Starting quarterback Scott Tolzien's 2009 season was one for the books. He led Wisconsin to a 10-3 mark and led the Big Ten in pass efficiency at 143.0, the third-best mark in school history. His 211 completed passes was a school record, his 2,705 passing yards were the second-most in school history and his completion percentage of 64.3 was second-best in the conference, 14th in the country and third-best in school history.
Most importantly, Tolzien engineered a balanced offensive attack that gave the Badgers their first win over a top 15 team (Miami) away from Madison since January 1, 2007. Hard to imagine that the 6-foot-3, 208-pound signal caller isn't satisfied, but the fifth-senior knows that he and his teammates want to accomplish more in the coming months.
"I think guys have a greater sense of confidence or swagger, but we hope it turns out to be a good thing," Tolzien said of the attitude this offseason. "We know that it can go both ways. We haven't proven a thing this year. We haven't played one game. You can throw the rankings out the window. There is a sense of confidence, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage."
The confidence is all on Tolzien's shoulders, along with a number of other stoic character traits. He's tough; he's calm and he's steady. More importantly, he's arguably the most knowledgeable person in the Wisconsin's offense. Lauded by his teammates for being able to diagram each play in the playbook and direct everybody in the huddle, Tolzien's experience is a big reason he's been named to numerous preseason quarterback watch lists.
"I am not a flashy player, and that's kind of been my best attribute, that I can just play consistent football," Tolzien said when asked to describe himself. "I don't think I have really changed too much, maybe being a little vocal. I just like to make the most of every situation."
After leading the Big Ten in both scoring (31.8 ppg.) and total offense (416.9 ypg.), Wisconsin could easily do it again with the returning cast of characters, as long as Tolzien doesn't get hurt.
Sophomore Curt Phillips played a small role in the offense during his freshman season, doing more with his legs than his arm, averaging 34.5 yards per carry. Problem was that his leg let him down, tearing up his ACL, MCL and some ligaments after he planted and his leg gave way during a spring practice.
Phillips' status for 2010 is unknown for now, but Bielema said that he was making positive progress. Since he already used his redshirt, he will return to the depth chart whenever he is available, since a medical redshirt does not appear like an option. Even if Phillips were healthy, Bielema's two quarterback experiment, which he dabble with last season, should be dead in the water.
With Phillips' on the shelf, redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr will be the man under center. Out of all the quarterbacks, Budmayr has the strongest arm and showed decent accuracy during spring practices (minus his interception-filled spring game). Budmayr is still learning the craft and making better decisions at the college level. If Budmayr has proven anything in his short time at Wisconsin is that his height (6-foot) is not an issue. He has the skill to be a suitable backup, but he is still at least a year away.
Coming into the fold in the fall will be true freshman Joe Brennan, a highly-skilled quarterback out of New Jersey. A pro-style quarterback that runs a decent 40-yard dash (4.7 unofficially) and has a solid arm, Brennan will not only bring some heated competition to the UW quarterbacks, but may re-open UW's recruiting efforts on the East Coast. A good thrower with good size, Wisconsin is getting a quarterback that has plenty of upside, especially since Brennen feels his skills best suit UW's offense.
The likely scenario
Nothing fancy here. Tolzien is the quarterback with the most experience and will be the starting quarterback when the Badgers open the 2010 season in Las Vegas. Tolzien has been through the challenges, which says more than any other signal caller on the roster. He also has the respect and trust of his teammates, which goes a long way.
Budmayr will be the backup and should see time in the second half of all three non-conference home games. That first dose of game experience will be beneficial in his growth. Phillips will return sometime during the conference season, which will be important to rebuild his confidence since he figures to be a key ingredient in the quarterback competition in 2011. Brennan will redshirt and be ready to compete for the starting nod in 2012. Junior Nate Tice will continue to be a serviceable practice player and may see time in the non-conference slate.