Monday, June 27, 2011

Russell Wilson's free agency comes to an end

Russell Wilson is giving up baseball to play football at Wisconsin, which was pretty much expected as far back as a month ago but not official until today:
"Russell will come in and compete for the starting quarterback position," Bret Bielema said. "This is an unusual situation, especially for a program that prides itself on developing players throughout their careers, as we do here at Wisconsin. However, this is a special situation and Russell is the type of player and person that fits very well with our team.
  • Wilson "will come in and compete for the starting quarterback position." Yeah.
  • A team that returns a LOT of talent -- everything except a couple linemen, a couple receivers and the underrated and efficient Scott Tolzien at QB -- now has all that talent PLUS one of the best all-around quarterbacks in the country. As of right now, Wisconsin is the clear-cut favorite in the Big Ten.
For some reason (maybe because he's black and pretty short at about 5-foot-11), people seem to think of Wilson as a Cam Newton type who won't really fit into Wisconsin's handoff-handoff-handoff-handoff-handoff-play action (!!!) offense. That is most definitely not the case: He threw 527 passes last season for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns ... and he ran for 435 yards and nine touchdowns, which is good but not exactly reminiscent of Tommie Frazier. A much closer statistical comparison (minus the rushing numbers) would be Texas Tech's Taylor Potts, who threw 551 passes for about 3,700 yards and 35 touchdowns. So yeah: Wilson is abnormally excellent athlete -- probably not far off from Newton in that regard -- coming from roughly the equivalent of Texas Tech's offense (it's not quite that extreme, but we're talking generalities here).

It wasn't always that way, though. NC State actually got more and more pass-oriented as Wilson went from freshman (275 attempts) to sophomore (378) to junior (a billion), and his non-volume numbers suffered for it last year: His efficiency dropped about 20 points and he threw a career-high 14 picks. Back when he was a freshman, he set the all-time NCAA record for most passes without a pick and finished with just one along with a ridiculous 17 touchdowns. He had a not-quite-as-awesome 31/11 ratio his sophomore year, but he also had about 130 more attempts and threw for another 1,100 yards as his efficiency peaked at 147.77 (15th in the country).

Overuse won't be a problem at Wisconsin unless Bret Bielema's meat-filled veins explode and he's replaced by someone who represents his exact antithesis. A sophomore version of Wilson -- the one who's a deadly but uber-efficient passer and will tack on a few hundred rushing yards (because Wisconsin definitely needs more in that area, amirite?) -- would be the best-case scenario. And that's not an unlikely one ... I mean, there's no reason to believe he won't be just as good on a better team with a better line, better running game, etc. I won't be surprised at all if his rating spikes back to 150 this year -- Wilson's a better passer than Tolzien, and Tolzien was sixth in the country last year (165.92), one spot ahead of Ryan Mallett. Just look at the play-by-play of the Wisconsin-Michigan game to understand why.

But nobody will really care what Wilson's passer rating ends up at -- what matters is if he helps Wisconsin win a lot of games, which is pretty likely. He'll be a ridiculously nice complement to the MANBALL offense (great MGoBlog meme), and his athleticism/mobility should help a little since Wisconsin does have to replace the left side of its line (Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, both drafted in the first three rounds).

Here's the scouting report in video form:

In case you're wondering, redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr was expected to be the starter at UW after Curt Phillips, the only real competitor, tore his ACL in spring ball. Bielema was so impressed with Budmayr and redshirt freshman Joe Brennan following a touchdown-less spring game that his QB scouting report went, "(they) aren't anywhere where we need them to be for us to be a competitive team in the fall." Ouch -- I think it's safe to assume Wilson will be a massive upgrade.

And the hype meter has been raised accordingly. Wisconsin has a cake nonconference schedule, misses Michigan (jury's out on that one, but it's probably a good thing), gets Nebraska at home and only has two tough road games -- at Michigan State and at Ohio State back to back in late October. Anything less than 10-2 and a division championship would be a serious disappointment, and anything better equals a spot in the Big Ten championship game and a legitimate shot at the (gasp) national title. It's BCS or bust.

So that's your task, Russell Wilson. No pressure.


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