Joel Stave threw for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, when he guided Wisconsin to a 9-4 record and a berth in the Capital One Bowl. But Badgers coach Gary Andersen reiterated Monday at Big Ten Media Day that the quarterback job will be "an open competition" when Wisconsin opens fall camp next week.
Stave (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), a junior, will battle junior Tanner McEvoy (6-6, 223) for the starting job. McEvoy is more of a dual threat than Stave, who is not a good runner.
Stave also started six times in 2012, while McEvoy played safety last season after transferring in from junior college. McEvoy originally signed with South Carolina out of high school in New Jersey, then transferred to Arizona Western Community College before moving on to Wisconsin.
While the quarterback job was open last season, too, McEvoy didn't arrive until the summer and never seemed to gain footing in the quarterback race. Thus, his move to safety, where he played in 11 games and started three times.
While Stave tossed 22 touchdown passes last season, he also threw 13 picks and was inconsistent. Wisconsin was a run-oriented team, and when the Badgers were forced to throw, bad things frequently happened.
McEvoy is more mobile, with Andersen going so far Monday to observe, "I would say he's an elite athlete. ... He runs very, very well." When Andersen was coach at Utah State, he preferred having a mobile quarterback.
Truthfully, it's hard to see Stave keeping the job. Normally, a quarterback who throws 22 TD passes, leads a team to nine wins and has that same team in the top 25 is a given to keep his job. But Andersen has been vocal in saying the job is open, which bodes ill for Stave.
McEvoy's athleticism and mobility give him an advantage. Wisconsin has one of the best tailbacks in the nation in Melvin Gordon and a big, physical and experienced offensive line. But the passing attack is a giant question mark, with the Badgers having just two receivers with more than nine career receptions and only three with more than two catches.
Having McEvoy in the backfield "allows us to do some things offensively," Andersen said, presumably meaning called quarterback runs and perhaps even some read option. Having Gordon (and backup Corey Clement) as a potential ball-carrier in a read-option situation has to bring a smile to Andersen's face -- and cause nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
Can McEvoy pass? And can he avoid the same mistakes that Stave made? That's a legit question, and one that Andersen and his staff will try to answer.
As to how soon the decision will be made, "I really have no timeline," Andersen said. He also said the decision might not be made "until we jog off the sidelines for the first game."
Unfortunately for the Badgers, the quarterback won't be able to ease into the schedule: Wisconsin opens with LSU in Houston and plays MAC favorite Bowling Green in the third game.