Joel Stave recognizes few quarterbacks, if any, have been through as much tumult as he has in a college career: three head coaches, four quarterback coaches, three years worth of spring practices in which he had to demonstrate why he even deserved to be Wisconsin's starter -- and two instances in which all that work left him on the bench to begin the following season.

He'd become so conditioned to prove himself in such settings that if coaches had asked Stave to endure yet another quarterback competition for the starting job this spring, he would have done it without so much as a hesitation. Competition, he has learned, brings out the best in everyone, even if it means someone else might perform better than him.

Instead, something entirely new and different has transpired this spring that has brought a measure of comfort and relief to Stave. For the first time in his Wisconsin career, Stave is participating in spring practices with the knowledge that he is the unquestioned leader of the offense, a starter whose experience already has proven enough to coaches and players that he deserves the opportunity.

"It's nice," Stave said. "It's a little relaxing, reassuring I guess. It gives me an opportunity to really pick out things and work on things instead of doing whatever I can to be perfect everyday. Because it's practice, you don't need to be. It gives me an opportunity to work on things, work on timing, maybe throw it earlier than I'm used to, maybe throw it earlier than I'm comfortable with, just to build that kind of chemistry. I think that's one thing that's really positive from it."

Stave has been on campus for more than four years now, and if you've followed his story in the slightest, you know nothing has been handed to him. He arrived at Wisconsin in the spring of 2011 as a walk-on whose lone scholarship offer came from Western Michigan. He took a redshirt season his first year and watched as Russell Wilson produced the finest season by a quarterback in the history of the program, throwing 33 touchdowns to only four interceptions and leading the team to a Rose Bowl appearance.