Who is Russell Wilson?
So the big news finally dropped. Russell Wilson, considered by some the most sought-after transfer in college football history, made it official today: He’s going to be a Badger. Let’s take a look at who he is and venture some guesses about what his move to the Big Ten means for his new team and the conference as a whole.
Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Russell Wilson started at quarterback for three years at North Carolina State. While there he led the Wolfpack to two bowl games (including a victory over West Virginia in last year’s Champs Sports Bowl), won the 2008 ACC Rookie of the Year Award, and made two all-conference teams (first team in ’08, second team in ’10). During the three years he started he totaled 93 touchdowns (76 passing, 17 rushing) and threw 26 interceptions.
Historically speaking, what does the quarterback position mean for the Wisconsin offense?
Everybody knows that Wisconsin runs the ball. Except in the third quarter of a Rose Bowl against an undersized team that runs a 4-2-5 and is getting blown off the ball by a mammoth offensive line to the tune of six yards per carry (Paul Chryst, I will never forgive you. Ever.). Look at the good Wisconsin teams from the last two decades and you will see that good quarterback play lies at the heart of it (Darrell Bevell in 1993, Mike Samuel in 1998, Brooks Bollinger in 1999, 2000, and 2002, John Stocco in 2005 and 2006, and Scott Tolzien in 2009-2010). The disappointing teams (2001, 2004, 2008) featured Jim Sorgi (filling in for the oft-injured Bollinger), a young John Stocco, and the Allan Evridge-Dustin Sherer combination that still causes me to shudder (an aside: I was at the 2008 Wisconsin-Michigan showdown, aka the 19-0 game. After Michigan pulled to within 19-14 in the fourth quarter a Wolverine fan turned to me and said, "This is where you guys run the ball ten straight times, kill the clock, and send us home sad." Literally fifteen seconds after he completed his sentence Alan Evridge struck: a pick-six.).
Difficult to say at this point. On paper he’s an immediate upgrade over projected starter Jon Budmayr. Right now we’re two months and a couple of days away from the opener against UNLV. Is that enough time for Wilson to learn the offense? Develop a rapport with his teammates? Granted, the Wisconsin offense is little more than handing the ball off to Montee Ball or James White and then hitting the tight end for ten yards off a play-action fake. But under Paul Chryst the team now sprinkles in a number of pass plays predicated on timing (such as the short wheel route to Toon that netted a few first downs against Ohio State or the shovel pass used against Iowa). Those plays, called at the right time, can be devastating. Tolzien practiced those throws for three years before making his first start. Wilson will have one training camp.
If Wisconsin was a division favorite pre-Wilson, what are they with a proven commodity at the team’s biggest question mark? Probably conference favorites. But the skeptic in me remains apprehensive for the reasons listed above. How will Wilson adjust to a new team? A new conference? His play might be the difference between 7-1 and 4-4 in league play.
Shameless segue to Wednesday’s article? Yes. Is the Wilson transfer indicative of the Wisconsin program’s rise to elite? Consider: in recent years Wisconsin has signed out-of-state recruits offered by Florida, California, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State. After a two-year swoon in 2007-08, the program seems to be trending upwards. If Wilson can get Bucky to a second consecutive Rose Bowl will we be talking about Wisconsin as a national power?