This is part two of a 14-part Wisconsin preview.
It will be more than a little odd not seeing Brooks Bollinger under center for Wisconsin this season. After all, the last time Brooks Bollinger was not the Badgers No. 1 quarterback was early in the 1999 season, before Bollinger took the reigns for good against Ohio State in a 42-17 victory that propelled the Badgers to their second straight Rose Bowl title.
Then again, it won't be that odd to see Jim Sorgi lead the offense. Sorgi has thrown for 2,247 yards in three seasons in reserve, 14th in Wisconsin history. If Sorgi had the 300 minimum pass attempts to qualify (he has 271) his career 134.9 passing efficiency rating would be No. 1 in team history.
So Sorgi has done this before, especially two seasons ago, when he subbed for an often injured Bollinger and completed 64 of 132 passes for 1,096 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Sorgi, though, has to get 0-5 off his back. In three seasons, Sorgi has started five games, and Wisconsin lost all five. Statistics can be deceiving though. Sorgi has won games as the Badgers signal-caller, leading comeback victories against Michigan State and Indiana in 2000 and guiding the Badgers to victory over Virginia two years ago. Plus, in three of Sorgi's five losses as a starter, he threw for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns and lost to quarterbacks named Drew Brees, Joey Harrington and David Carr.
All of that is fine and dandy, of course, but the present is what matters now. Sorgi has an arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal and some mighty hefty expectations have been thrust on the team's, and his, shoulders this season.
The offense will definitely take on a different personality with Sorgi replacing Bollinger. Sorgi is far more likely to throw the ball downfield than Bollinger was. Sorgi is actually a better athlete than Bollinger—more nimble on his feet and significantly faster. Sorgi, though, will likely scramble in order to buy time to fling the ball to one of his receivers, whereas Bollinger had a propensity for making things happen with his feet.
At 6-5, Sorgi has ideal height and he surveys the field well. His strength as a passer continues to be throwing the deep ball, which he does as well as any collegiate quarterback. Sorgi's arm strength has improved significantly and it has shown on the command with which he throws intermediate and shorter passes. Throughout his career as a reserve, Sorgi's completion percentage has been on the low side, but that is due to a significant degree to how often he looked to stretch the field, a low percentage option. Sorgi has adequate accuracy. He is never going to be confused with Joe Montana, but more often than not he puts the ball in a place where his talented receivers can make a play on it.
If Sorgi has one liability it is that he may have too much faith in his arm and his receivers. Bollinger at times held the ball and avoided taking chances to a fault, which played a huge role in the number of sacks Wisconsin suffered last season. Sorgi, on the other hand, will at times force a pass into too-tight coverage. The results are multi-faceted. The Badgers passing game surely will be more productive this season and the sack total should be diminished, but Sorgi will most likely throw more interceptions as well.
Then there is the question of mentality. Can Sorgi command the team as the starting quarterback on all successful teams must? Sorgi does not display Bollinger's outward competitive drive; his combative toughness. Then again, few do. Sorgi, though, has looked in complete command during practices this fall. He understands the offense as well as anyone and appears almost stoic in his composure. Sorgi knows where he wants to deliver the ball and he is well honed at reading defenses and making the right call. Sorgi's command and leadership will be different from the variety Bollinger displayed. How productive it is, will remain to be seen.
Wisconsin only has four quarterbacks on its roster and was down to three for a short while this fall as No. 2 Matt Schabert nursed a minor arm injury. Schabert, when healthy, has looked good during fall camp. His arm strength is lacking, but he knows the offense so well, and reads defenses so well, that the ball usually ends up in the right place at the right time. He has above average accuracy and a very soft touch on short and intermediate passes. Schabert also has game experience, going 10 of 17 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in less than one half of work in a 42-28 loss to Michigan State two years ago. He is a capable No. 2.
John Stocco remains the No. 3 quarterback and appears to be gaining ground on Schabert for No. 2. Stocco has a very strong, if at times erratic arm. He is a good athlete with a tough running style somewhat reminiscent of Bollinger. A highly acclaimed prep quarterback, Stocco redshirted last season and will be a big part of what is sure to be an intriguing quarterback competition next spring after Sorgi's year at the helm.
Freshman Tyler Donovan will almost certainly redshirt. Donovan looked a bit out of sorts when camp began; just trying to get a feel for college football. Early in fall work he and freshman center Luke Knauf struggled to get their center exchange down properly, indicative of Donovan's early struggle. His comfort level steadily rose throughout fall work, though. Donovan is an exceptional athlete. He is a little on the small side for a quarterback but he plays bigger, as anyone who saw him shine at Hartland (Wis.) Arrowhead can attest to. Donovan has adequate arm strength, a respectable grasp of the offense at this early stage and is exceptionally quick on his feet. He will run the scout team throughout the season.
It has been broached, and Owen Daniels, the quarterback-turned tight end-turned wide receiver, is the team's emergency quarterback.