Quarterback competitions took center stage around the Big Ten this spring and will continue to do so when preseason camps kick off in August. As camp approaches, we're examining each of the unsettled signal-caller races in the league, where they stand and what needs to be done in the all important summer months.
In the spotlight today: Wisconsin
Statistics: Stave took over the starting job from Danny O'Brien in Week 4 last season, throwing for 1,104 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in six games before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. Phillips then assumed command of the offense for the rest of the season, passing for 540 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in the Badgers' final five contests. Stave completed 58.8 percent of his attempts, compared to 56.8 for Phillips. McEvoy originally signed with South Carolina before playing one season at Arizona Western, where he completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,813 yards, with 25 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Where things stand: Stave and Phillips emerged as 1A and 1B from a pack of contenders this spring that included O'Brien and redshirt freshman Bart Houston; O'Brien has since announced his plans to transfer, while Houston -- who was injured much of last year -- appears destined to serve this season as an understudy. McEvoy arrived on campus a few weeks ago and will be given a chance to win the job before the season kicks off.
Summer buzz: After fielding a series of questions about his quarterback derby, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen lets out a little chuckle. That's because he remembers hearing about almost all of them in the 2011 preseason when he was at Utah State.
You coach long enough, and you've seen just about everything before. Still, the Badgers have a very interesting -- if not totally unprecedented -- situation at the most important position. They've got two guys who started large chunks of last season but are almost like rookies in a new system. And then there's the talented newcomer who could usurp them both.
If the season started today, either Stave or Phillips would get the call. Each has his strengths. Here's Andersen on Phillips, who battled back from a series of knee injuries to lead Wisconsin to the Big Ten championship last year:
"He's a very savvy, cagey veteran. He's very smart and understands his talent. He's a good leader -- kids respect him for what he's gone through in fighting through injuries. He leads by example with his work ethic, toughness and, frankly, his want-to to play football."
Andersen on Stave:
"Joel is a very talented young player who has some starts underneath his belt. The challenge for him is to continually grow and develop and absorb the offense. He throws the ball well. He looks like a quarterback. He walks in a room and you're gonna say, yep, that's a quarterback. It's harder for a young kid to come in and develop that leadership role, but he worked on it this spring."
Andersen likes what he has in both Phillips and Stave, and says the two just have to keep learning new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's system this summer so that they can play without thinking in preseason camp. The wild card this August will be McEvoy.
The only quarterback on the roster that Andersen recruited, McEvoy will have to play some serious catchup this summer in order to be at the same level as Stave and Phillips in the preseason. But he's got obvious physical tools.
"Tanner has a very impressive skill set," Andersen said. "He has the ability to hurt you with his arm, his mind and his legs, and that's important. Coming from a defensive background, I know that when a quarterback has all three of those, it's much more difficult to defend than if he only has one of the three or two of the three. It becomes a pretty vicious weapon."
Andersen says McEvoy will be given a chance to win the starting job, and all three quarterbacks will take first-team reps in training camp. He said the Badgers have enough depth at other positions that they could run two pass skeleton drills at the same time during practice, ensuring everyone is getting enough work.
As for a timetable on naming a starter? Andersen says there isn't one.
"We'll see how it goes through camp," he said. "When it happens, I believe it will happen. I've been through this a couple of times, and coach Ludwig has been through this a number of times. So we'll let it filter out, and I think it will be a pretty clear process."
For now, Andersen can't even say whether he'd be willing to play more than one quarterback this season.
"We'll really cross that bridge when we come to it," he said. "I would like to have a quarterback, yes, but I also want to make sure we have two quarterbacks ready to roll within our scheme."
Andersen has gone an unconventional route before, choosing true freshman Chuckie Keeton as his starter in that 2011 derby at Utah State. He'll keep an open mind during this latest competition.
"All three guys are going to compete," he said, "and may the best man win."
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