Fiutak: It's Game On Again For Wisconsin
Wisconsin QB Danny O'Brien
Wisconsin QB Danny O'Brien
Posted Mar 28, 2012

The signing of Danny O'Brien bails out the Badger quarterback situation.

O'Brien Chooses Bucky

UW's season saved again

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It’s not exactly Peyton Manning going to Denver, but Danny O’Brien going to Madison might be the biggest story of the college football offseason. Now it’s Game On again for Wisconsin as a Big Ten contender, and maybe more.

For the second straight season the Badgers were bailed out from a potential disaster by the arrival of a former ACC quarterback. Last year, the team’s top quarterback options were knocked out for the year and Russell Wilson came in and saved the day. Curt Phillips suffered a knee injury and Jon Budmayr had a strange nerve problem in his arm, and both are still iffy at best going into this year. Wilson turned in one of the most efficient and effective seasons in the history of college football – only to be overshadowed by Mr. Griffin down in Baylor – and led the way to the school’s second straight Rose Bowl appearance and a win in the inaugural Big Ten championship.

And that’s the bar set for O’Brien.

O’Brien isn’t Wilson. He’s not the same playmaker, he’s not as accurate, and he’s not as mobile. However, he might be a better pro prospect because of his 6-3, 215-pound size, deep arm, and enough mobility to take off when needed. He’s also walking into a quarterback’s dream world working behind a massive offensive line that’ll keep him clean, and having a Heisman-caliber running back in Montee Ball to hand off to. O’Brien, like Wilson last year and Scott Tolzien two years ago, has to be accurate, connect on his third down throws, and take advantage of defenses that load up to stop the run. He can do that.

Seen wearing a Penn State jacket over the weekend, the former Maryland starter was assumed to be going to Happy Valley to salvage a miserable passing game in Bill O’Brien’s first season. However, even though Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden aren’t Big Ten-caliber quarterbacks, there would still be a bit of a fight for the No. 1 job on a team that has to do some rebuilding and at a college that’s going to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons for the foreseeable future. Instead, O’Brien gets to grow into the Wisconsin starting job on a team that’s a few tweaks away from possibly going to a third straight Rose Bowl.

Not only is the Badger quarterback situation settled, but it should be set for the next few seasons. Wilson became a Badger legend and spokesman for the school in his short time, but he was a one year rental. O’Brien has two years of eligibility left and can grow into the job. Head coach Bret Bielema only recruits one quarterback a year, and now he and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can work on developing options for the future rather than speed up the timetable and throw a third or fourth option to the wolves if Phillips and/or Budmayr aren’t ready.

Before O’Brien, Wisconsin was the favorite to win the Leaders division with Penn State in turmoil, Ohio State not eligible for the Big Ten title, and with Illinois, Indiana and Purdue being Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. The team still has work to do in the receiving corps, some new starters have to shine on both sides of the line, and the special teams needs to find a new kicker and punter, but O’Brien’s signing is a major sigh of relief.

Wisconsin just won the offseason.