Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson (16) was the final piece of the puzzle for a talented Badgers team in need of a good arm.
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COLUMBUS -- When the 2010 Big Ten football season ended, it was apparent that Ohio State would go into the following year with a very talented, veteran quarterback who was likely one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
It was also pretty obvious that Wisconsin would have a huge void at quarterback with the graduation of outstanding senior Scott Tolzien and no viable candidates on hand to take his place. The Buckeyes were one of the strongest Big Ten teams at the position, while the Badgers were likely the weakest.
Enter the mother of all role reversals.
First, Terrelle Pryor was implicated in the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that led to the abrupt end of his OSU career, leaving the Buckeyes with virtually no experience at quarterback. Then Russell Wilson surfaced in Madison and immediately gave the Badgers one of the Big Ten's most experienced quarterbacks.
Wilson, who earlier this season led Wisconsin to a 6-0 start and a top five ranking nationally, is Ohio State's primary concern when the Buckeyes host the Badgers on Saturday. He is skilled, savvy, and mobile and is second in the nation in passing efficiency. Wilson has thrown for 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
"We've seen what he does on the field," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said about Wilson (5-11, 191). "It's his patience, his cool, calm, collective ability to hold the football, scramble when he needs to, and make the plays when he needs to. He is a good fit for what they do in their system."
Wilson came to Wisconsin from North Carolina State, where in 2008 he was the first freshman to be named first team all-Atlantic Coast Conference at quarterback. In three seasons at N.C. State he accounted for 93 touchdowns - 76 passing, 17 running - second best in the history of the conference.
But since Wilson redshirted his first year there, played only three years, and then graduated on time last spring, he was eligible under a quirky NCAA rule to transfer anywhere in the country and play right away, as long as he enrolled in graduate school in a master's program not offered at his original school. He is studying educational leadership at Wisconsin.
There were 30-some schools chasing Wilson and his considerable football talents, but he limited the field to those he felt could contend for the national championship -- Wisconsin and Auburn.
After playing minor league baseball earlier this year, Wilson arrived in Madison, meshed well with his new team, and was named a captain for the Badgers.
"I've been involved in this profession for a long, long time," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said, "and a player that has affected the game and the team as much as he has in such a short amount of time and played at a level he has -- he deserves all of the recognition he can get. He is pretty composed in every venue we put him in. He just continues to impress me."
While the Buckeyes have had to deal with the growing pains of freshman Braxton Miller and the wandering aerials of senior Joe Bauserman, Wisconsin has had a very steady hand running the show. He can make great plays by design and be equally dangerous once the play breaks down.
"I think the biggest difference between Russell and the past quarterbacks they've had in their offense is his ability to keep plays alive," Ohio State linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "We are going to have to make sure we contain him in the pocket when he tries to scramble. This will be our biggest test to date."
If Wilson had not arrived on the Wisconsin campus this summer, the Badgers might have been in very different shape at this point in the season. The other three quarterbacks on the roster, all inexperienced, did not lead the offense to a single touchdown in this year's spring game.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.
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