For years, the NFL has benefited from a Wisconsin program that cranks out terrific offensive linemen.
We have all heard the stat thrown around by every announcer and sports commentator: The Badgers have the third largest starting offensive line of any team in college football or the NFL. Yes, the Badgers’ giant front line surpasses the size of almost every professional football team.
Besides their overall size, the talent of Wisconsin offensive linemen has led to many playing on Sundays. Former greats like Joe Thomas, Kraig Urbik and the trio of seniors from last year’s squad (Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy) were all week one starters for their respective professional squads.
Tight ends are more of the same story. With the strong Wisconsin run game, the tight end is basically another giant on the field to help open up the giant holes that create a successful ground game. Remember when Bill Nagy started at tight end against Ohio State last year? No. 76 donned No. 89, as Nagy received the start at tight end and helped the Wisconsin ground game accumulate 184 yards against the vaunted Buckeye defense.
While Wisconsin tight ends are run blockers, by no means have they been left out of the Badgers limited air attack. Wisconsin has produced multiple All-Americans at tight end, and former Badger tight ends Garrett Graham, Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks all call the NFL home.
But when it comes to the position behind center, the Badgers have failed to produce a starter in the NFL for quite some time. While former players like Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi enjoyed long NFL careers as backups, it is hard to pick out a Badger quarterback who has been successful in the pros. Wisconsin has never been known to receive the highest touted recruits out of high school, but the Badgers never fail to produce great players.
With the primary focus of the offensive attack being on the run game, Wisconsin holds a terrific allure for potential running back and offensive line recruits. However, the Badgers have lost some potential appeal for quarterback recruits in the past who fear they will not be able to shine with a run-heavy approach.
But that is all changing. Wisconsin runs the pro-style offense, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is not a spread where the quarterback is throwing 50-60 times a game, putting up video game stat lines. Pro scouts tend to disregard these stats, as these system quarterbacks are just that, a product of a system. Although traditionally the Badgers have been held as a run-heavy team, this year, more than ever, Paul Chryst and the Badgers offense have been as diverse as it gets.
Russell Wilson has picked up where Scott Tolzien left off and then some.
Through 10 games, Wilson is 160-218 through the air, meaning the senior is completing 73.4 percent of his throws. Last season, Scott Tolzien went 194-266 through the air with a 72.9 completion percentage in 13 games. That is an average of about 20 throws a game, while Wilson is on track to attempt close to the same amount per game. The numbers look similar, but there is one key difference between Wilson and Tolzien: the average distance that these throws are being made.
Wilson has already accumulated 2,416 yards through the air this season, while Tolzien accumulated 2,459 in all of 2010. Wilson averages 11.08 yards per attempt (on pace to shatter the NCAA record), compared to Tolzien’s 9.25. Wilson is also currently on pace to obliterate the record for pass efficiency in the NCAA with a current rating of 201.6 (record 186.0 set by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan). Wilson has already accumulated 30 total touchdowns, a quarterback record for Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin offense has shined to its full potential under Wilson, averaging almost 500 yards a game, with almost perfect balance from the ground (250 per game) and the air (249 per game). There is nothing this offense cannot do. Which is why Russell Wilson and the Badgers offense this season will serve as alluring examples to recruits of what is possible on Bielema’s teams and Chryst’s system.
Quarterbacks can shine just as brightly at Wisconsin as anywhere else in the nation. Wilson has made that apparent since his transfer this summer. With the national spotlight on Wisconsin more than it ever has been before, Wilson and the offense have blinded opponents. If you thought last year’s 41.5 points per game were disgustingly good, the Badgers average 46.5 points per game this year.
How long has it been since Wisconsin has had a quarterback named an All-American? Try Earl “Jug” Girard in 1944. The only All-American quarterback in Badger history was only 17 years old when he won this honor. So, needless to say, there has been a large historic gap since the Badgers have been graced with someone truly great as a play-caller.
Wilson is definitely deserving of the honor. The stats do not lie; Wilson is the best quarterback in college football. Andrew Luck may be the best pro prospect, but as far as efficiency goes, there is no better quarterback in the land than Wilson.
Even before the Badgers landed their prized off-season catch in Wilson, Wisconsin signed one of the most highly touted quarterbacks in the recruiting class of 2012. Many consider Bart Houston’s commitment to Wisconsin a sign of the Badgers emergence into the national spotlight for recruiting. Houston, the sixth best quarterback in the class of 2012 according to Rivals.com, comes from Concord, Cal., and is a product of the vaunted De La Salle High School powerhouse football program. Houston cited the pro-style offense as one of the reasons he chose Wisconsin.
“It’s a program that is team first and individual second,” Houston told Scout.com. “That’s how it is at De La Salle, and that’s what I saw at Wisconsin. That was their philosophy, the way they held themselves, the way they talked about the season. I looked at the academics and the pro-style offense, and I really liked that.”
Houston said that before Wilson began to tear college football apart. Whatever the end result of this season may be, it is safe to say that landing Wilson and his success on the field will only benefit the team in the long run. In a playbook doctrine that has been traditionally run-heavy and restricted by the lack of an elite quarterback, the arrival and performance of Russell Wilson have not only opened up the playbook for Wisconsin this season, but his performance in the Badgers offense will help to propel Wisconsin’s image for years to come. No longer will elite quarterback recruits ignore Wisconsin.
Wisconsin may not be on the road to the national championship, but the offensive fireworks this season have changed the common perception on the Badgers offense throughout the country. The Wisconsin offense is no longer boring football. Instead, the Badgers are becoming a balanced offensive juggernaut. With more chances than ever to show their full playbook and style on national television with Wilson’s excellent play, a possible berth in the Big Ten Championship game and a potential BCS bowl will only extend the influence of the new Wisconsin brand to the best recruits in the nation.
Nick is a senior majoring in English and history. He likes to talk a lot about Wisconsin sports. If you have any questions about anything Wisconsin-sport related, he’s your guy. So send him an email at email@example.com.