Alex Hornibrook’s 26-6 record is the best for any quarterback in program history, yet his performance often contradicted his team’s success. Now, ex-Wisconsin quarterback Hornibrook is officially headed to Tallahassee, Florida, to play his final season for Head Coach Willie Taggart at Florida State University.
With Kansas high school sensation Graham Mertz coming to Madison in the fall, a new era of Badger football is underway. Now that Hornibrook is gone, it’s time to address what narrative will surround him as the years go by, and as his time at Wisconsin becomes a distant memory.
Football: Alex Hornibrook to leave UW in pursuit of finishing his career elsewhereThe three-year starting quarterback for the University of Wisconsin football team Alex Hornibrook notified Head Coach Paul Chryst early Wednesday Read…
One may look back and see a quarterback who failed to illustrate a game-winning drive against Ohio State in the 2017 Big Ten Championship, or who benefited greatly from weak competition in the Big Ten West, or who didn’t need to do much but hand the ball off to Jonathan Taylor and get out of the way.
In total, these narratives drive a similar sentiment — it was impressive how much he won given the numbers he produced.
But how much did Hornibrook actually win?
He ended his Badger career with a 26-6 record — good for the highest winning percentage in Wisconsin football history.
It’s worth noting that Hornibrook’s tenure at Wisconsin was replete with luxuries — he played under the nation’s best offensive line and could hand the ball off to one of the greatest running backs to ever play at Wisconsin.
But despite his subpar performance at times, Hornibrook was a winner at Wisconsin.
Hornibrook came to Head Coach Paul Chryst’s team as a three-star recruit from the Philadelphia area in 2015. After redshirting the 2015 season, he battled senior Bart Houston for the starting position as a freshman and led the Badgers to an 11-3 overall record.
Hornibrook’s freshman year was a microcosm for his career at Wisconsin — generally subpar quarterback play, with flashes of greatness, but a lot of winning to show for it.
Hornibrook finished his freshman season with a 58.6 completion percentage, 1,262 yards, 7 yards-per-attempt, 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, leading the Badgers to the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game and a No. 9 national ranking to end the season.
For reference, only three quarterbacks in the NFL last season completed less than 58 percent of their passes. Their combined record was 12-25.
Hornibrook’s sophomore season — his first season as the full-time starter — followed a similar trend. In the 14 games he started, Hornibrook completed 62.3 percent of his passes, threw for 2644 yards, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The Badgers went 13-1 in what was arguably the greatest season in program history. If it weren’t for a questionable holding call on the Badgers as they marched down the field late in the fourth quarter of the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, they would have likely been Playoff bound.
Still, Hornibrook made his mark at the 2017 Orange Bowl, where he was named the game’s MVP after throwing for 258 yards and four touchdowns in a 34–24 takedown of the Miami Hurricanes. It was the seminal moment of Hornibrook’s tenure as Wisconsin’s quarterback.
While Hornibrook was pivotal to the Badgers’ success that season, eight quarterbacks in the NFL last season completed 62.3 percent of their passes or fewer. None of them had a winning record.
Through two seasons in Madison, it seemed like Hornibrook had taken steps to become one of the elite quarterbacks in the country, especially after his Orange Bowl performance. The progress was evident into his third season — five weeks into his junior year, Hornibrook was the fifth-highest graded quarterback in the nation by Pro Football Focus and sported a passer rating of 122.5 when he had a clean pocket.
But after week five, the team went 2-2 with him under center. In those games, he had a completion percentage above 60 just once and threw six touchdowns to nine interceptions.
So, Hornibrook’s junior season didn’t break the trend — in reality, it was eerily similar to his freshman campaign. He finished the season with a 59.5 completion percentage, 1,532 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in just nine games played.
And it bears repeating — only three quarterbacks in the NFL last season completed less than 58 percent of their passes. Their combined record was 12-25.
Hornibrook ended his Wisconsin career with a 60.5 completion percentage, 5,438 yards, 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions — good enough to rank 21st all-time in the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating, and 23rd all-time in the Big Ten in yards-per-attempt. And, of course, good enough to win 26 of 32 games.
But with four-star quarterback Graham Mertz coming to Madison next season, and Jack Coan playing well at times in relief of Hornibrook, it seems Hornibrook made a smart choice to play out his final season elsewhere. What’s surprising, though, is where he’s going.
Hornibrook has transferred to battle for the starting job at Florida State University, an almost polar opposite team and school to Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is a cold-weather team, premised around dominating the game on the line of scrimmage, running the football and playing tough defense. FSU, on the other hand, is a warm-weather team, one which relies on skill-position players to get out into space and make big plays. It will be interesting to see how his final season plays out, and whether he can continue to play winning football.
For Badger fans, Hornibrook’s career was a series of ups and downs. Those fans should hope incoming freshman Graham Mertz brings success with him to Madison, or they’ll wish they still had Alex Hornibrook — check-downs and all — under center.