Following Wisconsin's 16-13 overtime loss to Michigan State that dropped the Badgers out of the BCS top 25, the Badgers enter the bye week looking at either fifth-year senior Curt Phillips or junior Danny O'Brien.
One or both of those quarterbacks will take the reins when Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) returns from its bye week to travel to Indiana Nov. 10.
The decision on who will replace redshirt freshman Joel Stave, who broke his clavicle on the first play of the second half Saturday, will be told to the players no later than next week Tuesday.
"We'll take this bye week and pretty much give (O'Brien) and (Phillips) equal reps and see where we're at on Sunday," UW coach Bret Bielema said Monday.
Phillips played his first game since 2009 against Illinois Oct.6, coming in for one series to run an option package that yielded no positive results. He also finished the game against Minnesota. Although appearing a little worn in fall camp, Bielema said Phillips – who has undergone three ACL surgeries on the right knee – has improved with limited practice repetitions.
"There's probably not a kid that's invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips on our football team," said Bielema. "The kids like him. Kids love him. I know our coaches like him. (Offensive coordinator) Matt (Canada) has been intrigued with Curt ever since day one. He's got that it factor that quarterbacks need to have. It will be fun to see him really compete this week. When he gets his opportunity, I expect him to have a little bit of success."
O'Brien has played in six games (three starts) and has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 523 yards and three touchdowns. O'Brien went 19-of-23 for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win against Northern Iowa, but struggled in his next two starts before eventually getting benched at halftime against Utah State.
Replacing Stave in the second half Saturday, O'Brien finished 5-of-11 for 44 yards.
"Danny transferred in with the dream of being a two-year starting quarterback at Wisconsin," said Bielema. "It started that way and got side railed. I know (Canada) felt very, very confident that he was the guy to go to if there was a sudden change within say series or something like that. The last two weeks, as far as continuity between what Joel does and what our offense would need to do.
"It will be interesting this week because Curt obviously has some unique skill sets that are going to be very unique to him, and we'll kind of see which direction we go."
After meeting with team doctors, it was determined that Stave wouldn't need surgery and would likely need an eight-week recovery window. That means Stave will miss Wisconsin's final three regular seasons games with an outside chance of possibly playing in a bowl game.
Either way, the redshirt freshman – who went 4-1 as a starter with three straight conference wins - will be ready for spring football.
"This is a kid that's got a lot of football in front of him, and I want to make sure he's as strong as he is for the future, and they felt this route was the best," said Bielema. "It's a shame because I think we were on a path that's very, very good, but you deal with the cards that you're dealt. It's not what happens in life, it's how you react to what happens. I think he'll handle it in a very, very positive way."
Bielema said freshman quarterback Chase Knox is the team's third quarterback in an emergency situation because Wisconsin has two quarterbacks that are going through season-long rehabilitations.
Junior Jon Budmayr has missed the last two seasons with arm and hip surgeriers. Bielema said Budmayr continues to get healthy, but will have to make, "an evaluation in December, January, if he can play the game. If he can play the game, what direction he's willing to go because he will graduate this year. He'll have options in front of him there."
Bart Houston – the highly-touted four-star quarterback from California – is on track to compete in the spring after having off-season shoulder surgery to, reportedly, remove a cyst. Bielema said Houston is, "filling out being back on our weight program, and doing all the things that all the other freshmen are doing except for actually practicing."
Houston may do some work in 7-on-7 drills during bowl practice in preparation for competing in the spring.
"We're a 6-3 football team but would love to be 7-2 or 8-1 or 9-0. But just the cards we're being dealt this year. We've moved forward. I thought our guys have responded every week. You guys see the world of college football. You know there's a couple of teams that lost their starting quarterback on Saturday and struggled as well. I was happy that our guys kept it -- our defense kept playing, never really looked back, and obviously came up short. They'll come back strong. It's a good week to have a bye week. I think we'll take this week and move forward."
Extra Points: Wisconsin's Leaders Division game with Indiana on Nov.10 was announced as an 11 a.m. kickoff on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 … Bielema expects Ricky Wagner, who was on the cusp of playing against Michigan State, to be back at practice later this week … UW will have a lifting session and developmental practice Tuesday, play good-vs-good Wednesday and Thursday while starting Hoosiers preparation, have conditioning Friday and an off day Saturday before moving unto Indiana prep Sunday.