Football fans love quarterbacks with big arms.
Wide receivers are no different.
But when push comes to shove, given a choice between a strong-armed quarterback and an accurate one, University of Wisconsin junior wide receiver Nick Toon has no doubt where he falls.
"I'll take an accurate quarterback who can put it where it needs to be over a guy that has a cannon any day," Toon said.
No one has ever labeled UW senior Scott Tolzien's right arm a "cannon," but he is getting by just fine.
After four games, Tolzien is threatening the UW record books with his accuracy. He has completed 64 of 84 throws for 76.2 percent. In the school's history, Tolzien is one of only four quarterbacks to complete better than 60 percent of his passes in a season. Darrell Bevell did it three times and holds the record at 67.8 percent, set in 1993. John Stocco (2005) and John Coatta (1950) each did it once.
Tolzien completed 64.3 percent of his passes last season, his first year as a starter. He is at 66.7 percent for his career, which would be a record. Bevell is next at 61.4 percent, the only other quarterback to complete 60 percent of his passes for his career.
"It's expected with him, after last year, with the efficiency," senior wide receiver David Gilreath said of Tolzien's accuracy. "Anything less, we're kind of like, ‘Is he sick? Is there something wrong with him?' He's a perfectionist and it's showing out there on Saturdays."
The most surprising thing about Tolzien's accuracy is it doesn't lead the Big Ten Conference. Northwestern junior Dan Persa has completed 80.2 percent of his passes in his first year as a starter.
"There are a lot of good quarterbacks in the Big Ten," Tolzien said. "There always has been. This year's no different. I think in a situation like that, you tip your hat to Persa."
Not too long ago, a 60-percent completion percentage was considered a benchmark. No more. Four starting Big Ten quarterbacks are at 70 percent or better this year. Among the top 10 QBs ranked in passing yardage, the lowest completion percentage is 60.2 percent by Penn State freshman Rob Bolden.
Just 10 years ago, only two of the top 10 quarterbacks in the conference had completion percentages of 60 percent or better and one of them, Michigan's Drew Henson, was at 60.4 percent. Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, now one of the NFL's top quarterbacks with the New Orleans Saints, completed 59.5 percent of his passes that season.
The reasons for better percentages are numerous: Passing offenses have become more sophisticated; quarterbacks are taking advantage of shorter, high-percentage throws, and rules changes over the years have benefited offenses.
Big Ten quarterbacks have also fattened up on suspect non-conference competition, so it remains to be seen if they can maintain such high numbers.
"It'll be interesting," UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Paul Chryst said of Tolzien keeping his current pace. "Certainly, you want efficiency and you want a high percentage. There's nothing magical in some of those numbers. As the competition gets going, shoot, some throwaways will be great plays."
The Badgers open Big Ten play on Saturday at Michigan State against another efficient quarterback in junior Kirk Cousins, who is often compared to Tolzien. Their passer ratings last season were separated by four-tenths of a point, with Tolzien leading the conference at 143.
The two first met in high school while attending quarterback camps and got a chance to talk at the Big Ten's media days in Chicago during the preseason.
"First of all, (Cousins) is a first-class individual," Tolzien said. "Then you watch the film and he's just so talented and smooth, fundamentally sound."
Many of the same attributes can be attached to Tolzien, who has been without his starting receivers for most of this season. Toon has missed the past three games with a turf toe injury and Gilreath has missed the last two with a concussion. Both are expected to play against the Spartans.
Of all the things Tolzien did last week against Austin Peay, completing 15 of 17 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns while playing just the first half, it was a dropped checkdown pass to tailback John Clay that stood out the most to Chryst. That's because of how quickly Tolzien made the downfield read and got the ball to Clay.
It's true of most quarterbacks, the ones who throw on rhythm tend to be more accurate. The ones who are indecisive struggle.
Tolzien doesn't pay much attention to completion percentage but realizes the only way he can be successful is to complete a high number of his throws.
"That's kind of the way I need to have success," he said. "I'm not really going to make too many plays with my feet and I'm not going to throw the ball 80 yards. That's something I take pride in, just getting rid of the ball quickly and getting it into playmakers' hands."