MADISON, Wis. (AP) -Coming off a surprisingly strong 12-1 season and bowl game victory under first-year coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin is facing heightened expectations this year.
But with less than a month left before the season opener, a team that's expected to contend for the Big Ten title and top-10 ranking is still missing a pretty big piece: A firmly entrenched starting quarterback.
The Badgers lost steady fifth-year senior John Stocco to graduation, leaving them with a two-way competition between senior Tyler Donovan and junior Allan Evridge.
Donovan, who quarterbacked the Badgers to two victories after Stocco was injured late last season, is more familiar with the offense and gives the team an extra dimension as a running threat. But Evridge, a transfer from Kansas State, also has good feet and might be a better pure passer.
``They both have strengths that they play to, and the biggest thing is for us to determine a starter, we're going to have to determine who handles every day the best,'' Bielema said. ``And everybody wants to call it a quarterback controversy. I've always called it a quarterback competition. The more you have people that like to compete and raise the best out of them, the better off situation you have.''
Even with the Sept. 1 opener against Washington State looming, Bielema is giving himself a few more weeks to make a final decision. Ideally, he'd figure it out in time to give his starter 10 days to prepare for the opener.
``But nothing's to say that that's solidified in stone,'' Bielema said.
Bielema would like nothing better than to see one of his two quarterbacks grab the job with his play in practice this month, then hold it for the whole season.
But if that doesn't happen, Bielema won't hesitate to make a change in mid-season.
``If that person goes down because of injury, or that person goes down to performance, you have to always put your best personnel on the field,'' Bielema said.
One thing Bielema doesn't plan on doing is alternating the two quarterbacks during a game.
``Unless something dramatically changes, I don't see that being a realistic possibility for us,'' Bielema said. ``Just because I believe that you need to have a guy that you can stand behind and put in a position to have success.''
At this point, Donovan has heard the prevailing conventional wisdom about the Badgers: If they can find a quarterback, they have a chance to go a long way.
``That's how it's going to be right now,'' Donovan said. ``Obviously, I only proved myself twice, and people probably still aren't fully engaged with me. But that's fine with me. I'm not really worried about the outside world. What counts for me is inside this team.''
Donovan said he's not getting caught up in the competition with Evridge, but acknowledges that he's excited about the prospect of opening the season as a starter.
``Obviously, you have to be a little more excited when you know you have a chance to be the guy and that kind of thing,'' Donovan said. ``But I'm just trying to stay even-keel, trying to learn every day, not trying to get too caught up in things.''
Bielema credits Donovan for his performance in the Badgers' victories at Iowa and against Buffalo at home last season. Against the Hawkeyes, Donovan was 17-of-24 for 228 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 61 yards.
``(Donovan), at the end of the year, showed that he can play winning football,'' Bielema said. ``T.D. didn't have a good start to the year, and he really progressed during the season, and he put us in a position to where we were able to go into that Iowa game and get a victory.''
Still, it's telling that Bielema hasn't just handed the job to Donovan.
Evridge sat out last season after transferring from Kansas State, where he ran a wide-open passing offense that required the quarterback to make extensive play and protection calls at the line of scrimmage. Coming to Wisconsin's more traditional offense has been a transition, but Evridge thinks he has it down.
``Now, the big thing for me is repetitions,'' Evridge said.
Evridge admits he was inconsistent during spring football practices, but believes he has made it through the steepest part of his learning curve.
``It was kind of a whirlwind experience - and then I got a nice little sinus infection in the middle, which kind of threw me back a little bit,'' Evridge said.
Evridge says it doesn't matter how late Bielema waits to make his final decision on a starter.
``As a quarterback, you should prepare yourself to be ready at all times,'' Evridge said.
For now, both players say there's no tension between them. Evridge calls it a ``friendly'' competition.
``It's a good relationship,'' Donovan said. ``I'm helping him, he's helping me. When he has a question about the offense, I'll be right there to help him out. It's that kind of thing. We need every guy on this team to be on the same page.''

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