It was Curt Phillips who received the "starting" nod at the Wisconsin football spring game, but by the time the final whistle blew, there was a new man who emerged at the top in the Badgers’ quarterback competition.
You may remember him—the former walk-on who was inserted after halftime against head coach Gary Andersen's old team in Week 3 of the 2012 season? The guy who took the quarterback job and ran with it, turning around the Badgers' season after a dismal start?
That would be sophomore Joel Stave, who received an ill-fated end to his rookie campaign at Wisconsin when he was slammed to the ground against Michigan State on Oct. 27, resulting in a broken collarbone that kept him out for the remainder of the regular season.
Even once Stave had fully recovered from his injury, it was the senior Phillips, after starting the season as the third-string quarterback, who retained the starting position. Stave heaved one throw in the Rose Bowl, a perfect deep ball to Jared Abbrederis, but the standout receiver couldn't quite haul it in.
Then the Badgers underwent a coaching change. And since Phillips was the starter at the end of the 2012 season, he entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback. If it hadn't been for Stave's fractured clavicle, there would be no debate—he would be the unquestioned starter heading into next season, and Phillips may not have even bothered petitioning for a sixth year of eligibility.
Who is leading the way in the Badgers' QB competition?
But that's not how it played out. Stave was left with the challenge of proving himself all over again to a completely new coaching staff.
Throughout the spring, Stave and Phillips have been neck-and-neck, with Phillips grasping the offense better, and Stave showing off the best arm of the group. Phillips can move around better, while Stave can hit a target from over 60 yards away.
But for anyone who watched Wisconsin's spring game on the afternoon of April 20, it's pretty evident who's in control of the quarterback reigns now—Joel Stave.
In the first quarter, Stave was an efficient 5-of-6 for 58 yards, leading the offense on a 71-yard touchdown drive that culminated in an 11-yard run by Melvin Gordon. He continued to be right on the mark in the second quarter, finishing the first half completing 11 of 13 passes for 131 while leading another drive that ended with a touchdown.
Those would be the only two times the Badgers found pay-dirt on the late afternoon/evening. Stave missed one deep ball and came under pressure on his final drive, but at the end of the day, he completed over 70 percent of his passes and made some very tough throws.
Phillips was also fairly efficient, but he couldn't lead the offense to anything other than a field goal. It's more of what Stave did rather than what Phillips didn't do. But sometimes it doesn't take an injury—or even poor play—to lose your job.
To say Phillips is losing a grasp on the job isn't all that fair to say, as he and Stave both received starting experience last season, and both did their part to get the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. But that job now belongs to Stave unless Phillips is able to, well, pull a Stave.
That, or if junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy comes on this summer and "wows" the coaching staff with his dual-threat ability. It's entirely possible, as Andersen seems to have a soft spot for running quarterbacks.
But that's an argument for another day. Right now, Joel Stave is in control of the quarterback battle thanks to his impressive performance at Wisconsin's spring game.