Wisconsin to start Tolzien at QB for opener

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After issuing a pretty vague Week 1 depth chart, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema provided some clarity after Thursday's practice.

As expected for the last few days, junior Scott Tolzien will get the start at quarterback when the Badgers face Northern Illinois on Sept. 5. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips also is expected to play, but Tolzien will walk out there first after a steady performance during training camp.

"Scott has done the best of handling and maintaining his poise and his focus throughout camp of all three of them," head coach Bret Bielema told reporters after Thursday's practice. "I say a lot for all three of those guys the way they handled their business. Somebody was going to have to come out on top and Scottie is going to get that starting nod.

"He is just a steady performer. Doesn't get rattled in any situation. He is very, very intelligent. And the part that probably jumped out to me is his accuracy, just the way he has been able to complete the pass."

Phillips can still help his cause for playing time with strong play during practice next week. The Tennessee native brings a different element to the offense with his athleticism, but at Wisconsin, it's all about managing the game and limiting mistakes. Tolzien, a very heady player, made the fewest blunders during camp. He has "game manager" written all over him.

Perhaps Bielema is buying time for Phillips, as the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates suggests in a good column about the decision.

"UW can probably get by with a game manager such as Tolzien at quarterback against Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Wofford. But while game-manager types have worked effectively for UW's ball-control offense in the past, the college game has changed dramatically in recent years and it's no longer enough just to play mistake-free football at the position.

By the time Michigan State comes to Madison for the Big Ten Conference opener, UW will need a quarterback who can make plays -- with his arm, his feet or both. ... So in buying time to determine who is No. 1, the Badgers found the best possible scenario after Phillips showed in recent practices that he wasn't quite ready to make sound decisions once the game sped up. After two or three nonconference games, the coaches should know whether Tolzien has improved enough to consistently make key plays from the pocket or whether Phillips can avoid the interceptions that have plagued him."

After quarterback play killed Wisconsin last year, Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst need to get this right. Tolzien has a chance to stabilize the offense early on, but Phillips still could be the team's best playmaking option.