Badger depth chart finalized…for now

Here's your new Wisconsin starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien!!

Here's your new Wisconsin starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien!!

By Jake McCormick

Who the hell is Scott Tolzien?

I’m sure more than a few Badger fans are asking that right now, considering the junior has just been named the starter for the season opener against Northern Illinois. Someone had to win the battle for the starting quarterback position, and Tolzien has apparently stood out to the Wisconsin coaching staff. Bret Bielema released his starting lineup Thursday, and there were some interesting choices at other positions as well.

Tolzien is closer to John Stocco and Jim Sorgi in make-up than Brooks Bollinger and Mike Samuel. He is a pocket quarterback, possesses the most knowledge about the Badger playbook (run-run-pass is so hard, isn’t it?), has the best arm, and won’t make the mistakes of a freshman.

I don’t see the decision to start Tolzien as a bad move for the Badgers, as it allows freshman Curt Phillips time to develop into a better passer and Tolzien has another year of eligibility left. A more overlooked positive to this choice is the potential for a platoon ala Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. OK, they obviously won’t make that sort of impact, but a combination of the strong-armed Tolzien and fleet footed Phillips could throw a much-needed wrinkle into a normally boring offense.

Zack BrownBielema also has named junior Zack Brown as the starting running back over highly-touted sophomore John Clay. This is the most interesting choice by far. Clay is the only Badger that is recognized nationally as a soon-to-be stud, but there are a few reasons Brown might be a better choice at this juncture. He probably understands the offense much more than Clay, and it’s possible Clay’s ankle problem has returned from the grave. Clay will see his fair share of carries in an offense that led the Big Ten in rushing yards a year ago. Personally I think Clay should be starting, but it’s not like the starters are set in stone for the entire season.

At the wide receiver position, sophomore Nick Toon and junior Isaac Anderson give Tolzien big targets with good hands. Putting Gilreath in the slot position will keep teams guessing when he goes in motion, and that’s a necessity with an inexperienced quarterback.

The defensive tackle positions have been a big question mark, and there’s only so many Rudy’s that can play at a given time. But senior Jeff Stehle has made enough of an impact in training camp to convincingly win one of the starting spots. If he can be a leader with O’Brien Schofield on the line, the defense might surprise some people.

If you read the Badger defensive preview I wrote about two weeks ago, I mentioned that the Badger linebackers were very deep and there might be some surprises. Sure enough, Blake Sorenson has been pushed out of the strong side and into a competition for the middle spot with Culmer St. Jean. The guy that beat him out? Freshman Mike Taylor, who missed a lot of camp with a neck injury suffered in high school, still managed to lock down the strong side.

Niles Brinkley led the 2008 Badgers in interceptions, but pulled an Al Harris and got beat deep a lot. He has lost his starting job to sophomore Devin Smith, who has played at a consistent level throughout training camp. I’ll sacrifice interceptions for fewer points against any day.

The Badgers aren’t expected to make a run at the Big Ten title, but this year will be interesting enough, not Garrett Grahamincluding the possibility of a 2010 coaching search if they fall flat. My guess would be Barry Alvarez would pull a Dick Cheney by conducting a “search,” deciding no one is good enough, and re-appointing himself to the position.
Besides that, this team is extremely young and will basically be learning on the fly. There are only seven seniors in the first and second team offense and defense combined, with two on offense and five on defense. Likewise, there are 12 first or second year players on offense and 14 on defense. So if Wisconsin starts losing, we can use the excuse that the team is for the most part still learning the college game. Yay!

Season prediction: 8-4 (4-4 in the Big Ten)
The Badgers have to go 3-0 against NIU, Fresno State, and Wofford if they are expecting to even be competitive when Michigan State comes to Madison. That’s just the start of a tough stretch of travel to Minnesota, where they will play in a real football stadium for the first time since Tainted Love was a hit (I’ll save you’re wikipedia search and tell you it was 1981), and against No. 6-ranked Ohio State. No. 22-ranked Iowa comes to town the next week to continue the tough run. After that, the rest of the schedule looks like a cakewalk, although Wisconsin always finds a way to make tough games really close and “easy” games really bad. To quote Philip Seymour Hoffman quoting a Zen master in Charlie Wilson’s War: “We’ll see.”


  1. While I would agree that Zach Brown getting the nod over John Clay is a bit surprising, I don’t think it in even close to the shocking switch at linebacker.

    Look, both Brown and Clay are going to get a ton of reps so that fact that Brown is named the starter isn’t that big of a deal. I still think Clay will get more carries a game than Brown will, maybe something like 20-15 or something like that.

    Now, with the linebackers, I was shocked to see Taylor listed as a starter and Sorensen moved inside. Taylor, (not to nitpick) was slowed this camp with a hamstring strain. His neck injury was taken care of last fall and is a major reason he wasn’t overly involved a season ago.

    Taylor is incredibly talented and explosive. If he can stay healthy he will play a major role in the Badgers defense. Then, to have a true freshman spelling him in Chris Borland (who has been equally impressive in fall camp), and you have to like the young depth at the mike. And I guess the fact that Taylor can solidify the top spot after practicing so little in spring ball and fall camp speaks volumes in regards to his football talent.

    Overall, it was a situation where defensive coordinator Dave Doeren didn’t want to stack up his best players at one position. So, he moved them around in an attempt to get the best players on the field at the same time.

  2. Sorry, I meant to say sam when I said mike in my comment in regards to the two freshman players listed in the depth chart at that spot.

  3. I think Clay and Brown will get equal carries in the first couple weeks… but Clay will be the horse the rest of the way… they could with a Tolzien/Clay combo and a Phillips/Brown combo as Brown is a little quicker on the outside and could utilize the option more which they’ve worked on in practice… just brainstorming… Brown seems to be much more into the playbook than Clay, picks up blitzes better, is more of a threat as a receiver… they’ll both get their touches this year…

  4. paulmbanks says

    I’m glad that even the Badgers fans admit their style is boring. They are about as sophisticated with the forward pass as the Providence Steam Rollers were in 1914. Ok, I’m not that familiar with Providence’s playbook, but I’m assuming they didn’t exactly pass the ball 60 times a game.

  5. paulmbanks says

    I guess it seems that the Badgers are becoming TSB’s official college football team. By that I mean, of all the teams we cover- the team written about the most, commented about and high trafficed. Schmidt, I need your help to not let this happen.

    which prompts the question, who are our official teams in other sports. I would guess Illini in b-ball, hawks in hockey sox in mlb, nfl and nba are still up for grabs

  6. jmccormick says

    Clearly that means the Badgers are the darlings of the Big 10 lol. Badger basketball and football are equally as boring, but when they work it can be fun to watch. Really it just makes long pass plays that much bigger in the grand scheme of momentum shifts and crowd reactions.

  7. Remember Kyle Jefferson… talk about disappearing… I thought dude was gonna be a stud after his freshman year, instead he’s like 6th string wide-out…

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