MADISON - Wisconsin will finish the season with a new starting quarterback. Badgers coach Bret Bielema, however, prefers to keep quiet about his choice.
Junior transfer Danny O'Brien and fifth-year senior Curt Phillips are listed as co-starters on the depth chart and split snaps with the No. 1 offense in practice during the bye week. The starter will be under scrutiny as Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) prepares to visit Indiana (4-5, 2-3) on Saturday.
"I know where we're going to go," Bielema said Monday during his weekly press conference. "I will say this: I think Curt and Danny last week knew that everything was being watched and monitored.
"Both of them, Wednesday and Thursday in particular, practiced extremely well. Both of them have their own set of skills but I don't think the offense changes much when they are in there."
Bielema planned to discuss the quarterback situation with his coaching staff Monday and inform players of the decision Tuesday. He said he won't publicly name a starter. The Badgers are looking to replace redshirt freshman Joel Stave, a six-game starter who broke his left collarbone in the third quarter of Wisconsin's 16-13 overtime loss against Michigan State on Oct. 27.
One thing Bielema did share is that barring injury or a specific play designed for a certain quarterback, he won't play two of them.
"For the most part, I would say one guy in, and you hope he takes the reins and runs," Bielema said.
O'Brien earned the starting spot in fall camp ahead of Stave and Phillips and made four starts. Stave replaced O'Brien in the second half of Wisconsin's 37-26 victory over UTEP on Sept. 15 due to a handful of turnovers by O'Brien, and Bielema named Stave the starter going forward.
Bielema said O'Brien has gained a better grasp of ball security and game management. He likes Phillips' mobility and leadership, and noted his story is an intriguing one.
Phillip has undergone surgery three times to repair anterior cruciate ligament injuries to his right knee. He was inserted for three plays in one series during the second quarter of the Badgers' 31-14 win against Illinois on Oct. 6. Prior to that appearance, he had not played in a game since the 2009 regular-season finale.
"The perseverance and the battle he's been through to get to where he is today, kids rally around him extremely well," Bielema said. "He did a lot to get to where he is, and sometimes when you have that in somebody, it's very hard to deny them the opportunity to have success.
"Curt's a runner. He's a guy that can move the football around a little bit with his arm and with his feet."
Because Penn State and Ohio State were ruled ineligible for postseason competition and the conference title due to NCAA infractions, a Badgers win would clinch first place in the Leaders Division and punch their ticket to the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin has won seven straight against Indiana, but Bielema insists the Badgers aren't overlooking the Hoosiers, who have struggled to be competitive during his seven-year tenure.
The Hoosiers, who are two games back of the Badgers in the standings, have won two straight and are fresh off a 24-21 win over Iowa.
The Badgers boast a 17-3 record during November under Bielema, and keeping the one-game-at-a-time philosophy on players' minds is important.
"When I saw this schedule come out two or three years ago, I remember looking at it and taking a rough sketch of it and realize that we have Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State at the end of the year and knew those were going to be games that mattered," Bielema said. "So for us here at Wisconsin, to have a game in November matter really isn't new. From Indiana's point of view, they've earned their right to get there, and obviously they're going to want to try to defend it to the fullest."
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