Well Badger fans, it’s official. After months of speculation following dismal quarterback performances at April’s annual spring game and the announcement that North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson was transferring, the Wisconsin Badgers have a quarterback for the 2011 season. And, as many news outlets had been predicting, it is indeed the former signal-caller for the Wolfpack.
Wilson, who for the last three years was under center in the ACC, will be heading to Madison and the Big Ten in the hopes of leading the Badgers to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.
After being replaced as the NCSU starting quarterback because of his commitment to his professional baseball career, it appears as though Wilson will again put that part of his life on hold. Following a two-day visit to the UW campus, Wilson will be trading in his N.C. State red for Wisconsin cardinal.
So, it’s real. Russell Wilson will be a Badger for the 2011 season.
But, what will he actually do for Wisconsin? Can he replace the departed Scott Tolzien and match or improve on the 11-2 season Wisconsin posted last year?
Let’s take a quick glance at Wilson.
Standing 5-11, Wilson does not have the ideal size for a Big Ten quarterback. Big Ten offensive lineman (especially in Wisconsin’s case) are huge and it’s essential for a quarterback to be able to see down the field. Wilson will be shorter than every single one of his lineman.
But, unlike Tolzien (who stood an impressive 6-3), Wilson has scrambling ability and is more than comfortable moving out of the pocket. Then, it doesn’t really matter how tall you are. If you can dodge defenders while still looking downfield, size matters little.
In three years at N.C. State, Wilson tossed 76 touchdowns and just 26 interceptions. In fact, in statistically his worst year, Wilson threw 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season while still leading the Wolfpack to a bowl win. On the other hand, Tolzien, considered by many to be one of Wisconsin’s best quarterbacks, threw 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in two years as a starter. Not exactly Heisman-esque.
Now, of course, the Badgers ran the ball much, much more than N.C. State. And, unless coach Bret Bielema completely alters Wisconsin’s game plan to match Wilson’s skills, there is no way Wilson will throw as much as he did the previous three years. That said, it’s pretty obvious Wilson has passing skills not seen by Wisconsin fans in years.
With the signing of Wilson, Wisconsin becomes the odds-on favorite to win the Leaders Division in the Big Ten. As Terrelle Pryor is no longer a Buckeye, Ohio State will, for the first time in a decade, play second fiddle to Wisconsin to begin a season.
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wilson will bring the talent and experience that Wisconsin hasn’t had at the quarterback position in maybe…ever. But, he’s not a savior.
The rushing attack, led by James White and Montee Ball, will still be key to Wisconsin taking the Big Ten. Wilson, if he can be as efficient and protective of the ball as Tolzien, will be vital to any success the Badgers have. Yes, he’ll bring a passing option that Wisconsin hasn’t seen in years. But to think that he’ll be airing it out all year would be foolish.
In the end, for one year at least, Wilson could be one of the best quarterbacks in school history. He’s certainly a better option that Jon Budmayr, who, as the spring game indicated, needs another year learning the system before he’ll be capable of taking over the Wisconsin offense. But, he won’t put up the ridiculous numbers be put up in the ACC, not only because the Big Ten features much better defenses, but simply because the Badgers run a much more ground-oriented attack.
If he can match the production of Scott Tolzien in 2010, he’ll be worth all the buzz he’s currently receiving.