Is Wisconsin a perfect match for O'Brien?
As expected, former ACC newcomer of the year Danny O'Brien has played his last game at Maryland.
The former Terps starting quarterback officially was released from his scholarship Monday by head coach Randy Edsall, which allows him to sign with another program and play immediately as long as the school offers a graduate program of study not available in College Park.
However, Maryland has reportedly excluded one school from O'Brien's wish list: Vanderbilt (his release also excludes upcoming ACC opponents as well as upcoming nonconference opponents such as West Virginia and Temple). So the signal-caller would be unable to receive athletic aid at the Nashville-based school.
Despite the fact that Vandy is seemingly set at quarterback with Jordan Rodgers, there's no question that the relationship between former Maryland offensive coordinator and current Vandy head coach James Franklin may have put the Commodores atop O'Brien's wish list, especially because Franklin ran Ralph Friedgen's offense in 2010 when O'Brien had his best season as a redshirt freshman. Edsall and the Terps realize the strong relationship between the two, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Maryland administration is concerned that the two communicated before O'Brien made his decision to leave the Terps.
So now, O'Brien's list of desired schools includes Wisconsin, Michigan State and Stanford, according to the Baltimore Sun. And, as we know, the Badgers are still riding high from the success of transfer Russell Wilson, the dual-threat signal-caller who arrived in Madison late last offseason from N.C. State and helped the Badgers return to the Rose Bowl.
With O'Brien on track to graduate in the spring, he'd give any program a bonus in that he has not one but two seasons of eligibility remaining. According to the Journal Sentinel, O'Brien has yet to contact Bret Bielema and the Badgers, but the Big Ten champs certainly could be in the market for a proven QB.
Entering spring practice, Joe Brennan is the de facto starter after appearing in six games last season as Wilson's backup. He attempted only 15 passes in mop-up duty last year. Redshirt freshman and former walk-on Joel Stave will be the next healthiest body in camp, as Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips are question marks heading into spring because of elbow and knee issues, respectively.
There's no question that the Badgers would instantly improve the quarterback position with the 6-3, 215-pound O'Brien, who went 7-3 as a starter in his ACC debut season. He passed for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions that season, and his efficiency rating of 134.5 ranked fifth nationally among FBS freshmen. Running the Terps' pro-style offense, he looked poised to continue his success in College Park. However, a change in offensive philosophy hurt his development.
Maryland began running the spread under Gary Crowton after Franklin assumed the Vandy head job, and O'Brien struggled a bit with his reads, especially early in the year. It also didn't help that top receivers Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon moved onto the NFL, leaving big voids at receiver. He passed for 1,648 yards with 10 interceptions and seven touchdowns in nine games, losing his starting job to C.J. Brown before suffering a broken bone in his non-throwing arm in a loss to Notre Dame.
The Badgers have lost many key assistants on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, none more important than coordinator Paul Chryst, who took his first college head-coaching gig at Pitt. So the program will be going through growing pains this spring as it looks to keep its offense churning out yards and scoring points with ease. The team still has stud tailback Montee Ball and a strong offensive line. But quarterback remains the biggest question mark.
O'Brien saw the success that Wilson had last season in Madison. While there are a few other programs on the former Terps wish list, perhaps the Badgers have the advantage because of their track record and the fact that the new offensive staff will run the team's traditional pro-style offense that matches O'Brien's strong skill set.
Can Wisconsin strike gold again? It may be O'Brien's best move with Franklin and Vandy no longer an option.
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