When Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave took over for Danny O'Brien midway through the Utah State game in Week 3, doubt crept into the minds of the Badgers faithful.
Is it already time to abandon the Danny O'Brien project? Who is this Stave kid? Is he really the best option moving forward this season?
The answer to those three questions respectively are "yes," "he's the second coming of Sunshine," and "yes."
Stave can be credited with quarterbacking Wisconsin to five of its six victories this season. Although he has only started in four of those wins, he helped lead the Badgers' comeback against Utah State on that season-changing September night in Madison.
And in the one game the Badgers lost with Stave under center, he showed great poise in a hostile environment and nearly helped Wisconsin pull off the upset. Who knows—maybe he leads a game-winning drive if O'Brien isn't inserted in the game's final two minutes.
That, we'll never know, but what we do know is that Danny O'Brien isn't, in fact, a two-minute drill specialist.
Looking at Stave's numbers, it may not appear that he has accomplished much statistically. The freshman has completed 57 percent of his passes for 977 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions in five-and-a-half games.
There is one glaring issue for Stave thus far—completing passes on third down. He is 9-for-30 with one touchdown and all three of his picks coming on third down passing attempts (via Dave Heller of jsonline.com).
That’s good for a passer rating of 55.72. Ouch.
While those numbers don’t instill the utmost confidence in the Wisconsin fanbase, Stave doesn't have much to work with in the passing game. There is Jared Abbrederis—and that's essentially where it ends.
Stave has also been plagued by poor hands, including multiple drops against Minnesota that would have resulted in touchdowns.
Even so, it's about more than just the numbers. Stave brings a cool, calm and collected demeanor to the offense, and those are impressive traits for a freshman to possess.
Since Stave became the full-time starter at quarterback for the Badgers, there has been a different vibe surrounding this football team, and it’s depicted in Wisconsin’s 5-1 record when Stave is on the field.
He knows his main objective is to take care of the football and manage the offense while Montee Ball and James White carry the load in the ground game.
That being said, is Stave by default the quarterback of the future in Madison?
His two current competitors are Curt Phillips, who will be an outgoing senior, and O'Brien. But what are the odds the former Maryland quarterback sticks around past 2012 given his current situation?
Still, there should be two quarterbacks coming back from injury in 2013—junior Jon Budmayr, who underwent hip surgery, and highly touted freshman Bart Houston, who was redshirted due to a shoulder injury.
Will Joel Stave be a 4-year starter at Madison?
Houston is one of the more hyped incoming recruits at quarterback in recent memory for Wisconsin, a 4-star recruit out of Concord, Calif. who was ranked as the seventh best QB in the class of 2012 by scout.com.
Budmayr's injury-plagued career in Madison may be too much for him to overcome to compete for the starting job next season, but you can bet head coach Bret Bielema will want to get a long look at the talented Houston.
On the flip side, it can't be denied that Stave returned the winning attitude to Wisconsin when O'Brien failed to carry it over from 2011. That chemistry is something Bielema may want to avoid disrupting even with a potential Bart Houston debut looming.
A lot depends on how Stave closes out the season and how much success the Badgers have as a result of his performance. But, signs indicate that Stave has the moxy and the intangibles to be a starting quarterback for the remainder of the season—and beyond.
If that means Bart Houston has to wait three years for his opportunity in Madison, so be it. But something tells me that won't happen, because the hype-train is hard to stop once it gains momentum.
Should Stave begin to falter in the coming years, fan support for Houston will increase and the Badgers may be pressured into a quarterback switch, ending Stave's improbable run at Wisconsin.
Will this occur? Time will tell, but here's some food for thought.
The last time Wisconsin had a freshman take significant snaps under center—and consequently start for four years—was in 1999, when Brooks Bollinger led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl victory and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.