"He is No. 1," Horton said. "‘Crystal' as Tom Cruise would say. It's crystal clear."
Stocco entered spring workouts as the first-team quarterback, a strong performance during bowl practices buoying his fortunes. Practice after practice this spring, Stocco has widened the gap between himself and the three other quarterbacks suited up: senior Matt Schabert, redshirt freshman Tyler Donovan and true freshman Sean Lewis.
"Johnny's really established himself as a starter," Horton said. "I'm really pleased with the progress he's making. He's got a terrific arm. I think each day he understands the offense a little better."
"I'm still considered one of the younger guys and spring ball is the time for the younger guys to step up and make plays," Stocco said. "That's no different for me, nothing really changes. I just have to get better each day and keep improving."
Horton has simple rules for what he looks for in a starting quarterback:
"To me it is easy. The biggest thing is one, consistency. I have to know what to expect when they are on the field. If I don't know what to expect, I can't answer to our coordinator and head coach.
"Two is who is going to help this football team win? We've got a lot of veteran players back. They don't have to win this game by themselves. They really just need to be a great manager of the football game, know what it takes to win, know the things that can hurt you."
Stocco has experience in only three games, all in relief last season after redshirting and playing on the scout team his first year on campus.
"Playing at the end of the year last year he was able to build confidence," Horton said. "He's carried that over to the offseason programs, become a leader on the team and now he's doing it on the practice field."
"Stocco's been handling himself with a lot of poise," senior tailback Anthony Davis said. "If you looked at him the way he's been practicing from the inside out you wouldn't be able to tell that he is inexperienced."
Stocco is sufficiently athletic and he has the strongest arm of the spring quartet. What he lacks in experience, he has made up for with the consistency and leadership Horton desires.
"He's just really shown me, at least this spring, how much he wants the job, how much he think he deserves the job and he's really stepped up his game and his demeanor in the huddle," senior offensive tackle Morgan Davis said.
The spring has not been without blemish, though. As could be expected, Wisconsin's passing game is not nearly as refined as it was a year ago, when the far more experienced Jim Sorgi was at the helm and Lee Evans was running routes. Stocco looks quite comfortable throwing short routes and puts excellent zip on his intermediate throws. Perhaps most importantly, in Wisconsin's intrasquad scrimmages this spring, Stocco turned the ball over less frequently than his fellow quarterbacks.
Stocco, though, has struggled for much of the spring to connect with his receivers on deep passes. He certainly has the arm strength to thrive in this area, however, and there has been steady improvement, including two sparkling days of practice last weekend.
"It is like anything else, when you're young sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't," Horton said.
Stocco is also striving to get on the same page with the team's young receivers, many of whom are getting their first extended reps with the first team. Experienced contributors Brandon Williams, a junior, and senior Darrin Charles have sat out the entire spring with injuries.
"John's had a solid spring," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "We go good against good every day so there's never any reprieve, there is never a day off. He's got to compete every day and we blitz, we don't hold anything back.
"I think a big thing that I need to work on is anticipating," Stocco said. "Just kind of seeing things before they happen, whether it be blitzes or whatever the defense is trying to do…so I know what I can do."
"I'm just trying to sharpen up and get more comfortable with everything," he added.