Wisconsin Gets Russell Wilson
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson
Posted Jun 27, 2011

In a unique situation that could make a huge difference in the national title picture, former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson signed with Wisconsin over Auburn and will be eligible to play this season. What does it all mean for the Badgers? Are they now the favorites to win the Big Ten title? Pete Fiutak says this changes everything for Wisconsin and the Big Ten.

Russell Wilson to UW

The Badgers Get A QB

By Pete Fiutak
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Wisconsin has some major holes to fill, and it just took care of its biggest piece.

Former NC State star Russell Wilson might not be the most popular quarterback in Wisconsin, but until the NFL figures out what its doing, Aaron Rodgers will have to share the spotlight.

In one of the more interesting transfers in recent years, Wilson, the former franchise NC State quarterback, had a choice to leave school and play baseball for the Colorado Rockies farm system or take one more year to try to make something out of his college football career. One of the best ACC playmakers over the last few seasons, Wilson threw for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns with just 26 interceptions – starting out with a brilliant 17 TD, one pick freshman campaign – and also ran for 1,083 yards and 17 scores. As good as he was for NC State, he had a unique opportunity to go elsewhere as a sort of free agent who could put a great team over the top. Claiming he wanted to play "big time college football" - take that, ACC - he was trying to decide between Auburn and Wisconsin with the ability to step in to a great situation at either school.

According to various reports, his visit to Wisconsin went about as perfect as possible, and while he would've put up huge numbers in Gus Malzahn's Auburn offense, the Badgers are a better fit for what he's looking for. The Tigers are rebuilding, and while the addition of Wilson might be the difference between a good season and another special one, he wasn't going to be Cam Newton and there was no way he'd ever be able to live up to the lofty, shoe-filling expectations.

Winning the national title is going to be next to impossible for Auburn this year coming out of the loaded and improved SEC West, but with the right breaks Wilson could take the Badgers to the title game. His signing overcomes a slew of other issues.

From defensive coordinator Dan Doeren – who left to take over the head coaching gig at Northern Illinois – to several key veteran on the offensive line, to J.J. Watt from the defensive front, to a few key veterans gone on both sides of the ball, the Badgers lost several important parts to the team that was devastating and dominant at times last year.

It's Wisconsin, so the loss of an Outland Trophy blocker like Gabe arimi isn't as painful as it would be at most schools; there are more big, talented offensive linemen ready to step up. Watt's departure from the defensive front hurts, but the coaching staff appears to have a good plan in place with several players stepping up this offseason to manufacture more pressure from various spots.

TThe running game will still be devastating, the defense will be solid, and the kicking game should be good, but none of the positives matter for a team with Big Ten title aspirations if the quarterback situation couldn't be settled.

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TThe running game will always be what makes the Wisconsin attack go, but Scott Tolzien was the difference between playing somewhere in Florida on New Year's Day and going to Pasadena. The yards might not have been there, but Tolzien was terrific leading the nation's fourth most efficient passing game and showing his senior leadership time and again – up until the poor two-point conversion attempt in the final moments against TCU. Wilson doesn't have to be Peyton Manning, or Cam Newton, but he can be more than Tolzien.

All he has to do is hand the ball off, hang out behind a massive offensive line, and use his accuracy and decision-making ability to give the Badgers a balanced attack that can get vertical. He doesn't have to take the entire offense on his back with the usual pounding coming from the tremendous stable of backs.

And now, all of a sudden, Wisconsin is a player. The spring session was disastrous with dual-threat quarterback Curt Phillips getting knocked out for a second straight year with a knee injury, Jon udmayr struggling mightily, and with no one else taking the job by the horns. What was the team's glaring weakness could now be the second biggest strength behind the ground game.

The Leaders is there for the taking with Ohio State weakened and wounded, Penn State looking good, but hardly special, and with Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue all mediocre. The schedule is more than manageable with UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois (played in Chicago), and South Dakota to use as tune-ups before facing Nebraska in Camp Randall. Outside of the trip to Soldier Field, the Badgers don't play a true road game until October 22nd at Michigan State, followed up by a date at Ohio State. Win those two games, and New Orleans on January 9th is in play instead of Pasadena on January 2nd.

And that's where Wilson comes in. He might have regressed a bit last year after pressing too much, throwing 14 picks including three in the loss to East Carolina and three more against Virginia Tech, but he also threw for 362 yards against the Hokies and threw for 322 against the Pirates. He won't have to throw the ball 40 times a game, or 60 times like he did against Maryland, and he won't have to press in the Badger offense. The big lights and the big stage shouldn't faze him with his 36 games of experience to rely on, but he also has to try to fit in. Can he handle being the missing piece rather than the main man?

Wisconsin will be all too happy to find out.