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.
In the latest episode of the series we look into the top class along the offensive line.
Top group: 2006 recruiting class
While there have been some remarkably strong offensive line classes that have come through Madison, the group that had the most depth of high caliber scholarship players that came in the same recruiting class in my opinion is the 2006 class.
This crop of prospects was comprised of multiple NFL Draft picks, and an Outland Trophy winner.
The most highly recognized member of the group is Gabe Carimi. After a redshirt season on campus, Carimi would go on to replace Joe Thomas at left tackle as a freshman. Not only did he earn freshman All-American honors, but he started each game that season. Carimi was a four-year starter for the Badgers at left tackle, earning Big Ten all-conference accolades during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. His career culminated when he took home national recognition as a first-team All-American, Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and the Outland Trophy award given to the top offensive lineman in the country as a senior.
Another phenomenal offensive lineman from the 2006 class was offensive guard John Moffitt. Like Carimi, he started games as a redshirt freshman, six to be exact, at left guard. As a sophomore Moffitt became the full-time starter at center, and split his time as a starter his junior season at both left guard and center. During his junior campaign he was selected to the first-team All-Big Ten team by both the media and coaches. As a senior Moffitt had his best season, earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten and AP first-team All-American honors. A strong interior run blocker, Moffitt was a key member of the offensive line from 2007 to 2010.
The other two members from the 2006 offensive line class were Bill Nagy and Jake Bscherer. Nagy was a three-year letter winner at Wisconsin, playing center, guard, and also blocking tight end over the course of his career. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer as a senior despite not being a regular starter at any point in his career.
Jake Bscherer was actually the highest ranked recruit of the bunch coming out of high school as a four-star prospect, but outside of six starts in 2009 he was primarily a reserve for the Badgers during his career. He would eventually finish up his final year of eligibility at Minnesota Duluth as a graduate transfer.
The four members of the 2006 class were vital cogs in the 2010 offensive line that was comprised of six players that were selected at some point in the NFL Draft. That group is widely considered the greatest offensive line in Wisconsin football history, with Carimi, Moffitt, and Nagy each a big reason for that distinction.
Those three players were each selected in the NFL Draft, Carimi as a first round pick, Moffitt as a third round selection, and Nagy in the seventh round. With three out of the four members of the 2006 offensive line recruiting class moving on to the professional level, and a fourth starting a handful of games, this collection of talent took the top spot.
Honorable Mention: 1995 recruiting class
While the 2008 group that included Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz, and the 2014 group with Michael Dieter and Beau Benzschawel were both solid, they also were part of larger offensive line classes that had several misses.
The 1995 recruiting class on the other hand was comprised of two UW Athletics Hall of Fame members that were crucial parts of the back-to-back Rose Bowl teams from the late 1990s.
Those two players are now current Deputy Athletic Director Chris McIntosh, and former first-round pick Aaron Gibson.
Left tackle Chris McIntosh was a two-time captain for the Badgers during his career, and started a whopping 50 straight games while at Wisconsin. He earned consensus All-American recognition his senior year, and also was selected as the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1999.
Manning the right side of the Wisconsin offensive line was Aaron Gibson. “Gibby” as he was often called by Barry Alvarez, was one of the largest players in program history at around 400 pounds for most of his career.
After not playing in 1995 due to eligibility concerns, he was a jumbo tight end during his second season on campus. That decision by Alvarez paved the way for many great Wisconsin offensive lineman to get their start in the role down the line.
A freak athlete for his size, he eventually took over he right tackle position for his final two seasons in Madison after Jerry Wunsch left for the NFL. Gibson went on to earn consensus first-team All-American honors nationally and in the B1G his senior season.
Both McIntosh and Gibson were finalists for the Outland Trophy, and would be selected in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft.
The other, often forgotten, offensive line member that also came in with the dynamic duo of McIntosh and Gibson, was Pat Daley. A reserve lineman at Wisconsin for his career, he is probably “best remembered” for getting punched by Ron Dayne during a locker room disagreement over a pair of sandals.
Overall, this 1995 group is right up to par with the 2006 crop, and each class is worthy of the top spot. However when push came to shove, I leaned slightly to the 2006 group with Carimi earning the Outland Trophy and a staggering three NFL Draft picks. Not to mention, both Carimi and Moffitt were four year starters for all intents and purposes.
The 2020, 2021, and 2022 classes each have the potential to make similar waves as those highlighted above if the Badgers hit on some of their main targets, but only time will tell for those groups.