MADISON, Wis. — Given that Wisconsin’s football program recently finished its third consecutive double digit-win season and played in a second straight Rose Bowl, you would think high school prospects would be banging down the athletic department doors to suit up for the Badgers.
Yet as National Signing Day approaches on Wednesday, Wisconsin has only 12 commitments for the class of 2012 — the lowest number for any school among the top 100 recruiting classes. As a result, the Badgers’ recruiting class ranks just 53rd overall, according to the Scout.com ratings system.
That ranking puts the Badgers one spot behind Boise State and just ahead of Syracuse. Among Big Ten teams, Wisconsin’s recruiting class ranks ninth out of 12.
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“Right now, it’s quality over quantity,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “I think they’ve done a great job of getting some of these nationally ranked guys. You’d like to see them fill out the class a little bit, but, as it stands, they have a really strong group of kids here that are committed right now.”
The two biggest factors for the relatively small recruiting class are a shortage of available scholarships and the departure of six assistant coaches following the Rose Bowl. Their exit left Badgers head coach Bret Bielema scrambling to convince many of his recruits to stay. Not every player remained committed to Wisconsin.
J.J. Denman, a four-star offensive lineman from Pennsylvania, switched his commitment from Wisconsin to Rutgers, citing the Badgers’ assistant coaching changes as a factor in his decision.
Still, six four-star players are committed to Wisconsin: quarterback Bart Houston (Concord, Calif.), safety D.J. Singleton (Jersey City, N.J.), linebacker Vince Biegel (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.), running back Vonte Jackson (Kenosha, Wis.), offensive guard Dan Voltz (Barrington, Ill.) and offensive tackle Kyle Dodson (University Heights, Ohio).
Dodson is believed to still be on the fence about signing with Wisconsin, and there is speculation he might sign with Ohio State and new head coach Urban Meyer on Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest name to commit to Wisconsin is Houston, a product of the De La Salle High School football factory. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder didn’t produce gaudy statistics as a senior, completing 99 of 171 passes for 1,999 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. But he did finish 38-1 as a starter and won three state titles at one of the premier prep football programs in California.
“He really does fit what Wisconsin does,” Trieu said. “He’s an outstanding game manager, a really smart kid that makes good decisions. He’s played at a big-time program, played against a lot of big-time players and schools. Jumping right into a BCS school, a Big Ten atmosphere isn’t going to faze him much.
“He’s accurate. He’s a guy you can win with. He’s not going to lose games for you. That’s one of the things that really impressed me when I watched him on film and in person.”
Jackson missed most of his senior season at Kenosha Bradford High School because of a torn ACL. He was injured with 16 seconds remaining in the second quarter of his first game but still rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. As a junior, he carried the ball 68 times for 956 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Although Wisconsin’s backfield will be stacked next season with Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball, James White and even Melvin Gordon — one of Jackson’s former Kenosha Bradford teammates — Jackson could make a significant impact on the Badgers’ program down the road.
“He’s big and strong and extremely explosive,” Kenosha Bradford coach Jed Kennedy said. “He looked as good in that first half this year as any kid I’ve ever seen or been around. . . . He fits in line with all the other great backs Wisconsin has there.”
Biegel, a 6-3, 205-pounder, amassed 172 tackles, 21 sacks and three interceptions as a senior at Wisconsin Rapids. Earlier this month, he played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which features some of the top high school seniors in the country.
Singleton, Dodson and Voltz each rank in the top 25 nationally at their respective positions. Voltz is the No. 7 offensive guard, Singleton the No. 14 safety and Dodson the No. 24 offensive tackle.
The six other Wisconsin recruits committed for the class of 2012 are wide receiver Reggie Love (Boca Raton, Fla.), offensive guard Walker Williams (Tacoma, Wash.), defensive tackle Arthur Goldberg (Pittsburgh), cornerback Reggie Mitchell (Pittsburgh), cornerback Hugs Etienne (Plantation, Fla.) and running back Leo Musso (Waunakee, Wis.).
Although Wisconsin’s small recruiting class dropped the Badgers in the overall national rankings, it merely continues a trend since Bielema took over the program in 2006. Bielema traditionally chooses players he can mold to his system rather than superstar talent.
This isn’t the first time — and certainly won’t be the last — the Badgers have fallen outside the top 25 nationally in recruiting rankings. Bielema’s classes have ranked like this, according to Scout.com: 53, 38, 33, 51, 26, 41, 37. That said, under Bielema, the Badgers are 60-19 with two Rose Bowl appearances and have finished in the final AP top 25 five times.