Just like in 2011, the 2012 WisconsinBadgers had a gaping hole atop their quarterbacking depth chart in spring drills. Just like in 2011, Bret Bielema has successfully courted an immediately eligible grad-student quarterback with a track record of success in the ACC. Just like in 2011, the Big Ten Leaders Division is there for the taking. Does all this mean that the Badgers are headed for another conference championship and Rose Bowl berth ... just like in 2011?

In two words: not necessarily. Despite the similarities above, there's several major differences between the Badgers' projected 2012 squad and the 2011 version, ones that --we think -- will ultimately mean Danny O'Brien's parachute-job into the Wisconsin starting lineup won't be quite as successful as Russell Wilson's was. They are:

Lack of experience on offense. Wilson was a prodigal talent, but he also had the advantage of stepping into an offense with worlds of experience on the offensive line, a veteran receiving corps, and of course Montee Ball and the punishing Badger ground game. But now Peter Konz, Nick Toon, Josh Oglebsy, and three other offensive starters (not including Wilson) from a year ago are gone. Ball is still around, but without the threat of Toon downfield and Oglesby and Co. plowing defenders at the line-of-scrimmage, he's not going to be as comforting a security blanket for O'Brien he was for Wilson.

Turnover -- and a potential step backwards -- at offensive coordinator. We have nothing against new Badger play-caller Matt Canada, who engineered one of the nation's best offenses the past couple of seasons for the Northern IllinoisHuskies. But Paul Chryst set the bar for the Badger offense so high it's hard to see anyone clearing it, particularly a coordinator who spent the last few seasons coaching a spread-option scheme very different from the traditional pro-style look mastered by Chryst. The Badgers, in short, will be breaking in a new quarterback surrounded by new players for a new coach who's coaching -- for him -- a new offense. That's a lot of "new" for a team hoping for the same old results.

O'Brien is not Wilson. There's a lot of similarities between the two quarterbacks, of course; the academic success that made their "free agent" transfers possible, the explosion on to the ACC scene as freshmen, the statistical comedown in the following seasons (or season, singular, in O'Brien's case). One key difference, however, is that O'Brien's comedown was far more substantial than Wilson's. While the arrival of Randy Edsall and Gary Crowton's arrival no doubt had plenty to do with it, O'Brien's regression was an ill omen no matter how you slice it: from a 22-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio to 7-to-10, from 7.2 yards an attempt to 6.2, from a 134.5 QB rating to 109.6. O'Brien also failed to complete more than 57 percent of passes either season, has 9 total career rushing yards, and has just the two seasons of starting experience to Wilson's three.

O'Brien is a huge boost to the Badger offense and, almost without question, their best option at quarterback from the moment he steps on campus. But does he have the same ceiling as the future Heisman candidate/national efficiency leader Wilson did? Maybe in 2013, with another year under his belt, but we're skeptical in 2012.

Which means that with a defense more poised to hold the line than take a step forward -- and remember that the Badgers' clock-choking offense helped disguise the fact they gave up 5.2 yards per-play defensively, seventh in the Big Ten -- it's hard to see the Badgers not taking a step backwards overall.

Ohio State's postseason ineligibility and Penn State's coaching turnover mean that the Badgers will still enter the season as Leaders favorites and a Big Ten contender. But the guess here is that the kind of heights attained by the Badgers with Wilson at the helm -- the Big Ten championship, national title contention at midseason, serious Heisman talk for both Wilson and Ball -- are going to prove out of O'Brien's reach in 2012.

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