University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema announced on Sunday that junior transfer Danny O’Brien would be the team’s starting quarterback for the opener against Northern Iowa on Sept. 1.
That should not surprise anyone who was following the progress of the Badgers’ three-man quarterback competition — which also included fifth-year senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave — during the five practices that were open to the media last week.
The manner in which Bielema made the announcement might raise some eyebrows, however, since he did it on his Twitter account.
“Both Curt and Joe had great camps as well,” Bielema tweeted. “We are very fortunate that we have 3 QB’s that can play winning football for us.”
O’Brien got better as last week went along, then appeared to have his best day on Friday, the last full practice that was open to the media.
The scrimmage on Saturday was closed to reporters and Bielema said afterward all three quarterbacks had their moments.
“Danny did some nice things, just like the other two did at times,” Bielema said. “I think the part Danny brings to the table is he learns very quickly. ... The thing that shows with Danny probably is the fact he’s started a number of games and that preparation factor, you can kind of see it.”
Bielema indicated the quarterback decision was going to be clear cut.
“I think I know where it’s going,” he said. “There’s a lot of numbers that are very similar but there are things that jump out that are big.”
O’Brien made 17 starts in two years at Maryland the past two seasons. As he got comfortable, he seemed to become more assertive around his teammates. He also did a nice job avoiding interceptions during practices.
“I think that’s very important,” Bielema said of the lack of turnovers. “Also, that (quarterback) is a different guy, now. He’s different than anybody else, all of those other 10 guys on the field.
“He’s kind of like your middle linebacker on defense, you get the right guy and that whole thing goes in the right direction. That right person can make that whole group special.”
Bielema did not say who the backup quarterback would be. It’s possible he could let Phillips and Stave continue to battle for that job.
Phillips is coming off three ACL surgeries on his right knee, but appeared to be getting more comfortable as the week went along. An exceptional runner prior to the injuries, he ran around extremely well.
His biggest issue was when he had to plant his back leg and try to drive the ball, but that also seemed to improve as the week progressed.
The coaches are high on Stave’s potential, but he has the farthest to come. He is a former walk-on who was just recently given a scholarship.
Bielema has said repeatedly he thinks this will be the best group of quarterbacks overall he has had in his seven years as UW’s head coach.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had as quality a group as I’ve got in that room right now,” he said recently. “To have three guys that really truly could be the starting quarterback at the University of Wisconsin is a blessing. I think it brings out the best in everybody.”
Bielema also is expected to announce a two-deep lineup as early as today. The other starting jobs on offense that were up for grabs also look to be settled. Redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick, from Madison Memorial, is expected to be the other starting wide receiver along with junior Jared Abbrederis.
Sophomore Kyle Costigan has emerged as the favorite to be the starting right guard.
It looks like a three-player rotation could be used at tight end with juniors Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and sophomore Sam Arneson.
Bielema said after the scrimmage Arneson needs arthroscopic knee surgery to clear up a previous injury but should only miss five days. Wozniak has been slowed at times by a sports hernia injury, but he took part in the scrimmage.
On defense, junior David Gilbert suffered a strained oblique during the scrimmage. Junior Pat Muldoon would likely take Gilbert’s place with the No. 1 defense.
The other starting defensive positions appear set. The coaches have constantly juggled the linebackers in an attempt to keep the three starters — senior Mike Taylor and juniors Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong — healthy for the first game.
All three starters also missed most of spring practices. But Bielema said he saw enough of the starting linebackers when they were together during the first week of practices.
“That’s why it’s not a concern,” he said. “I saw them ... that whole first week. It’s very tough on an offense when those guys are playing well and at 100 percent.”