Wisconsin was already in good position to challenge for a Big Ten title this season, but one of many replacements head coach Bret Bielema had to contend with was the quarterback position, which had been vacated by Scott Tolzien. As consistent as Tolzien was last season, the Badgers just upgraded this afternoon, when former NC State three-year starter Russell Wilson announced that he will be suiting up in Madison this fall.
Wilson, who also plays professional baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization was released from NC State by head coach Tom O’Brien. O’Brien wanted to have his team focused on the 2011 season, and he felt that Wilson’s baseball obligations hindered that focus.
This, despite overwhelming success in his three years as the Wolfpack’s starting signal-caller. In his time in Raleigh, Wilson amassed over 8,500 passing yards and over 1,000 yards rushing, while throwing for 76 touchdowns, compared to just 26 Int’s.
His presence at Wisconsin should make a very immediate impact. Unlike the spread offense at Auburn (which was reportedly the other finalist Wilson considered), Wisconsin is a more traditional offense, similar to the one he ran for three years when he starred at NC State. The only difference is that Wilson never had a running game to rely on like the one he will join in August.
Although bruising tailback, John Clay is no longer there, the Badgers will once again boast one of the top rushing attacks in the nation, led by sophomore James White and junior Montee Ball. Ball fell just four yards short of breaking the 1,000 yard mark, while White tallied 1,056 yards as a true freshman. The tandem put up those numbers, despite splitting carries with Clay.
Cynics will point to the departure of both offensive tackles, including Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Badgers will only reload in 2011 on a unit that has been a hot-bed for the NFL. Expect senior guard Kevin Zeitler to be the next high draft pick to lead another smash-mouth running game this fall (and you can also expect to hear Zeitler’s name early in the 2012 NFL Draft…mark it down).
If the Wisconsin defense, led by safety Aaron Henry can hold up their end, Wilson and the Badger offense will be much more explosive than in year’s past. Wilson is quite possibly at his best when the pocket breaks down–just ask Florida State, who gave up three rushing TDs to Wilson last season.
He adds escapability and play-making ability to an offense that only lost one game in the Big Ten last season. Add talented wide out Nick Toon to the equation, and Bielema may just have the formula for a Big Ten title run and a shot at being a top 5 team. Although one player doesn’t make a team, a smart, athletic quarterback who is a proven winner will only make Wisconsin better. At the least, the Badgers will be favored by many to lock up the newly expanded Big Ten.