Bart Houston is Wisconsin's starter, but would he be without daunting schedule?
If you followed Wisconsin’s camp, you saw that it was a back-and-forth battle between Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston.
One day, Hornibrook would make some questionable decisions and the next, he’d look like a star. The same was true for Houston. Cliché as it is, it really did feel like an open competition.
But there was always something that was going to give Houston the edge if the battle was split down the middle. As long as Hornibrook didn’t separate himself greatly in camp, the chances of Houston winning the job were strong.
Why? The schedule.
You already know that Wisconsin starts the season with five of its first seven games against ranked teams, including the season opener against No. 5 LSU. Even for DeShaun Watson, that would be daunting.
Can you picture a redshirt freshman trying to figure things out with that kind of schedule?
I can’t help but think that was the deciding factor in Houston, the fifth-year senior, winning the job in what appeared to be an even battle.
Here’s what Paul Chryst had to say about the decision:
“Bart did everything that he needed to do and earned the right to get the start.”https://t.co/gxXcA3cdit
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) August 26, 2016
That doesn’t exactly sound like a clear-cut decision. But it was the smart decision, and here’s why.
I’m not saying Houston will be mistake-free and look like a fifth-year senior all the time. After all, he’s also preparing for his first career start. But he’s at least had more time in the offense and has had live game action.
If Houston does falter against some of the nation’s best defenses, Chryst can’t be faulted for starting the more experienced quarterback. If Hornibrook goes out there and makes freshman mistakes against the likes of LSU and Ohio State, it’s easy to wonder why he’s out there when there’s a senior on the bench.
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These decisions are made with what-if scenarios in mind. Is Chryst expecting either one of his starters to fail? Of course not. In a perfect world, Wisconsin’s running game will return to its dominant ways and the Wisconsin quarterback can go back to being an afterthought.
But Chryst realizes what’s ahead. If Wisconsin had Michigan’s non-conference schedule — three non-bowl teams — this might be a different conversation. Hornibrook, from the sounds of it and from what I’ve seen in a small sample size, has more upside than Houston. In all likelihood, he’s the quarterback of the future.
The quarterback of the present, however, is the guy who has less learning on the fly to do in the coming weeks.
Baptism by fire is one approach, but Wisconsin doesn’t want to get burned before November rolls around.