At the conclusion of spring practice, Bret Bielema had Dustin Sherer penciled in as quarterback for the 2009 football season. Scott Tolzien is glad that pencil came with an eraser because he, not Sherer, will start under center for the Badgers on Saturday night against Northern Illinois.
Tolzien, a redshirt junior, has not started a game since his senior year of high school. This may be a reason to worry for Badger fans, but an experienced receiving corps will look to aid Tolzien in adjusting to the starting role.
Five of the top six receivers from Wisconsin's 2008 campaign will dress Saturday when the Badgers begin their 2009 season. It is this returning experience that gives the Badgers confidence in the decision to hand over the ball to an untested quarterback.
Junior wide receivers Isaac Anderson, David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson, along with sophomore Nick Toon, all bring a plethora of game experience to the offensive side of the ball. Each of the four receivers recorded playing time in at least 12 of Wisconsin's 13 games last season.
Senior tight end Garret Graham, the Badgers' leading receiver last season, will also be returning. Graham emerged last season following the injury to starting tight end Travis Beckum. By season's end, Graham led the Badgers in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns.
Gilreath, who amassed 520 receiving yards and caught five touchdowns last season, is confident in the offense's ability to perform at a high level with Tolzien at the helm. ""We worked with [Tolzien] all offseason, we've done drills with him, [and] ran routes with him,"" Gilreath said. ""He'll have a chance on Saturday to show why he won the job.""
Tolzien himself expressed how the receivers have allowed him a smooth transition into the starting role. ""[The receivers] are definitely a great group of guys,"" the starting quarterback said. ""We've got some real good players in those positions... they've helped me tremendously.""
Undoubtedly, the quarterback is the focal point of any offense. And, accordingly, quarterback controversies usually take center stage whenever they occur. Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander has worked tirelessly to keep his players' minds away from the quarterback situation and focused on the primary objective: creating an offensive unit that can consistently put points on the board.
""The [receivers] understand the situation is not about the quarterback,"" said Alexander. ""It's about the team, so the [receivers] are just focused on doing their job.""
Alexander hopes that one of his receivers will eventually emerge as an offensive leader, but he admits ""Those things will take place as the season unfolds,"" and no single player stands out at this time.
Although the starting position currently rests in the hands of Tolzien, Bielema has alluded to the fact that redshirt freshman Curt Phillips could take over the role at some point this season. Currently, Tolzien and Phillips appear side by side on the depth chart. Despite this continued uncertainty, Alexander and the receivers remain optimistic that whoever is at the helm of the offense, points will be scored.
""The good thing for [the quarterbacks and receivers] is that they get a lot of time to work together,"" Alexander said. ""Those guys have been around here long enough to get it done, it's just a matter of doing it when it counts.""
It will begin to count soon for Wisconsin, as they open up with home games versus Northern Illinois Saturday, then play Fresno State and Wofford. However, the Badgers may have to wait until Michigan State comes to Madison September 26th for the first true test of their offense. The Spartans will mark the beginning of the grueling Big Ten schedule and the first foreseeable road block on the Badgers' schedule.