Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton saw enough of John Stocco in his very brief auditions last season to set some fairly lofty standards.
"I challenged him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Horton said in a recent phone interview.
Stocco, it should be noted, played in just three games as a redshirt freshman last season and has all of 17 pass attempts on his résumé.
"I'm not oblivious to the fact that he's only played, I think it's 38 plays total," Horton said. "I'm approaching it like he's a redshirt freshman. I need to be thorough with my preparation with him."
Horton is in the same position as most of the rest of the Big Ten's quarterbacks coaches. Only five of 11 teams have their 2003 starter returning. Of the six new signal callers, none threw for more than 153 yards last season. Stocco had 123.
However, the Badgers do not plan on bringing the new guy along slowly.
"There's no reason he can't put his mark on the thing," Horton said. "We're not going to hold things back. I feel he's got as good an arm as I've ever been around and he can make a lot of different throws and we're certainly not going to hold him back from that. We want him to go play to win. Don't be cautious, don't play scared, we're going to plan to go out and attack."
At last week's Big Ten media days, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said that, if anything, the Badgers should have pressed Stocco into service faster.
"Probably the biggest mistake a year ago was not forcing him to be the backup early on during the season," Alvarez said.
The idea last season, Alvarez said, was to let the established veteran reserve, Matt Schabert, run the offense when necessary.
"He could finish your game, rather than someone who may make some simple mistakes but takes you a little further as he develops, you'd take the safe (route)," Alvarez said.
Alvarez felt there was a comfort level for Stocco in being No. 3 and he wished he would have forced the issue.
"We all knew what kind of ability he had…something I should have done was forced him to take the bit, forced him to really attack it and put him in positions in practice and really make him get out there and accept that position," he said.
Stocco officially became the backup during bowl practices in December, then took command of the job during offseason workouts in January before running away with it in spring practice.
"Just the two years he's been here, he's a totally different kid," Horton said. "He's really matured, taken a much more active role within the program. Leadership wise, it's night and day from where he's been. But a lot of it is because he had an opportunity to play a little bit at the end of last year, he wanted to win the starting quarterback job, so he approached the offseason that way."
Horton said he expects the Badgers to put more emphasis on the running game this season due to the combination of a veteran offensive line, star tailback Anthony Davis and Stocco's youth.
The offense, though, will remain the same, with play packages that are similar to what Jim Sorgi directed last season.
"I feel very confident in John and what he brings to the table and I think he'll do an outstanding job for us," Horton said. "He's not a seasoned veteran that's been around here a long time but John's a guy that responds. He spends time watching film, he wants to know what's going on. We certainly don't want to put any limitations on him."
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