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A Decade in Wisconsin Badgers Recruiting: Top 5 Quarterbacks

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Taken from our move from MadTown Badgers:

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and few understand the importance of player fit to program than the Wisconsin Badgers. How else do you explain Wisconsin ranking so low on the recruiting services year-in and year-out and continuously being a conference title contender?

So, over the next few weeks we’re going to look back over the last decade some of the biggest hits on the recruiting trail for the Badgers.

Why not start it out with the position everyone looks at first on the recruiting trail — quarterback. At UW that hasn’t always meant landing the big, flashy names, but in some cases it has meant grabbing some of the best potential-laden prospects in the country and letting them shine with some quality coaching.

Having a decade of quarterbacks to look through, who stood out of the crowd on the recruiting trail and in their careers?

*all recruiting stats from 247Sports composite rankings

5. Curt Phillips (2008)

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01: Quarterback Curt Phillips #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers throws the ball in the first half against the Stanford Cardinal in the 99th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio on January 1, 2013 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 367 nationally, No. 14 Pro-Style QB, No. 6 in Tennessee

Career QB Stats: 60-107 (56.1%), 642 yards, 5 touchdowns 5 interceptions

Just how bad has Wisconsin’s recruiting been at the quarterback position in the past decade? Bad enough that a part-time starter with not much to show for time at UW lands on this list. Phillips came in to the program as the second-highest rated member of the 2008 class, but never really took control of the starting quarterback position.

Some of that was due to guys like Scott Tolzien being ahead of him for the majority of his career. However, Phillips had a golden opportunity to be the man in both 2012 and 2013 with wide open quarterback battles taking place both years.

Instead, he was a stop-gap measure thanks to Joel Stave getting injured in 2012 and played in just 15 games throughout his career. In his most extensive action in 2012, Phillips completed just 46 of 81 passes in seven games (averaging a whopping 11.6 pass attempts per game) and was more a figure head handing the ball off than anything else.

Having a career completion rate of just 56.1 percent and throwing for five touchdowns to five interceptions sums up the sorry state of quarterback recruits signed to national letters of intent this past decade.

4. Bart Houston (2012)

Recruiting Info: 4-star, No. 211 Nationally; No. 6 Pro-style QB; No. 25 Overall in CA

Career QB Stats: 125-192 (65.1%), 1,540 yards, 9 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05: Bart Houston #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 05: Bart Houston #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Few quarterbacks have come in to the University of Wisconsin with as much anticipation as Bart Houston did. He was an Elite 11 finals competitor, which means a lot in quarterback recruiting circles, and played at California powerhouse De La Salle high school.

Unfortunately, that potential didn’t lead to a whole lot of production in his days in Madison. He constantly was passed up for the starting job, with the likes of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy edging him out over and over again in open competition.

Houston did finally earn the starting gig this past season, however part-way through the third game of the season he gave way to redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. The two eventually would split time and Houston would start the final few games after Hornibrook suffered a concussion against Minnesota.

This past season was by far the most productive of Houston’s career, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions. The best thing Houston was able to do was make sure to take care of the ball more often than not. He wasn’t going to make the incredible throw, opting to take whatever the defense gave him.

Moves like that certainly helped that completion rate look real good. However, he would finish with a 8.0 yards per attempt average on his career. Not exactly eye-popping numbers for one of the supposed best quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school.

3. Tanner McEvoy (2013)

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 41 nationally, No. 1 Dual-Threat QB, No. 3 in Arizona (all JUCO rankings)

Career QB Stats: 65-112 (58%), 709 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

What the heck is this guy doing on the list? Well, let’s remember that McEvoy came in to help transition Wisconsin’s offense under then head coach Gary Andersen. McEvoy wasn’t much of a quarterback, but he did manage to become a dangerous part of Wisconsin’s secondary and is now plying his trade in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks.

In terms of athletic ability, no quarterback coming in to Wisconsin had it better than McEvoy. That helped him become a weapon on both sides of the ball, just not at quarterback.

He was sort of forced down the throat of a team not ready for the full transition to the spread-option look. That’s not totally his fault. But, he didn’t help himself as a pure quarterback with accuracy issues and an inability to avoid turnovers.

Eventually, Andersen was forced to admit the Badgers weren’t ready for the full switch in 2014 and in came Joel Stave.

Still, his senior season wasn’t a waste in 2015 as new head coach Paul Chryst and Co. made him in to a dangerous free safety. He put up 74 career tackles to go along with seven interceptions and 10 passes defended. Offensively, he was a rushing and receiving weapon that had 82 carries for 706 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. McEvoy also put up eight receptions for 10 yards in this three years at UW.

While he may not have panned out at quarterback, he was far from a bust for the Badgers as a pure football player.

2. Joel Stave (2011)

Recruiting Info: Walk-On

Career QB Stats: 613-1,031 (59.5%), 7,635 yards, 48 touchdowns, 37 interceptions

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

MADISON, WI – SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

Few players in Wisconsin history have the crazy story that Joel Stave had for his career. After all, he went from walk-on forgotten early-enrollee in the spring of 2011 to a potential-laden “star” of the spring game to a player that started parts or all of his next four years in a Bader uniform.

Stave was beaten out in 2012 originally by Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien, but that lasted all of two-and-a-half games. With the Badgers trailing against Utah State (which would only become more ironic after the season), Stave entered and engineered a comeback victory over the Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium.

He would then enter the 2013 season as part of a completely open competition thanks to Bret Bielema taking off for Arkansas and Utah State’s Gary Andersen coming on board. Stave won competition No. 2 for his job and finished that season completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. It was an up and down season to say the least, and with Andersen not wanting a pure drop-back passer at QB, it set up the perfect opportunity to open a third competition at the QB spot.

Stave would initially drop his second of three open competition to Tanner McEvoy to start the 2014 season. However, Stave would be called upon again as McEvoy struggled in the passing game and UW needed a spark. Stave nearly completed a crazy comeback win over the Wildcats in Evanston, but the hole was just a bit too deep. He would stay as the starter for the rest of the season and guid UW to an appearance in the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

After three years of open competitions, another head coaching change (the third since Stave arrived on campus in 2011) saw the end of that cycle. He would be named the starter from the moment Paul Chyrst arrived on campus and never looked back.

In the end, Stave had one of the strangest but also longest careers in Wisconsin history. He ended his career in the Cardinal and White second in passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdowns. While he may never have set the world on fire nationally, he goes down as one of the best quarterbacks in UW history according to the record books.

Longevity as a starter certainly helped, but Stave also had himself moments of pure brilliance. He is now in the NFL as a backup quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings.

1. Russell Wilson (2011)

Recruiting Info: Graduate Transfer

Stats at Wisconsin: 206-234 (72%), 2,879 yards, 31 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 73 carries, 320 yards, 5 touchdowns rushing

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 02: Quarterback Russell Wilson #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers passes the ball as Ricky Heimuli #90 of the Oregon Ducks rushes in at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This may be a little bit of a cheat, but the reality is that graduate transfers are every bit as much a recruit as a junior in high school is. Schools all over the country were looking at the talent that Wilson had and after visiting late in the spring, Wilson chose the Badgers over all other suitors.

As the saying goes, the rest, my friends, is history.

Wilson went on to make what was a mess of a quarterback situation (it was so bad that a little-known walk-on named Joel Stave was the best of the bunch during the annual spring game) in to one of the most magical seasons in Badger history at the position.

He took what Scott Tolzien had just done and went to another level, leading UW back to the Rose Bowl after winning the first-ever Big Ten championship game over Michigan State. Although the Badgers lost that game, Wilson balled out like usual and propelled him to a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks because of it.

Without Wilson coming to Wisconsin in 2011 who knows where his professional career would’ve taken him or where the Badgers football program would be right now. Simply put, Wilson was a one-of-a-kind talent in a one-of-a-kind season.

Just watch and enjoy:

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Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers

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No recruit has ever been as hyped as quarterback Graham Mertz has been in Wisconsin Badgers history.

Normally that would lead to coaches tempering their words and expectations. Given head coach Paul Chryst’s history of exactly that, it was a bit surprising to hear him speak with excitement about what Mertz may bring to the table in Madison.

So far, Chryst has been very impressed with how Mertz is handling everything on and off the field.

“Yeah, Graham has got a great personality,” said Chryst at Big Ten media day on Friday. “I think he’s done a nice job of — he came in the spring, and getting to know our teammates, and I think he’s handling — there’s a lot of buzz and talk about him, and I think he’s handled it well, and I think the team has handled it, as well.”

What has impressed the head coach most about his freshman quarterback? Chryst says it is how he is handling everything that has been thrown at him since he entered school in January.

“They’re experiencing a lot for the first time, going to school and being away from home, and there’s obviously a ton of football with it, and I think all three have handled it, and Graham has handled it well, and I’m excited for those three, Graham in particular, that went through spring and then you have summer and now they’ll be able to go into fall camp and it’s not all new to them,” said Chryst.

“But I’ve been impressed with how Graham has handled himself, and I think he’s — again, cares a lot about teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person, and I think that’s a great place to start.”

Perhaps the most telling statement from Chryst during his time at the podium on Friday, was the one where he actually used the words “excitement” and “Graham” in the same sentence.

“And certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham,” Chryst said to the media. “He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games, and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”

Does that mean Mertz is the immediate savior of the Badgers offense? No.

But, unlike years past, Chryst is at least willing to go out on a limb and live in the excitement of what could happen in the future.

This type of talk should only serve to continue to spark the speculation and the spotlight on the quarterback position in Madison in the next few weeks.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019

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Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.

Previous Positions:Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker |

No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.

With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.

But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.

Best Case Scenario

The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.

Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.

Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.

No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.

Worst Case Scenario

If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.

My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.

Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.

As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Most Likely to Happen

As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.

I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.

It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.

Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.

As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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