When I hear announcers mention the name of Wisconsin’s starting quarterback it brings me back to “The Chinese Restaurant” episode of “Seinfeld.” Through the chaos of waiting for a table and George’s efforts to get a hold of a girl he’s seeing, the maitre d’ yells “Cartwright,” for George before he hangs up the phone. 

Same hard sounds minus the laugh track, save for the offensive performance of Michigan and Michigan State against the Badgers. We’ve seen the episode countless times, but there’s something about the setting and the talent that stands out from other episodes. Same way this effort of Wisconsin stands out from other exemplary efforts. 2019 is an upgrade from Sturdy Wisconsin to Premium Wisconsin thanks to Jack Coan. 

Premium Wisconsin appears every four or five years, the perfect storm of a strong defense, running game, and good play from the quarterback position. Last year appeared to be the year for Premium Wisconsin to emerge until injuries destroyed the promotion. 

Things are different for the 6-0 Badgers. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State for a first-person account of submerging oneself in a smoldering heap of Tai restaurant garbage, highly regarded freshman Graham Mertz waits his turn in the backup position, and Coan trudges along, win after win. 

His numbers through the season’s first six games read safe and unremarkable. Eight touchdowns, a shade over 1,000 yards passing. No interceptions, nearly 77 percent completion percentage. Coan’s excelled in a system that minimizes his responsibility. 

Take Saturday’s trouncing of Michigan State. The Badgers converted on third and fourth down 8 of 15 times. In all but four of the 15 attempts did Wisconsin need to gain more than five yards to pick up a first down. Saturday’s 38-0 win is another signal of a quarterback shouldered with the appropriate amount of workload. 

Through the season the Badgers are sixth nationally in third down conversion percentage and tied for first on fourth down conversion percentage. There’s a term specific to Coan’s performance, one that gets professional quarterbacks underpaid and underappreciated. The baseball equivalent of a pitcher who records out by inducing contact and being economical in his pitches. No use fighting the label. 

It scares off a lot of talent evaluators, keeps scouts on a furtive search for some wild-arm half-wit who they believe through some coaxing and charming can be reigned in and taught all the intricacies of the game while the accurate and sound decision makers are disregarded. Coan is the best of the latter, identified with that other label, the unassuming one. 

Jack Coan is a game manager.

Wisconsin can win big with a game manager. 

Did the moniker scare you? Did the notion that a gulp, cough, twitch, game manager operating the offense of the nation’s sixth-ranked team leave you at a loss? It shouldn’t. Coan’s responsibility in the offense makes him rely on exacting precision and the sort of ball control that fails to receive enough credit until a team commits four turnovers on offense in one half. 

Coan has been programmed and put in a place where he is asked to do little. His responsibility in Wisconsin’s offense does not diminish, nor should it diminish his value to the team. He’s operated under the premise he’s asked to get the Badgers a new set of downs and hit the occasional big play. The results are undeniably spectacular. No turnovers, sharp completion rate, and spectacular on both third and fourth downs. Coan’s done exactly what he’s been asked thanks to the program’s approach to the position. 

Paul Chryst and the offensive football staff carefully and considerately took care of the quarterback from the start of the season. By emphasizing the run Coan operates in a good number of short yardage situations. He can look to the first or second route option just past the first down marker because of the work done by Jonathan Taylor and the Wisconsin offensive line on the first two downs. He’s navigated the Badgers into the express lane on the way to Columbus on October 26.

The game sticks out like a beacon of intrigue as the top two teams in conference distance themselves from the rest of the pack by stacking impressive win after impressive win. Coan’s shown an ability to be efficient and incredibly exacting when it comes to his pass attempts. No risk necessary. Reward through the run game, supplement with the passing game. 

It’s Coan’s understanding of his role and executing it that makes 2019 Premium Wisconsin, a season that sticks out from all others and could find the Badgers as one of a party of four for the College Football Playoff.