The Wisconsin Badgers football program has seen an amazing wave of success since Barry Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990. His tenure in the athletic department shifted perception of Wisconsin athletics and paved the way for current success.
While the landscape of college football has significantly change since 1990, the lifeblood of winning hasn’t.
Recruiting and development are king.
The Badgers have seen tremendous results in developing talent since Alvarez took the reins and laid the blueprint, but recruiting has had areas of prosperity such as offensive line, running back, and linebacker. On the flipside, however, there have also been pockets of the roster that have been more challenging to recruit for.
Within each position though there has been moments of realized potential that create a source of strength on the roster based on the fruits of a singular recruiting class.
For example, in the 2021 recruiting class the Badgers currently have two four-star offensive lineman, and are heavily involved with five-star offensive lineman Nolan Rucci as well. If all three prospects were to sign with Wisconsin that could potentially be a major moment in the trajectory of the position, and ultimately alter the complexion of the offense as a whole.
With that as a launching off point, I began to wonder which classes in the past 30 years had the best collection of players in a singular position group.
Today we focus on the quarterbacks.
Top group: 2019 recruiting class
While the Wisconsin Badgers football program has had tremendous success across many different positions, quarterback has been fairly average outside of seasons here or there since 1990. Players such as Darrell Bevell, Brooks Bollinger, Jim Sorgi, John Stocco, Scott Tolzien, and others have been solid for the Badgers in that time span, but overall the position has not been the teams calling card.
Outside of Curt Phillips in 2008, Bart Houston in 2012, and DJ Gillins in 2014, the Badgers rarely landed four-star quarterbacks, and all three of those players did not fully live up to their lofty ranking from high school.
That changed dramatically though in the 2019 class with Graham Mertz.
While the jury is still out on whether Mertz will live up to the hype, he was a completely different animal according to the recruiting industry.
After committing to the Badgers early in the process, the offers just came in droves. Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Georgia, and a whole host of others pursued the talented quarterback.
He ultimately stuck with Wisconsin, and finished ranked as one of the top-five quarterbacks in his class. He shined on a national stage winning MVP honors at the Army All-American Bowl, and has become a great recruiting ambassador for the team.
He will likely have to wait another season behind Jack Coan, a highly thought of prospect in his own right out of high school, but the potential with Mertz and the pomp and circumstance around his recruitment make him the biggest recruiting win from the high school ranks at quarterback.
Honorable Mention: 2011 recruiting class
Folks. Let’s have some discourse.
The Badgers narrowly missed out on the Jacoby Brissett sweepstakes at the very end of the 2011 recruiting class, but the way in which Wisconsin recovered from that miss, turned out pretty well though.
Bret Beliema turned to a non-traditional route to make it work, but the results are noteworthy.
In the 2011 class, Wisconsin added a lanky in-state walk-on and brought in a transfer quarterback. The two players that joined the fold... Joel Stave — the winningest quarterback in program history — and Russell Wilson, the most talented quarterback to ever wear the cardinal and white.
Wilson only played in Madison for one season, but was remarkably efficient and led one of the most prolific offenses in program history with over 3000 yards passing, 40 total touchdowns, and only four interceptions. He has gone on to tremendous success in the NFL and has been a huge asset to the university.
A couple of Russell Wilson scrambles from his senior season at Wisconsin.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) May 9, 2020
The first one is great with Travis Frederick doing his best to get skinny while Russ runs by. The pump fake on the second one is a doozy, too. pic.twitter.com/NrKjBAE1nJ
After the singular season from Russell Wilson, Wisconsin turned over the keys to Joel Stave. While he did not generate the numbers and wow fans the way Wilson did, Stave won a ton of football games. Winning games isn’t necessarily a perfect statistical measure to use to determine the value of a quarterback, but winning is the name of the game, and he went 31-10 as a starter. A lightning rod for love and hate, in the end his career turned out pretty solid for a walk-on from Whitnall High School who got to play out his dream at the in-state school he grew up cheering on.
Given a lack of star power at the quarterback position over the past 30 years, the 2011 class — albeit a very different approach then normal — gets the nod for honorable mention.