B5Q went position-by-position through the Wisconsin Badgers' 2014 roster to identify strengths, weaknesses and groups that could surprise this season.
Ever since the end of spring football, the battle for starting quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers has been set. Tanner McEvoy, who showed flashes during April's spring game after transitioning back from safety, hopes to dethrone incumbent starter Joel Stave to lead the Badgers against LSU Aug. 30 in Houston. Who will come out on top this season?
|DEPTH CHART: QUARTERBACKS|
|Joel Stave||RS JR||6-5||220||278/455 ||3,598||28/16||Greenfield, Wis.|
|Tanner McEvoy||RS JR||6-6||222||124/182 (JUCO)||1,943 (JUCO)||25/6 (JUCO)||Hillsdale, N.J.|
|D.J. Gillins||FR||6-3||201||N/A||N/A||N/A||Jacksonville, Fla|
|Bart Houston||RS SO||6-4||218||1/1||8||0/0||Dublin, Calif.|
|Connor Senger||RS FR||5-10||183||N/A||N/A||N/A||Milwaukee, Wis.|
|Thad Armstrong||RS SO||6-3||215||N/A||N/A||N/A||Ottawa, Ill.|
Most to prove
This seems like a cop out, but both Stave and McEvoy. Stave, despite having an off year in many fans' eyes during the 2013 season, threw for a Wisconsin sophomore record 2,494 yards and for 22 touchdown passes -- the latter being the second-most in UW history. Stave, however, accomplished that with the likes of Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and James White, three three of which combined for 156 receptions and 12 receiving touchdowns in 2013 but exhausted their eligibility and moved on to the NFL.
Can Stave take the next step in his progression, particularly in his decision-making and throws (he did miss some critical ones and tossed 13 interceptions last season), and how will he build chemistry with a wide receiver group whose leading receiver is Jordan Fredrick with 27 career catches? Will we also see any change in his arm strength? After the right (throwing) shoulder injury against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl further sidelined him for the majority of spring football, Stave has been cleared for fall camp.
For McEvoy, he showcased his dual-threat skills during the spring game and throughout the practices in March and April. After not having the time to pick up offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's offense to compete against Stave and Curt Phillips in 2013, McEvoy now has a very possible shot at being named a starter. He has to prove he can make plays through the air and not just on the run. He threw a nice 27-yard strike to senior receiver Kenzel Doe in the first half of the spring game, but he'll have to put together more throws like that. The fact that receiving targets this season are unproven helps his chances, as the ability to create explosive plays via his fleet feet opens up a new dimension for the Badgers' offense that could sway defenses away from stacking 9, 10 and 11 players in the box.
The Wisconsin wide receivers. Fredrick, Doe and sophomores Alex Erickson and Rob Wheelwright received ample playing time last season, but will need to take their own steps forward to stretch opposing defenses and prevent the offense from becoming one-dimensional. Yes, running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, along with a tight end position rich in depth with Sam Arneson and Austin Traylor, should help alleviate pressure off of this group, but it's the receivers who need to establish a deep and consistent pass-catching threat.
Ludwig expects Doe and Erickson to produce, and especially hopes Wheelwright makes strides as the No. 1 "X" wide receiver. Sophomore Reggie Love saw some action during the spring and is coming off of a redshirt year, and could also make an impact. Will freshmen Krenwick Sanders, Natrell Jamerson or George Rushing push for playing time and also provide reliable targets for the quarterbacks?
If you see receivers stepping up and making plays, and with Stave on paper being the more accomplished passer, I think the former walk-on has the edge. If not, McEvoy has the competitive advantage.
Rest of position group
The battle for No. 3 is between redshirt sophomore Bart Houston and true freshman D.J. Gillins. Per CBS' Jeremy Fowler in May, it appears Gillins has jumped over Houston:
Caught up w/ Wisconsin's Gary Andersen, who said Tanner McEvoy-Joel Stave will be options "A and A" in fall QB battle. Fr D.J. Gillins third— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) May 19, 2014
Houston admitted he struggled in the spring after many thought he would compete with McEvoy and Stave in the third straight quarterback competition in as many seasons for Wisconsin. Can he rebound with a solid fall camp to put himself above Gillins and (possibly) get himself back into discussion about reps with the first-team offense?
From Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen at Monday's Big Ten media day:
"As far as a timeline, I really have no timeline. I've been through this a few times in my career and it will all settle out just like every position battle does.
It's just the highlight of the quarterback position. Everyone wants to talk about it. I understand it. I get that. But it's no different than the battle that may be taking place at a wide receiver position or what have you. Works itself out. The kids on the team will understand it, the coaches will understand it, and at that time we'll make a statement and have a starting quarterback. It may not be until we jog off the sidelines for the first snap at the LSU game, though."
Did you know?
Stave already ranks eighth all-time in Wisconsin history with 28 career touchdown passes, and seventh in winning percentage (.684).