Wisconsin was on the verge of a 1-2 start as it stared an 11-point halftime deficit in the face in its fourth game of the season against Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium.
A season that once again was predicated on making the Rose Bowl, the Badgers had brought in another transfer quarterback—Danny O'Brien from Maryland. But that experiment appeared to have run its course.
In came the former walk-on, freshman quarterback Joel Stave. By no means was he perfect, but Stave helped lead Wisconsin back against Utah State, and after a few more games, it looked like aptitude had returned under center for the Badgers.
Remember that guy? Joel Stave? It seems like so long ago Stave broke his collarbone when he was sacked on the opening play from scrimmage in the second half back in Week 9 against Michigan State.
Stave's season was over—at least that was the initial indication. But just over six weeks later, the man who led Wisconsin to a 5-0 record in games that he finished returned to practice.
He has already been cleared to start throwing as of Dec. 10 according to an article from Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal, and before Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, he stated that Stave was ahead of schedule in his rehab.
It brings up a rather interesting dilemma. Should Stave, who is healthy enough to throw three weeks prior to the Rose Bowl, be given a chance to start at quarterback, or does that nod automatically go to Curt Phillips?
It could be awkward for interim head coach Barry Alvarez to take the reigns away from the redshirt senior and hand them back over to the freshman considering how Phillips asked the three-time Rose Bowl champ to coach the Badgers on Jan. 1.
Even so, the move is something Alvarez seriously needs to consider. While Phillips did quarterback Wisconsin to its explosive B1G Championship victory over Nebraska and has become a great story, he only posted a 2-2 record and there are still plenty of questions regarding his throwing ability.
Phillips was only asked to throw the ball 65 times in his four starts, and even then, he completed just 55.4 percent of his passes. Phillips did lead a couple of impressive two-minute drills to tie games against Ohio State and Penn State, but the Badgers ultimately lost those games.
With Stave under center, Wisconsin's offense saw an immediate attitude adjustment—a confident swagger that was lacking with O'Brien. It showed as the Badgers turned their season around, looking like a Rose Bowl contender once again by the time Stave went down with his injury.
Not only that, but Stave makes the Badger offense two-dimensional. Wisconsin's ability to drop 70 on the Cornhuskers two weeks ago was mind-numbing considering Phillips only threw the ball eight times and the defense knew what was coming on nearly every play.
Imagine how dangerous Wisconsin's rushing attack would be with Stave healthy and back in the starting role. In roughly six games of play, Stave completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,104 yards and six touchdowns while throwing three interceptions.
If Stave is healthy, who should start the Rose Bowl at QB?
To beat the Stanford Cardinal and their top-three run defense, the Badgers can't realistically expect to find continued success running the ball without at least keeping the Stanford defense honest.
Stanford has shown it is vulnerable at the back end of its defense, allowing 251.2 yards-per-game through the air, ranking No. 84 in the FBS.
Brian Bennett of ESPN.com suggested that Stave could enter the game if Wisconsin found itself behind and needing to pass, but the two-quarterback approach hasn't exactly paid dividends for the Badgers.
Besides, if Stave is healthy enough to play at all, then why shouldn't he get the start?
It's not as if the Badgers would be halting any momentum they built heading into the Rose Bowl. Phillips was hardly asked to do anything all night against Nebraska.
There shouldn't be any concern about Stave re-injuring his collarbone. Even if such a freak accident would occur, it's Wisconsin's final game of the season, and there would be plenty of time to allow the bone to heal.
Who knows? Maybe Phillips can put together a start-to-finish effort passing the ball, something he has failed—or has not been given the option—to do this season.
But that's the problem. Who knows?
With Stave, we do know.
Phillips' story may be inspiring, but a fairy tale ending would still be in the works if the man who helped bring the Badgers back to prominence this season returned from injury and led an 8-5 Wisconsin team to a Rose Bowl victory.
A lot of credit goes to Phillips for keeping the Badgers' head above water in Stave's absence, but if Joel Stave is healthy enough to give it a go in the Rose Bowl, he should start at quarterback for Wisconsin.