Wisconsin Football: Why Curt Phillips Is the Key to Badgers' Big Ten Title Hopes

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Wisconsin Football: Why Curt Phillips Is the Key to Badgers' Big Ten Title Hopes
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Many people—including some of the Wisconsin Badger faithful—may currently be wondering, "Who in the heck is Curt Phillips?"

The short answer is that he is a senior quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers, but the long answer is so much more than that.

Entering college, Phillips was hyped as one of the more prized quarterback recruits in Wisconsin history. Out of Kingsport, Tenn., Phillips was a PrepStar All-American and the No. 10 quarterback recruit of the 2008 class.

Three ACL surgeries and only 12 pass attempts later, Phillips finds himself with just three regular season games remaining in his college career, and yet he is the key who could open the door to the Big Ten title for the Wisconsin Badgers.

How can this be?

The Badgers haven't quite exhausted all their options at quarterback, but they have come pretty darn close.

After a disappointing start to the season from Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien, former walk-on and freshman Joel Stave revitalized the Wisconsin offense and led the team to a 5-1 record after a start equivalent to a snail's pace out of the gate.

But on the first play in the third quarter last Saturday against Michigan State, Stave was sacked and landed hard on his left side, fracturing his left clavicle and ending his season.

Once again, head coach Bret Bielema turned to O'Brien, and once again, the Badgers' offense completely shut down, resulting in another close loss with O'Brien at the helm.

Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Is Wisconsin's season a lost cause without Stave?

That's where Curt Phillips steps in.

Despite the multiple ACL surgeries, Phillips still has more mobility than O'Brien and Stave, as he was labeled a dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school. Having missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons, this is the healthiest Phillips has been in years.

O'Brien had his chance—and then he had another opportunity. A quarterback who has previously thrived in a pro-style offense coming to a team that runs a pro-style offense seemed like a perfect fit, and yet it has been a complete disaster.

In each of Wisconsin's three defeats, it has been O'Brien in at quarterback at the end of the game. Keep in mind that Stave was removed in favor of O'Brien against Nebraska with under two minutes remaining.

There is no other legitimate option at quarterback behind O'Brien and Phillips. The time is now to give Phillips his fair shot at the job, and if Bielema is smart, he will give that opportunity to the redshirt senior next week against Indiana.

It would be a perfect game to break in Phillips, whose only attempted pass this season was wiped out by penalty. The Hoosiers have allowed an astounding 222.5 rushing yards per game, the 13th worst mark in the FCS.

It's the worst rushing defense among Big Ten teams by a long shot, and Wisconsin has already run wild on Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois this season. All the Badgers would ask of Phillips is to turn around and hand off the football.

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And with Phillips under center, he adds another dimension with his running ability, so he could take advantage of the porous Indiana run defense and take off running once in a while as well. 

Certainly, the offensive line struggled against Michigan State, but the Spartans boast one of the best defenses in all of college football. Even if the pocket were to collapse with Phillips in at quarterback, his feet could get the Badgers out of a jam. 

So why is Phillips the key to the Badgers' Big Ten title hopes if nobody knows for sure that he will be named the starter for next week's game?

With the way O'Brien has performed this season, Bielema may be left no choice but to start Phillips for the remainder of the season, and with the hard work Phillips has put in to fight back to this point in his career, gut feeling is that he will get the nod after the two QBs duke it out during the bye week in practice.

That being said, the roller coaster ride known as Wisconsin's season proves just how vital the quarterback position is to the Badgers' success.

Once Phillips is named the starter against Indiana—the answer should officially come by next Tuesday—he inherits Wisconsin's hopes and dreams for the B1G title.

The Badgers strength on offense, as well as for Phillips, is running the ball, and with Indiana's documented struggles stopping the run, Wisconsin should escape Bloomington with a victory and a bid locked up to Indianapolis.

After that, anything can happen, as the Badgers have shown they can play Nebraska, the current front runner for the Legends Division crown, tough.

What a great story it would be if Phillips, who has faced so much adversity in his college career, could lead the Badgers to their third straight Rose Bowl appearance. 

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