For the fourth straight season, the Wisconsin Badgers played in a New Year's Day bowl, and for the fourth straight season, they came away losers—going down to South Carolina, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl.
Wisconsin also left a lot of opportunities for victory on the field for the fourth straight year, none more glaring than the plays missed by quarterbacks Joel Stave and Curt Phillips.
Starter Joel Stave finished his day 9-of-13 but managed only 80 yards with two touchdowns. He also threw a fluke interception that bounced off an offensive lineman's foot and suffered a shoulder injury thanks to a vicious hit on a scramble attempt in the second half.
It meant sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, who had all of two passes to his name coming in, would have to put the Badgers on his back, down 20-17.
No doubt Phillips was put in a tough situation, coming in cold and expected to get a passing game going, but he also missed opportunities to win the game for the Badgers—including throwing a game-deciding interception with Wisconsin needing a touchdown, down 34-24 with under two minutes remaining.
Phillips finished the day 7-of-12 for just 37 yards and two interceptions.
In total the Badgers finished 16-of-26 for 117 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. That doesn't get it done when you are trying to play comeback football, as the Badgers were for most of the second half.
Wisconsin was able to lean on a very strong run game against the stout South Carolina defense—rushing for 293 yards as a team.
However, when the Badgers needed something extra from their quarterback, it just wasn't there.
That fact was no more evident than in the final five minutes, when the Badgers, trailing by 10, were forced to pound the football thanks to the inconsistent play of their quarterbacks.
All Wisconsin needed to do was to look to the other sideline for a glimpse of what a good running game combined with a dynamic quarterback can do for a team.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw torched the Badgers for 312 yards on 22-of-25 passing with three touchdowns thrown, one receiving and one rushing. Shaw also added 47 yards on the ground to go with the rushing touchdown.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has said since day one that he would like to have a run option in his quarterback, telling the world at his introductory press conference as much:
I do want to have a touch of option within the game, the game plan every week to force defenses to deal with it. But we're going to line up and let those big kids work. That's what they like to do, and we should be able to recruit and get in any recruiting battle in the country with a quality running back.
Year one didn't provide that option, as Joel Stave proved to be the only quarterback with an ability to accurately hit the deep ball and manage the game to the coaches' satisfaction.
Andersen may have been forced to work with what was around the program in year one, but come next year the Badgers are going to need a lot more out of the position if they want to stay in the Big Ten title hunt and the national conversation.
The question is whether or not the Badgers have that dynamic quarterback in the fold.
Bart Houston, an elite-11 quarterback in 2011, may be someone the Badgers can turn to that's already in house.
He redshirted in 2012 after a shoulder surgery and has only been cleared to resume throwing for just over a year now. Houston spent this season running the scout team for Wisconsin, and the coaches have taken notice of his improvement.
"He is markedly better than he was when we came in in the spring," Ludwig said, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "and even through the course of the summer."
One thing that Houston and most good quarterbacks don't lack for is confidence, and he believes himself able to take the starting job in 2014.
"It's within my reach; I know that," Houston told Potrykus. "Joel has got the experience. And that's what he's got over me. Experience goes a long way."
Houston comes from the famed De La Salle High School program in Concord, California—where they run the veer offense—so he is familiar with the concepts needed to read defenses in the run game.
Wisconsin also has another option already playing this season, safety Tanner McEvoy.
His situation was a unique one from the word go. McEvoy, a JUCO transfer, made the decision to sign with Wisconsin just before national signing day as one of Gary Andersen's lone "gets" in the 2013 class.
McEvoy broke his hand during fall practice and was ruled out of the battle because of it. However, the staff knew that his athletic ability couldn't be kept off the field, and after trying him at wide receiver for a bit, he was moved to safety.
He would see the field in 10 games, eventually becoming a regular starter at safety for the Badgers.
The future for McEvoy will be at quarterback though, as he split the bowl prep time, according to Potrykus, between safety and QB.
If his arm and mental game can match the clear athletic ability he demonstrated in 2013, McEvoy could well be Wisconsin's starter in 2014.
The Badgers will also welcome highly touted 2014 recruit D.J. Gillins to the fold when the spring semester starts up at the end of January. He is currently ranked as the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback, according to 247sports' composite rankings.
Getting an early start in the playbook and weight room will help Gillins' ability to fight for the starting job come fall camp.
The good news is that the coaching staff knows it needs more out of the quarterback position going forward and that there are clearly options to turn to outside of what Stave gave the team this season.
After a year of being stuck with what was ready to play at Wisconsin, 2014 could lead the Badgers in a more dynamic direction at quarterback—and after their Capital One Bowl performance, probably not a moment too soon.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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