After the most well-publicized "free agency" period in NCAA history, former N.C. State QB Russell Wilson has finally committed to play for the University of Wisconsin this fall. Wisconsin was already one of the favorites to win the new-look Big Ten this season, and after the events that transpired at Ohio State in the past few weeks, the addition of Wilson to the Badgers already potent offense could put them over the top.
While there are still some hurdles that Wilson needs to clear (i.e learn playbook, mesh with teammates), this development will lead to big changes in Madison and the Big Ten as a whole.
Whenever you can bring in a three-year starter from a BCS conference to fill a major area of need—you do it. Heading into the 2011 season, the biggest offensive question mark that surrounded Wisconsin was how to replace QB Scott Tolzein.
Tolzein, an ideal Badger QB, managed games precisely for the last two years, leading Wisconsin to two of their most successful seasons in over a decade. Using his excellent accuracy (73 percent pass completion in 2010) and high football IQ, Tolzein was the quintessential "game-manager," which is exactly what the Badgers needed.
While Wilson is not exactly a "game-manager," and his accuracy leaves something to be desired (58 percent pass completion in 2010), he still offers more upside than the other options at QB on the UW roster. Wilson's speed and playmaking abilities could also add another dynamic to an already stellar rushing attack.
While it is not a certainty that Russell Wilson will step right into the starting role (although it is certainly expected), he does not have an exceptional amount of competition.
Junior Curt Phillips, who was the most talented QB on the Badgers pre-WIlson, tore his ACL for the third time this spring and will miss the entire 2011 season, while sophomore Jon Budmayr was less than stellar in spring ball and looks like he could use another season of preparation before he is ready to start.
While the Badger QBs may not lack skill, they definitely lack experience, something that Wilson possesses in spades. Now that he has made up his mind, Wilson will need to get to Madison as soon as possible to meet his new team and pick up the playbook.
Russell Wilson has started since his freshman year at N.C. State and has racked up 76 career touchdown passes against just 26 interceptions while adding over 1,000 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground over his career.
His size is a little concerning (just 5'11", 201 lbs) as he will have to find some way to see over the Badgers' behemoth offensive line, but assuming he can work around them, Wilson is an upgrade for the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers offense in every sense.
Wilson will also have two things on his side in Madison that he never had in Raleigh: a mammoth offensive line and a top-tier rushing attack. With the best protection of his career and two excellent running backs (Montee Ball and James White) to hand the ball off to, Wilson will not be asked to win games by himself, which will allow him to take a more relaxed approach to the game.
UW looked to be a force to be reckoned with this season prior to Wilson's arrival, and now that he's in Madison, they may very well have an outside shot at a National Championship run.
However, Wisconsin is not the only team that is affected by this decision.
Now that the Big Ten has split into the "Legends" and "Leaders" divisions, the conference will take on a whole new look, one which makes this decision even more critical to each of the 12 teams. With the departures of Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel from Ohio State and the addition of Wilson to the Badgers, a shift of power has occurred.
Wisconsin has become the de facto favorites of the "Leaders" division, and if they can survive their October 29 game against a weakened Buckeyes team, they should have no problem claiming the inaugural division championship. This would likely lead to a rematch with either Michigan State or Nebraska, the strongest teams in the "Legends" division, in the Big Ten championship game.
While Russell Wilson may not single-handily change the face of the Big Ten, circumstances in Columbus had magnified the importance of his decision to become a Badger, and he has an excellent opportunity to lead Wisconsin to back-to-back conference championships for the first time since the '90s.
Facing Michigan State and Ohio State on the road in consecutive weeks will be a significant challenge, but if the Badgers can make it out of October unscathed (vs. Nebraska, vs. Indiana, at Michigan St., at Ohio St.) then they will have a great shot to make it to New Orleans on January 9, 2012.