by Andy Schaaf
Everyone has an opinion on Joel Stave. It’s a prerequisite to being a Badger fan. It can run from the rational - see DC Dan’s statistical breakdown of the season so far, to the crazy - see JS Comments (self-promo!) or the guy screaming two rows behind you at Camp Randall who just won’t shut up oh God please shut up.
It’s not unique to Wisconsin. Almost every college football fan has, or has had issues with their quarterbacks because as a general rule all college quarterbacks suck. NFL fans who can’t stand to see people enjoying football on Saturdays routinely gripe about it, and they mostly have a point. Unlike the QB driven NFL, college football is very dependent on people running the ball, not passing.
It’s especially an issue in the Big Ten where QBs suck at a whole other level. NFL teams are so desperate for a QB they do things like take Blake Bortles with the 1st pick and draft 13 different QBs most years, yet since 2010 there have been a grand total of 4 Big Ten QBs even drafted - Kafka, Stanzi, Cousins and Wilson. That’s your Mt. Rushmore right there.
The Big Ten is so bad with QBs that Iowa willingly let/begged Jake Ruddock transfer to another Big Ten team just so they could play somebody else, and now Ruddock and Michigan are among the favorites in the conference. It makes no sense. There have been 132 QBs drafted in the past decade and Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State haven’t had one of them.
If you’re reading this you know Wisconsin fans for the most part have never REALLY been satisfied with the QB play the way they have been for other positions. Samuel, Bollinger vs Sorgi (and Sorgi vs Bollinger), Stocco, the varying success of the post-Stocco to pre-Senior Year Scott Tolzien years. You’re hard pressed to find a QB that had a smooth career at Wisconsin outside of Russell Wilson, who we are now learning is some sort of weird cyborg sent from the future to antagonize Twitter and win football games.
That’s not to say it wasn’t all deserved, it just showcases what a high profile position it is. This year’s defensive line isn’t particularly strong, and the reaction is mostly “well I hope they improve and Aranda schemes around it.” The QB struggles and you have multiple 10 page message board threads about it.
Joel Stave is no exception to this, but also unique because he has been with the program for what feels like forever. He’s been a QB for 3 different coaching staffs. He’s gone from walk-on to mainstay, scapegoat to savior. It’s been a totally unique ride.
The perception and narrative of Stave has changed every year :
- 2012: Would have won the Rose Bowl had Alvarez played him.
- 2013: Can’t beat good teams with him.
- 2014: Would have made the Playoffs if Andersen hadn’t named McEvoy starter. Or something, I’m always slightly confused on this one.
- 2015 Post- Alabama: The QB Whisperer Chryst will have him on NFL draft boards by the end of the year.
- 2015 Post-Iowa: The Badgers may never score a TD again.
That’s not even mentioning the off-field issues and stories associated with him. Stave has packed so many different storylines and invited so many different opinions in a 4 year period it is no wonder you can check Twitter on any Saturday and see tweets from non-Badger fans asking how he is STILL in school; it feels like forever.
His career has been fascinating to follow and I don’t think there’s been anything like it.
Stave has always been the best QB option for the Badgers in his four years here. He’s beaten out 6 different scholarship QBs at one point or another: Danny O’Brien, Curt Phillips, Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy, DJ Gillins and Alex Hornibrook. You’ll always have people calling for that backup but by most rational analysis, Stave has always been the best option.
Despite Stave being the Badgers quarterback seemingly forever, he doesn’t have that “moment” where he was the linchpin in a Badger victory. You can argue almost every win from 2012 to today came pretty easy for the Badgers and it is hard to look at a game and think “Stave was great that day.” At best he’s always been pretty good and let Ball, White, Clement and/or Gordon do their thing, and the Badgers won pretty easily.
In his 4 years here I have one “wow” moment -- the first half of the game at Ohio State in 2013 where Stave was throwing bombs to Abbrederis, a game that ended in a loss.
Stave has been the Badgers starting QB in 24 wins. Of those wins only 2 were of less than 10 points, and we can mostly credit Melvin Gordon (Iowa, Auburn) and the running game for those. It is amazing a QB with as many games as Stave has lacks a signature moment.
We remember the games where he didn’t do enough to get over the hump - losing by 3 points at Nebraska in 2012, falling just short against Arizona St (I know, I know…), Ohio State and South Carolina in 2013, 2014 vs Northwestern, last week vs Iowa.
Fair or not, when the Badgers have been a play or two away from getting a good win, Stave hasn’t provided that play.
That’s the challenge for Stave in the upcoming weeks. If we’re being kind, we’ll simply call the talent around him underdeveloped. There aren’t likely to be many more 38-10 wins where Stave has to show up, hand the ball off and run a few play action passes. There will be more 17-13 games where a key pass, or non-turnover, wins it. At this point Stave likely is what he is as a QB, but there is a chance for him to change his perception. The Iowa game was a high profile failure in this department, but he has 2 more months to add yet another storyline to his long, long Badger career.