Just two years ago, Wisconsin football fans were a spoiled bunch.
The Badgers were led by the greatest quarterback in school history, Russell Wilson. While Wisconsin fell just short of winning the Rose Bowl, it won in dramatic fashion in the B1G Championship Game behind the heroics of Wilson, who was a thrill to watch during his lone season at Madison.
On the professional level, the Green Bay Packers were fresh off their first Super Bowl victory since 1997. Just like Wilson with the Badgers, the Packers were led by their own elite signal-caller, Aaron Rodgers, and were in the midst of a one-loss season.
What a difference two years can make.
Green Bay is presently without the services of Rodgers, who suffered a broken collarbone on Nov. 4, and the Packers subsequently haven't won a game since as they watch their season spiral down the drain. And at Wisconsin, a shocking defeat to Penn State in the final game of the regular season put a halt to any BCS bowl aspirations.
Tough times, indeed, and while there is no question who will be the long-term quarterback in Green Bay, the performance of Joel Stave against the Nittany Lions has people wondering just how much longer we'll see the sophomore from Whitnall High School under center for Wisconsin.
To say Stave was the reason the Badgers' regular season ended in bitter disappointment would simply be false, but he certainly aided the cause.
With an atypical showing for the Wisconsin ground attack, Stave was called upon to pick up the slack with his arm. He failed to do so until it was too late, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes while throwing three interceptions in a forgettable performance.
It was a recipe for disaster on offense, but the fact of the matter is that the Badgers can't run the ball effectively every single week. Unfortunately, on the three instances when Wisconsin rushed the football fewer than 40 times this season, it failed to win the game, via Dave Heller of FOX Sports Wisconsin.
Those were games in which the Badgers either struggled to run the football or fell behind in the second half—games in which the quarterback needs to be counted upon to step up, be efficient and avoid mistakes.
Against Ohio State, Stave was admittedly assisted by a performance for the ages by Jared Abbrederis, but he completed 58.8 percent of his throws for 295 yards and two touchdowns. That effort was not duplicated against Penn State, nor in Tempe, Ariz., against Arizona State when Stave only connected on half of his passes.
These were the only three games in which the Badgers truly needed Stave to do more than hand off the football or live off the play-action passing game.
Let's keep in mind that Stave will still be starting Wisconsin's Jan. 1 bowl game and has two years of eligibility remaining. While that might be the case, it's no guarantee that Stave will start another game at Wisconsin after the 2013 season.
For the fourth consecutive season, we can expect to see another offseason quarterback competition, as Stave just hasn't played well enough to lock up the job for 2014.
It goes beyond Stave's numbers, which we'll get to in a moment. There could be as many as five quarterbacks next season who will be in the mix to start—Stave, highly regarded recruit D.J. Gillins, walk-on freshman Connor Senger, redshirt freshman Bart Houston and sophomore safety Tanner McEvoy, who converted from quarterback to defense following a wrist injury.
Both Houston and Gillins are 4-star recruits according to 247sports, and McEvoy was also regarded as a 4-star commit as a junior college transfer. Both Stave and Senger, who was nicknamed "Young Russ" in comparison to Russell Wilson, were walk-ons from the same Wisconsin high school conference.
When you put it that way, the odds sure don't appear to be in Stave's favor.
But Stave leads in the most important category—experience. He has started 18 games at the FBS level while the other four candidates have a grand total of zero.
In his first full season as Wisconsin's starting quarterback, Stave has a 61.6 completion percentage with 20 TDs, 12 INTs and 2,414 passing yards. Among regular B1G quarterbacks, Stave is No. 3 in completion percentage, No. 5 in yards and No. 6 in TD/INT ratio.
How does that compare to other Badger quarterbacks in their first full season at starter?
|Wisconsin quarterbacks in their first full season as a starter|
|Player||Year||Completion %||TD/INT ratio||Yards per game|
Obviously, Russell Wilson had starting experience prior to his arrival, so he doesn't crack the list. But Wilson's impact is clear—he raised the bar in terms of what Wisconsin fans expect from their starting quarterback, and even though Stave outperformed nearly everyone on this chart, more is desired.
The commitments the Badgers are beginning to receive at quarterback are unlike any in the past. It began with Wilson, and has continued with McEvoy, Gillins and 2015 commit Austin Kafentzis.
These aren't your typical Badgers of yesteryear—while the elite running game remains, quarterback has become a higher priority in recruiting. Considering the amount of talent currently at the position, at least for Wisconsin's standards, Stave hasn't played well enough to be a bona fide four-year starter.
Could he still be the most reliable quarterback on the roster come next season? Sure, but head coach Gary Andersen would rather not make that assumption, and he has plenty of options to mull over.
It's a numbers game at the quarterback position entering next season in Madison. The easy answer is to say it's too early to determine who will be starting at quarterback next season for Wisconsin, but the odds might not be in Stave's favor.
Come Jan. 1, Stave won't only be celebrating the new year, but he may also be indulging in his final start as a Wisconsin Badger.