Wisconsin Football: 5 Best QBs Badgers Will Face in 2014
Looking around the Big Ten, there are a number of high-profile quarterbacks. There's Heisman candidate and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg, Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP Connor Cook and the prolific Devin Gardner.
Fortunately for the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers avoid playing every single one of those quarterbacks as they all fall into the newly realigned East division.
While the Badgers schedule is far from soft, there is a pretty noticeable lack of top quarterbacks on their schedule. They catch LSU in their first game without Zach Mettenberger at the helm, though facing a top-tier SEC team can never be an easy game, even with the Tigers replacing numerous starters on both sides of the ball.
Once the Badgers get into the Big Ten portion of their schedule, they face a variety of good offenses; however, few have top quarterbacks leading them. An honorable mention goes to Tommy Armstrong Jr., as he could be really good, though he was far too inconsistent last season to crack this list.
To put this list together, I looked at their career stats, how the system has developed quarterbacks in the past as well as a proprietary formula of rash opinions based on what I've seen from these players. Let's start with No. 5 in the land of Lincoln.
No. 5: Wes Lunt (Illinois)
The fact that Wes Lunt, he of more career interceptions than touchdowns, cracks this list should tell you how weak the crop of quarterbacks the Badgers face is. Lunt went 11 of 11 in their first game against Savannah State, a game the Oklahoma State Cowboys won 84-0.
Yes, that's right, Lunt hasn't actually thrown a pass in Urbana, Illinois, or Champaign, Illinois, where the Fighting Illini play, but that doesn't make him any less appropriate for this list.
Nathan Scheelhaase looked like a real quarterback his senior year after throwing for four touchdowns and eight interceptions his junior year. Maybe that means offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit actually knows what he's doing with the man under center as Scheelhaase was a lone bright spot on an otherwise putrid team.
Lunt has prototypical size for a quarterback—he stands at 6'5"—and will likely be called upon to throw a million times a game as the Fighting Illini's defense is porous, and that's putting it lightly. They'll be playing from behind a lot and thus, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lunt with 3,000 yards by the end of the season.
No. 4: Anthony Jennings/Brandon Harris (LSU)
I don't actually have too much insight on who will be the starting quarterback for LSU on opening day. Nor does the Times-Picayune. With that being said, whomever the Tigers trot out on August 30 will probably be one of the best quarterbacks the Badgers face all season.
Anthony Jennings is the more experienced of the two, seeing action in nine games last season as a freshman including a start in the bowl game against Iowa and a notable appearance in relief of Mettenberger against Arkansas where he led them to victory.
Brandon Harris, a freshman from Bossier City in Louisiana, was a 4-star recruit and the third-best dual-threat quarterback, according to 247 Sports, is likely the long-term answer for the Tigers. But a couple of months before his 19th birthday, this is quite a big stage to put a true freshman out on.
Regardless of who is picked, Jennings or Harris, they are better than Trenton Norvell, Mike White, Trevor Siemian, Danny Etling, Gary Nova, Tommy Armstrong or Mitch Leidner.
No. 3: Jake Rudock (Iowa)
Jake Rudock reminds me a lot of Joel Stave. That's both a backhanded compliment and an insult. A complisult if you will. Rudock's numbers are solid enough—more than 2,300 yards, 18 touchdowns against 13 interceptions—but he never seems to hit open receivers consistently and also has a propensity for throwing a big interception.
Last season against the Chris Borland-less Badgers, Rudock was awful, going 12 of 24 with 109 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Rudock was equally terrible against LSU in the Outback Bowl, going 9 of 22 with 102 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
But with numbers as horrible as those are, how is Rudock the third-best quarterback the Badgers face this season? Two reasons. One, Rudock is one of the more experienced quarterbacks they face that has any talent. With all due respect to Gary Nova and Trevor Siemian, they are both terrible.
The second reason is that Rudock is playing behind a really good line, and the Hawkeyes return most of their top receivers. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith, their top two receivers in terms of yardage, both return. While tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is gone, his backup Jake Duzey returns, who had only 29 fewer receiving yards than Fiedorowicz.
Rudock might not be great, but the Hawkeyes have a good chance to go into their November 22 matchup against the Badgers 10-0 if he can limit his mistakes and let their running game do most of the heavy lifting.
No. 2: C.J. Brown (Maryland)
C.J. Brown falls in the Robbie Hummel or Jared Abbrederis group of "how is he still in school?" Though the latter two have moved on, Brown still remains. Brown took a redshirt in 2009 and then missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL and successfully appealed for an additional year.
Brown is crazy athletic, having compiled more than 1,000 yards on the ground throughout his career including 576 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, just one year removed from ACL surgery. Brown can also hurt you with his arm, totaling more than 2,200 yards to go with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Brown also has the benefit of throwing to two of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. This dynamic duo of receivers can make a decent quarterback look really good at times, and Maryland hopes that's the case this year.
Between Brown's experience, his legs and who he has to throw to, he is an easy choice for the best Big Ten quarterback the Badgers have to face this season, though it's only easy because they are staring down one of the weakest possible crops of quarterbacks in the league.
No. 1: Matt Johnson (Bowling Green)
With all of those great quarterbacks in the Big Ten, who would have thought that the best quarterback the Badgers will face is from the MAC. Not me.
But Matt Johnson is no ordinary MAC quarterback. Last year, Johnson was mostly phenomenal, though he struggled outside of MACtion. In the MAC Championship game against then 16th-ranked Northern Illinois, Johnson well out-shined Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch, completing 21 of his 27 attempts for 393 yards and five touchdowns against no interceptions.
Johnson ended the season with 3,467 yards, 25 touchdowns against just seven interceptions and chipped in five rushing touchdowns to boot.
Bowling Green is the media's pick to win the MAC and much of that has to do with Johnson, who has found himself on the Maxwell Award preseason watch list. If he can rack up similar or better numbers than last year, the Badgers could find themselves staring down the toughest quarterback they face all season in September. That is, until the Big Ten title game if they make it there.