Bart Houston, a redshirt junior, saw his first meaningful action at Wisconsin last Saturday in a win over Illinois. Replacing Joel Stave, who left the game after suffering a concussion, Houston was 22/33 for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. While that latter statistic lets you know that Houston wasn’t the second coming of Joe Montana or anything, it was nonetheless evident that the offense flowed better when he came in than it had with Stave all season.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst has already announced that Stave, who has been cleared to play, will start this Saturday for Rutgers. But if I had my druthers, Houston would get the call. On one hand, Stave is the incumbent and has far more experience in his four years in Madison, and it sets a bad precedent when a starter loses his job to injury. However, even if Stave gives Wisconsin a slightly better chance to win right now — my eyes as a fan tell me he doesn’t, but that’s beside the point — it makes more sense for the Badgers to get Houston his reps right now.
Houston’s tenure at Wisconsin has been very strange to observe. He was a four-star recruit from a nationally touted high school football program, and it was something of a coup that he chose the Badgers. Since then, he hasn’t ever come close to competing for the starting job. Last April, Gary Andersen — who we’ve since learned makes decisions sight unseen, based on reasons only knowable to himself — went ON RECORD as saying Houston wasn’t even “in the fight.” Stories about Houston always seemed to declare things like that, without providing specific context as to why. Everyone just came to assume there were limitations that professional football people rightly identified.
It was therefore genuinely shocking when Houston came in last Saturday and just immediately started moving the offense up and down the field. Even the drives that ended in dumb turnovers — and both of his picks were certainly dumb — came after picking up yardage. Joel Stave is one of those quarterbacks where you’re aware the pocket collapsing on him long before he is, which is problematic. Houston got rid of the ball quickly. This was relieving! Stave probably throws a better deep ball than Houston, but Houston appeared far more comfortable hitting short and intermediate routes.
This is a transition year for the Badgers. Even though they’ll likely be favored in their remaining conference matchups against Rutgers, at Maryland, Northwestern, and at Minnesota, they’d need now-undefeated Iowa to lose twice in five games against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska. That’s not the SEC West. Let’s say Wisconsin does win out, and the Hawkeyes falter a bit. Then the Badgers have the privilege of playing Ohio State, Michigan State, or (less likely) Michigan, where they’d presumably get thumped.
All of this is to say that it feels like there is little at stake for Wisconsin the rest of this season. Unlike Stave, Houston will be there next year, where Wisconsin’s schedule is a murderer’s row. The year starts against LSU at Lambeau Field. There are road games Michigan State, Michigan (who will be much improved in Jim Harbaugh’s second year), Iowa (who are good again all of a sudden), and Northwestern (which, for whatever reason, is always a house of horrors for Wisconsin). Ohio State plays at Camp Randall. Wouldn’t it behoove the Badgers to get Houston some more experience right now in preparation for that gauntlet?