Wisconsin signs ex-Maryland QB Danny O'Brien
MILWAUKEE—The situations are so alike that Danny O'Brien had to go out of his way to remind everybody that he's not the same player as Russell Wilson.
If he achieves similar results, though, Wisconsin's latest push for a transfer quarterback who can play right away will become another example of Badgers coach Bret Bielema's ability to reel in a quick fix for a significant void on his roster.
Bielema announced Wednesday that O'Brien, a starter for most of the past two seasons at Maryland, had committed to play for Wisconsin. It was the second year in a row the Badgers have snapped up a high-profile quarterback who was looking to leave an Atlantic Coast Conference school, following Wilson's move from North Carolina State.
But O'Brien said he didn't really rely on Wilson for advice about Wisconsin, and Wilson's runaway success with the Badgers last season wasn't the only factor that made him choose Madison.
"The fact that he kind of showed that it's possible was big," O'Brien said on a conference call with reporters. "At the same time, I'm a different player."
Like Wilson, O'Brien is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows players who already have graduated to transfer without sitting out a year. Wilson had one standout season for the Badgers after leaving North Carolina State and quitting minor league baseball.
Now comes O'Brien, who said he will graduate from Maryland in mid-May. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining at Wisconsin.
O'Brien also reportedly considered Penn State and Vanderbilt, among other schools. He suggested that his final decision more or less came down to Penn State and Wisconsin.
"It was close, and it was a very tough decision," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said he intends to get his hands on a Wisconsin playbook as soon as it's allowed under NCAA rules, and will move to Madison in June to start getting ready.
"We're excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin," Bielema said in a statement. "The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny's interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program. From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character. He had a fantastic visit and our current players who met him came away impressed."
Although O'Brien immediately becomes the overwhelming favorite to take over as the Badgers' starter next season, Bielema says that wasn't promised to him.
"As is the case with any player who joins our program, we have not promised Danny anything other than the chance to come in during the fall and compete for the starting quarterback position," Bielema said. "He understands that and is excited for that opportunity."
Before O'Brien decided to join Wisconsin, Wilson's departure left the Badgers without an obvious successor to Wilson.
Sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave are the only quarterbacks able to participate in spring practice. Jon Budmayr has a recurring arm issue and Curt Phillips is recovering from multiple knee surgeries.
The Badgers drew some interest late last year from another transferring quarterback, Dayne Crist, who decided to leave Notre Dame for Kansas.
Now O'Brien said he hopes to impress his new teammates with hard work.
"That's the best way to earn respect, just to show it by example," O'Brien said.
O'Brien played well as a redshirt freshman in 2010, completing 57 percent of his passes for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he struggled last season as Maryland switched coaches and offensive styles.
In nine games in 2011, O'Brien completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 1,648 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. O'Brien lost playing time to C.J. Brown as the season went on. Then he broke his left arm against Notre Dame on Nov. 12, ending his season.
O'Brien said the injury to his non-throwing arm did not require surgery, and he had fully recovered as of a month ago.
While he might not have Wilson's running ability, he does have superior size; O'Brien is listed at 6-3, while Wilson was under 6 feet.
Now he's looking forward to life behind one of the biggest and best offensive lines in college football.
"You hear how big these guys are, but until you see them practice, it doesn't do them justice," O'Brien said.