Big Ten spotlight: Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Two months ago, Scott Tolzien was the forgotten man at Wisconsin. His name barely got mentioned in discussions of the Badgers' quarterback competition, which most viewed as a two-man race between Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips. Now Tolzien is the starting quarterback of a 4-0 Wisconsin team that hopes to retain Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday at Minnesota (ESPN, noon ET). He leads the Big Ten and ranks 13th nationally in pass efficiency (164.3), and he earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors after tossing four touchdown passes in a win against Michigan State.

Tolzien checked in earlier this week to discuss his success and the challenges ahead.

How has your life changed here the last couple of weeks?

Scott Tolzien: Not too much. It hasn't been too much different. I'm just an Average Joe, I guess.

Have you exceeded your own expectations so far, or has it been what you expected?

ST: I came into the season with a lot of confidence. Every quarterback has to have that level of confidence if they want to be successful. But I don't think I've exceeded my expectations. I've played good football to this point, but there's still a lot of throws on the field that I haven't made that I can improve upon.

Where did that confidence come from? Was it the way you performed in camp?

ST: I'm a veteran. This is my fourth year, so it's not like this was anything I hadn't seen before. But it was also a good summer of work, watching film and throwing with the receivers. I just had a good camp and that boosted my confidence as well.

Coach [Bret] Bielema said what he likes about you is you're always the same guy every day. You don't change your approach to the game. Have you always been that way with football?

ST: One of my high school coaches had the saying, 'Don't get too high with the highs and don't get too low with the lows.' That's really important as a quarterback. When you win, you're going to get all the credit, and when you lose, you're going to get all the blame. So you have to be even-keeled and take the bullets as they come.

You say you're a veteran and you've been preparing. How important was the mental preparation to take on the starting job?

ST: Really it's been every day, trying to maximize the work, whether it's in the meeting rooms or out in practice throwing to the receivers, trying to win with location on every throw. And even if you're not getting the reps during the team time, you get all the mental reps. I feel I did that, and it's given me a boost through the years.

How do the mental reps help you become more confident to make plays that maybe aren't in the playbook, improvising and doing things that aren't scripted?

ST: First of all, it helps you see coverages. You don't have to be under center to see the coverages. And then just going through your progressions. It starts with just simple alignment, making sure your receivers and your guys are in the right spots when you come up to the line of scrimmage, and then going through your progressions. That's all stuff you can do, even if you're not the guy under center.

Are there things that have happened in the games that you can't prepare for in film and practice?

ST: Oh, sure, definitely. There's the noise factor within the game and then they've got the 25-second clock and guys rushing at your face. They're out to get you. It's not like practice, where they're going to lay off you.

You've had a lot of success so far at home. Now it's the first road trip. What are your expectations of how it's going to be?

ST: We've got to try not to change too many things. We're not in Camp Randall, but at the same time, you don't have to overhaul what you're trying to do. We've been successful up to this point and we've just got to stick with the plan and keep doing what we're doing.

Is there a greater level of concentration you have to have on the road?

ST: For sure. Your communication's at a premium. Same with pre-snap stuff, as far as cadence.

The wide receivers were a little bit under fire last year. How have they come along, especially guys like Nick Toon and Isaac Anderson?

ST: In a lot of their game reps last year, you could see it helped, just getting in the flow of the game and the confidence. These guys have worked their tails off, from winter conditioning through summer work and fall camp. These guys have come out with a worker's mentality, and it's really paid off for them.

Are you seeing them gain confidence in you as things go along?

ST: I hope that they gain confidence in me through the first four games. It's a starting point, it's a good start, but we've got to keep building.