbacks has as much experience as Crist.

While it's unrealistic to expect another transfer quarterback to duplicate Wilson's success this season, Wisconsin can't close the door to any options. The team should have a more stable quarterback situation in 2013 than 2012, so another one-year QB might be a smart choice.

What do you think?
Wisconsin's pickup of NC State transfer Russell Wilson this summer looked like a great move at the time. Now, it looks like it might have been a season saver.

That's because Jon Budmayr, who was in line to start at quarterback following spring ball, is having potentially serious problems with his right elbow. Budmayr has not thrown a pass in more than week, and coach Bret Bielema told reporters Wednesday night that the sophomore recently saw a nerve specialist about the issue.
"We're in a wait-and-see mode right now," Bielema said. "Probably Monday or Tuesday of next week there are some things they are going to test out. It's one of those things that until that feeling gets back in his arm he can't throw."

Budmayr experienced similar elbow problems in 2009 and underwent surgery that sidelined him for two months. So it's troubling that the problem has cropped up again.

Without Budmayr, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan has been elevated to the No. 2 quarterback. While Brennan has showed some nice things in camp, the Badgers wouldn't be picked as a Big Ten favorite with a rookie quarterback. Wisconsin also has increased the reps of true freshman walk-on Joel Stave, who may have to be ready as the third-string QB.

For right now, Badgers fans should say thank goodness for Russell Wilson.

Notes from Wisconsin practice

August, 17, 2011
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MADISON, Wis. -- Some notes and thoughts after watching Wisconsin's extensive full-pads practice Tuesday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

  • Russell Wilson looks like the real deal. The quarterback transfer from NC State displayed impressive arm strength and touch and repeatedly extended plays with his feet. While he likely won't be as accurate as his predecessor Scott Tolzien, he might not be too far off and makes the difficult throws with ease. Wilson hit wideout Jared Abbrederis for a 25-yard touchdown during team drills and, aside from a poorly thrown shuffle pass, looked extremely polished. The offensive structure didn't look dramatically different with Wilson, who played in a pro-style system at NC State and seemed comfortable.
  • [+] EnlargeMontee Ball
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball, who rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, stood out in practice on Tuesday.
  • The other player who really stood out was junior running back Montee Ball. He has dropped significant weight, checking in at 207 pounds, and makes much crisper cuts. Ball reaches the second level faster and should record more explosion plays this season. Fellow running back James White also looked sharp on several cuts. While the coaches say they'll go with the hot hand at running back, Ball looks like he has the inside track.
  • Both Ball and White likely will be significant factors in the passing game. Wisconsin lacks depth at wide receiver -- top target Nick Toon sat out Tuesday's practice -- and while tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Jake Byrne will be involved, Wilson likes checking down to his backs, both of whom have good hands. The Badgers could use a No. 3 receiver to develop and rotated several players Tuesday, including freshman Connor Cummins. I liked several of the freshmen receivers and tight ends, including Sam Arneson.
  • The Badgers likely won't have a J.J. Watt or an O'Brien Schofield along the defensive line, but they hope to make up for it with improved depth. Wisconsin will use a larger rotation up front this fall, and I like the options at defensive tackle with Patrick Butrym, Ethan Hemer and Beau Allen.
  • No surprise here, but Chris Borland makes a huge difference for the Badgers defense. The middle linebacker had a pass breakup during 7-on-7s and constantly was around the ball. Borland's health after multiple shoulder injuries could be the key to the season. Mike Taylor sat out Tuesday's workout, so I didn't get a read on what the starting linebacker corps will look like.
  • Strong safety is an open competition between Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson, although Johnson appears to have an edge right now. Wisconsin is hoping Marcus Cromartie can shore up the No. 3 cornerback spot.
  • The offensive line is a bit banged up but still had a mostly strong performance Tuesday, opening up some huge holes for Ball and White. Coach Bret Bielema said the injuries both last year and during the offseason have helped get more players ready for possible game action.
  • Freshmen Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis are in the mix for the No. 3 running back spot, and both had ups and downs Tuesday. Wisconsin always seems to have a freshman back blossom, so it'll be interesting to see who keeps the trend going.
  • Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr remained out with an elbow issue, so Joe Brennan and Joel Stave took reps behind Wilson. Brennan displayed nice touch on passes to White and Jordan Fredrick, but also got intercepted by Derek Watt, J.J.'s brother. There's still a pretty significant gap between Wilson and the other quarterbacks, so getting Budmayr healthy is vital.
The conventional wisdom is Oregon State's already formidable trip to Wisconsin on Sept. 10 became even more daunting Monday with the Badgers' addition of quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from NC State who passed for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns in his career with the Wolfpack.

Maybe. Makes sense. Wilson, who has one year of eligibility remaining and can play right away because he has already graduated, is a dual-threat quarterback who also has, by the way, played baseball in the Colorado Rockies' minor league system after being a fourth-round pick last year.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Russell Wilson
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireDoes the addition of Russell Wilson give Wisconsin a bigger advantage over Oregon State?
Further, the Badgers' play at quarterback was mediocre to bad this spring, with no one stepping to the fore to replace Scott Tolzien. Wilson, it would seem, is an instant upgrade, even over Tolzien. Wilson completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and rushed for 435 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Tolzien's 2010 numbers, though good enough to get the Badgers to the Rose Bowl, don't even compare.

The general feeling is this makes Wisconsin the Big Ten favorite. Which makes the Beavers look like road kill, right?

Again, maybe. But we live in a world of unintended consequences. There are no sure things, and the unexpected often happens.

For one, Wilson will be learning a new offense with new teammates with only a month or so this summer and fall practices to prepare. That's not easy. Sure, he's a veteran college QB. But he'll still be the new guy -- not unlike incoming freshmen.

His first order of business? Decisively beating out Jon Budmayr, Joe Brennan and Joel Stave. If Wilson is only marginally better, or if there's doubt within the team that he earned the starting job, then things could get prickly in the locker room.

The ideal situation for Oregon State would be for Wilson to not get a warm-up game before the Beavers come to town. That's not the case. Not only does Wisconsin open against UNLV, it also has a couple of extra days between that Thursday, Sept. 1 opener to iron out the kinks and get ready for the Beavers.

Oregon State opens its season against Sacramento State, giving it a preseason game in which to get in rhythm without revealing a lot. The Beavers certainly should be able to get more from the Badgers-Rebels game film than Wisconsin will from the Sac State film.

Wilson should make the Badgers better, but it's reasonable to believe he will be better as the season matures than he is early-on, when he's still figuring out the offense and his teammates. So Oregon State has that going for it.

With or without Wilson starting, the Badgers will be heavy favorites when Oregon State visits. The Beavers are coming off a 5-7 season with lots of questions and they do not own a distinguished record for starting fast. They've, in particular, suffered a few bad nonconference whippings on the road in the early-going -- see ill-fated trips to Louisville, Boise State, Cincinnati and Penn State.

The conventional wisdom will write this one into the Oregon State loss column before it's played, and the Badgers' addition of Wilson makes it less risky to do so in pen rather than pencil.

Right? Well, maybe. Let's just say lots more folks figure to tune into the Wisconsin-UNLV opener than before.

Spring game recap: Wisconsin

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
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Wisconsin wrapped up spring practice Saturday with it spring game at Camp Randall Stadium. Coach Bret Bielema shook things up this year and had the first-team offense compete against the starting defense. The defense ended up dominating, holding the offense out of the end zone, and posted a 29-27 victory in a scrimmage that used a modified scoring system.

Let's take a closer look:

Game coverage: Here and here and here and here.

Quotable: "We were without four, possibly five, offensive starters, so the continuity of that group was thrown off a little bit. I really like the offensive line depth we've been able to develop. On the back end, the defensive side, I was really concerned about the safety position, but Shelton Johnson, Aaron Henry and Dezmen Southward are three guys who can really give us some ability that I didn't know was going to be there." -- coach Bret Bielema

Highlights
  • It was a rough day for Wisconsin's quarterback position both on and off the field. The Badgers' top three signal-callers -- junior Jon Budmayr, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan and true freshman Joel Stave -- combined to complete just 22 of 61 pass attempts (36.1 percent) for 241 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble. The offense failed to reach the end zone and managed only one scoring drive, resulting in a field goal. Budmayr, the front-runner to be the starter this season, completed 10 of 23 passes for 113 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. "The three guys that got the majority of the reps today aren't anywhere where we need them to be for us to be a competitive team in the fall," Bielema said. "They need to continue to move forward." Bielema revealed after the game that quarterback Curt Phillips, a potential challenger to Budmayr, will miss the 2011 season following his third knee surgery.
  • Although the offense played without several starters, the top defense turned in an encouraging performance. The pass rush was solid as ends David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu both recorded two tackles for loss and a sack. "Our D-line, we're winning," Gilbert said. "As long as we're winning, that’s what matters." Linebacker Marcus Trotter finished an impressive spring with five tackles and a forced fumble, and starting cornerback Devin Smith had an interception and four tackles.
  • The run game averaged only 2.6 yards per attempt, although Wisconsin's top two backs had their moments. James White led the way with 47 rush yards on eight carries, including gains of 22 yards and 17 yards. Montee Ball finished with 33 rush yards on eight carries, while third-stringer Zach Brown also had 33 rush yards. "Today probably wasn’t the best performance but we'll be even better come fall," White said. "We have a lot of confidence as an offense. We have a few people banged up and that can mess with things but we're still getting better."
  • Kicker Philip Welch had a mixed performance in the game. He went 8-for-8 during two separate kicking segments on attempts between 27-61 yards, hitting from 58 and 61 yards out. But during the team portion of the game, Welch missed attempts from 38, 49 and 52 yards. "He's got to be able to handle the pressure, he's got to be consistent with where we're at," Bielema said.
Wisconsin reserve quarterback Curt Phillips has had a setback in his recovery from two ACL tears and will undergo another surgical procedure today.

Phillips has undergone two ACL surgeries after suffering tears in his right knee in practice last March and again on Nov. 9. The redshirt junior seemed to be making a rapid recovery before the setback.
"It shouldn't be anything major, hopefully," Badgers coach Bret Bielema told local reporters following Thursday's practice. "Kind of just deal with the cards after they are there. If it's something they can take care of and clean up, hopefully, he'll be back full-time in June."

Wisconsin obviously wants Phillips to be back as soon as possible so he can push front-runner Jon Budmayr for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Joe Brennan and true freshman Joel Stave are the only other candidates in the mix.

But it's hard to envision Phillips, a player who relieves heavily on his mobility, to be 100 percent by fall camp or even the season. ACL surgeries shouldn't be taken lightly, and as impressive as Phillips' recovery has been, expectations should be tempered.

Again, until further notice, this is Budmayr's job to lose.
MADISON, Wis. -- Jon Budmayr could go down the path to complacency. It's pretty much right there in front of him.

[+] EnlargeJon Budmayr
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin quarterback Jon Budmayr is taking advantage of all his reps this spring.
While Wisconsin would like to have a true race to replace All-Big Ten quarterback Scott Tolzien, things haven't worked out that way.

Budmayr, who backed up Tolzien in 2010, is taking the lion's share of the reps this spring. The others go to a redshirt freshman (Joe Brennan) and a true freshman (Joel Stave). Besides Budmayr, the team's only other healthy quarterback who played last season is Nate Tice, best known for his famous father (former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice) and for scoring a touchdown on a 17-yard bootleg against Indiana in an 83-20 Wisconsin win that some pundits considered to be a poor show of sportsmanship. Curt Phillips, who competed with Tolzien for the starting job in 2009, was ruled out for the season Saturday after undergoing his third knee surgery.

"You don't have a true competition with veteran guys," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said.

And Wisconsin might not have one, especially with the latest news about Phillips. While both Stave and Brennan show some flashes, Bielema isn't sure if they can accelerate their play enough to start this fall.

Barring a surprise, Budmayr will lead the offense when the season kicks off Sept. 1 against UNLV.

A player in Budmayr's position could slack off this spring. But the redshirt sophomore, who is participating in his third spring practice, sees the path to complacency and goes the other way.

"The one thing Jon does is he really competes every practice and tries to take advantage of every rep," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

Budmayr benefited from playing behind Tolzien, a perfectionist known for his relentless preparation. Although Budmayr notes he's a different type of quarterback than his predecessor, he wants to mimic Tolzien's approach to practice.

"Each time you cross those lines, you've got to maximize your reps and get better each day," said Budmayr, who completed 8 of 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown last season. "You'll have some good days, some bad, and it's never really as good or as bad as you think. There's always good learning, especially in the spring, and if I can learn from some of the mistakes I'm having or certain situations, it will help me in the fall."

Budmayr has had his ups and downs. In last Saturday's scrimmage, he fired a touchdown pass to Montee Ball and connected with his tight ends on several completions before tossing an interception in the 2-minute drill.

At Tuesday's practice he showed off a plus arm on several throws but at times looked shaky in the pocket and didn't get rid of the ball fast enough. To be fair, Budmayr hasn't had No. 1 wideout Nick Toon available this spring, and the team is very thin at the receiver position.

"He does a good job of practicing like he's playing the game," Chryst said. "Therefore, things continually come up. What's a good play in this situation? Is he making the proper reads? Is he doing it in the proper timing or is he taking too long? All of those things, he's working on and trying to grow from."

Although many point to Budmayr's size as a concern -- he's listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds-- he boasts a strong arm and some skills that could set him apart from Tolzien.

"Jon's probably more along the lines of a Tyler Donovan." Bielema said. "A guy who can use his feet, who can get on the edges. We can use him in the play-action game. Very live arm. He's also a guy who is very conscientious. It's not just, 'Oh, I'm out here playing football.'

"He knows the consequences of every action he has can affect winning and losing."

It's an approach Budmayr will take until Sept. 1 and most likely beyond.

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