As incoming transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien begins his career as a Badger this fall, his career will be forever linked to that of an accomplished predecessor.But, no matter how much Wisconsin fans dream of O’Brien recreating the magic Russell Wilson brought to Bret Bielema’s team in 2011, those expecting such success are destined for disappointment. Although both hailed from the Atlantic Coast Conference – O’Brien from Maryland and Wilson from North Carolina State – their career achievements before arriving in Madison reveal a sizable gap between where each stood when deciding to make the jump to the Big Ten.The former Maryland quarterback’s numbers are nothing to toss aside, but he simply is not the proven player Wilson was when he arrived in Madison last June. O’Brien did manage 2,438 passing yards and 22 end zone tosses in an impressive 2010 rookie campaign that earned him ACC Rookie of the Year honors. However, he was benched last season after struggling under new head coach Randy Edsall and finished the year with just 1,648 yards through the air and three more interceptions (10) than touchdowns.O’Brien has displayed moments of greatness in his time at Maryland, like when he threw for 348 yards on 31-of-44 passing in a 2011 season-opening victory over Miami (the same game where the Terrapins unveiled those rather disastrous uniforms). But he followed up such inspiring play with three interceptions in a loss to West Virginia.Conversely, the man who ignited UW’s offense last season with his speed and his accuracy through the air came in as a proven three-year starter.Questions lingered about how Wilson’s game would hold up in a more competitive conference with stronger, faster defensive players when he decided to forego a professional baseball career. He quickly silenced such doubts, leading the Badgers to a Rose Bowl in a season where he threw 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions en route to closing the year with a laser-like 72.8 completion percentage.Wilson also added another dimension to the Wisconsin offense with his ability to use his feet, getting out of pressure situations and moving the ball down the field when opponents limited the passing options. Boasting nine rushing touchdowns and 435 yards on the ground in his final season with the Wolfpack, the N.C. State star had already solidified himself as a dual-threat passer.In his best season suiting up for Maryland as a redshirt freshman, O’Brien rushed for negative 48 yards and a single touchdown. That’s right, he lost yardage when rushing in 2010 – likely the result of sacks – but it speaks to his ability, or lack thereof, to run with the ball. Last year, he managed only 57 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.Although dreams of another transfer quarterback making a similar impact are simply unrealistic, the Badgers do not need the new 6-foot-3 athlete under center to play as critical a role in the offense as Wilson did. The newest addition to the 2012 Badgers’ roster admitted that his predecessor’s success played a role in the decision to select Wisconsin, but even he realizes he can’t recreate the incredible things Wilson did in one year, with one special collection of players working around him.“The fact that he showed it is possible was big. But at the same time, I’m a different player,” O’Brien said in a March 28 teleconference shortly after announcing his decision. “I’m in a little bit different situation.”O’Brien is a major upgrade from the likes of Joel Stave and Joe Brennan, two players with little experience who suddenly rose to the top of the depth chart as more promising options battled injuries. Before the transfer, questions arose as to whether these players had the confidence and experience to be the game manager-type quarterbacks needed in the Badgers’ run-first offense.But with a Heisman candidate (dare I say, frontrunner) in the backfield by the name of Montee Ball, O’Brien needs to be little more than the second coming of Scott Tolzien. His goal for every game should be as follows: run convincing play-action passes, fumble-free handoffs and avoid sloppy passes that lead to interceptions. The Kernersville, N.C., native doesn’t need to make game-winning throws to Jeff Duckworth and make eye-popping scrambles in the pocket.Perhaps even more than in years past, Bielema’s 2012 squad will rely on running the ball with a long list of talented backs that also includes James White and the speedy Melvin Gordon. Add a defense that returns its two biggest playmakers in linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, along with a talented group of veterans leading the secondary, and the quarterback position becomes a secondary concern.In O’Brien, Wisconsin gets a confident passer who is not expected to and will not be the centerpiece of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense. The man himself realizes he can’t be the next Wilson, that he can’t reproduce the spectacular year that landed the Badgers back in Pasadena in January.“Our paths are kind of similar coming from the ACC to Wisconsin but it’s a new year, a new season, and 2012 has yet to be written,” O’Brien said in the teleconference.The Wilson experience was thrilling, and it left Wisconsin fans longing for more. But that was one year, and the one fast approaching is a new beast. As O’Brien notes, “2012 has yet to be written,” and it’s best not to script the career of UW’s latest transfer quarterback on a single, sublime experience.Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Think Danny O’Brien is the reincarnation of Russell Wilson and will flourish in Wisconsin’s pro-style offense? Let him know at email@example.com or tweet @imccue.
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