Wisconsin just played the role of thief once again.
In what could become known as the “Russell Wilson Effect,” the Badgers pulled their latest robbery from the rest of college football this past Wednesday when former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien announced he will transfer to play in Madison.
The wait was not as long for O’Brien as it was for Wilson, but the Badgers are more than happy to accept their second ACC quarterback transfer to the program in as many years. Like Wilson, O’Brien will not have to sit out the mandatory year for transfers because he has already graduated. Add that to the fact that the former ACC Freshman of the Year has two years of eligibility remaining and the Badgers are primed for another run to Roses.
The quarterback situation this spring looked bleak at best before O’Brien’s decision was announced. With redshirt junior Jon Budmayr becoming a self-described “case study” with nerve issues in his right (throwing) arm and redshirt senior Curt Phillips rehabbing from yet another ACL tear in his right knee, the Badgers were reduced to just two healthy starting quarterbacks this spring before the O’Brien announcement.
While there may be potential in UW’s young, healthy quarterbacks in redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave, the Badgers should count themselves lucky they have once again answered their biggest question heading into this year’s spring game. While last year Badger fans had to weather the quarterback issue until the last week of June, Wisconsin fans can rest easy knowing that — even though Bielema will make him compete to win the starting job — they have their quarterback issues solved for the immediate future.
This announcement and move could not come at a bigger time for Wisconsin. With the rest of the Big Ten looking strong behind Ohio State’s hire of Urban Meyer and the whirlwind of recruits that decommitted across the country for the Buckeyes, Wisconsin has once again made itself relevant for all the right reasons, bringing in perhaps the free agent of the college football season.
Russell Wilson’s transfer and success last year were no local secret. Thanks to widespread media coverage and multiple primetime games on ESPN, the Badgers were able to show big-talent quarterback recruits across the country that Wisconsin is no longer a program where the running game takes away from the passing game.
Rather, Wilson and former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst showed that Wisconsin could be a completely balanced offense with a talented player under center. Even in the games Wisconsin lost last year, nobody could blame those defeats on the prolific offense.
Another positive early sign from O’Brien’s transfer is he committed to a Wisconsin program without Chryst manning the offense. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system will be similar to Chryst’s signature pro-style offense, which the Badgers have run in previous years. O’Brien will eagerly look to run a Badger offense more like that of his freshman year under former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen and then-offensive coordinator James Franklin — a season where he threw for 22 touchdowns and only eight interceptions — instead of the spread that was installed his sophomore year with the Terrapins.
While there is never any certainty when it comes to football, the Badgers can only benefit from this transfer. Granted, it’s highly unlikely O’Brien will be able to produce the extraordinary stats that Wilson produced in his record-setting senior season, but it does show a shifting in the culture at Wisconsin. Even though the program rarely reels in the big fish in the recruiting world, the quarterback transfers in the last two years show Bielema has his team in the spotlight more than ever.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, the Badgers have a solid chance at making a return to Pasadena and completing the three-peat. With a returning Heisman hopeful in Montee Ball, an always-solid offensive line anchored by Travis Frederick and a group of receiving targets including Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen, the Badgers have all the offensive pieces in place that O’Brien could have hoped for.
A schedule that includes home games against conference thorns Michigan State and Ohio State (who won’t be able to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game because of a one-year postseason ban from the NCAA) only heightens the chances of another Badger run.
If the 2012 football season is to be one of fresh faces at Wisconsin, it was only fitting the Badgers would land a transfer quarterback to be the potential starter. In an offseason marked with roster upheaval — among both coaches and players — the fact that Wisconsin snagged O’Brien answers many of the questions the Badgers faced during spring practices.
While Wisconsin fans are unsure of how talented O’Brien could be, they should take comfort in knowing O’Brien chose Wisconsin over former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and current head coach Bill O’Brien, a man who worked with talented professional quarterbacks like Tom Brady.
Now that the news has been announced, only one thing is certain: The aroma of roses has just gotten a little stronger for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Nick is a senior majoring in English and history. What do you think about O’Brien’s move? Let him know at [email protected]