I think Wisconsin Badgers football is coming up upon a major inflection point for their program. They need to decide what they want to be and they need to decide quickly or else it will be decided for them.
On Friday afternoon, 4-star IOL Billy Schrauth of out Fond du Lac announced that he had chosen Notre Dame over in-state Wisconsin as his college destination. While that is a bummer, it, in and of itself, is not a program altering decision. Wisconsin has plenty of highly rated offensive linemen in their two-deep and will, presumably, continue to get more in the future. What Schrauth leaving the state is, however, is another in a growing line of connected points that is angling in the wrong direction for Wisconsin football.
Over the past two years, Wisconsin has lost most of their recruiting department and had their worst regular season record since 2001. Obviously the 2020 season was full of difficulties that a normal football season wouldn’t have, but the .500 record is still a bad look. Not having made any sort of replacement (at least publicly) to the recruiting department that was gutted when Saeed Khalif left for Michigan State is downright negligent.
Recruiting is quite literally the only thing you need to do better if you want to reach the “next level” of college football. In Jesse Temple’s recent interview ($) with eight different high school coaches in Wisconsin one of the coaches noted that he can tell the difference between UW’s recruiting department and other schools’ recruiting departments:
The few Badgers that I sent them, my connections are pretty strong with the guys that make decisions. And now I’ve had a handful and I feel like I’m getting calls from grad assistants. Not that those guys aren’t good. But I can just tell the level of knowledge is different. It’s a little bit strange. A lot of the graphics are coming from young kids in a department that it seems like they’re trying to rebuild. So, that makes complete sense. Whereas other schools have actual positioned employees it seems to reach out to head high school coaches. I’m getting more information from grad assistants now.
To me, I know nothing’s going to happen with a grad assistant. The information that’s going from me to their coaching staff from a grad assistant is going to be taken with a grain of salt, whereas when I talk to Coach Haering, I know that the information that I’m giving him and that the information he’s giving me is legit.
The rest of that article is mostly complementary about Paul Chryst and the staff and how they recruit in the state, but there are certainly some cracks starting to form in the fence around that state that Barry Alvarez wanted to build way back when he was hired in 1990.
Schrauth leaving the state is one data point. 2022 4-star TE Jerry Cross (Milwaukee) is another. 4-star OL Carson Hinzman (Hammond) hasn’t made his decision between Ohio State and Wisconsin yet, but the momentum isn’t headed towards Madison. 4-star DE Isaac Hamm (Sun Prairie) is still up in the air too, although Wisconsin appears to be his choice.
Getting 4-star OT Joe Brunner (Milwaukee) to commit to UW is great. He’s the top-rated player in the state and had a high profile recruitment that Wisconsin won. RB Braelon Allen (Fond du Lac) was originally a member of the ‘22 class before reclassifying to 2021 and he has had massive success as a freshman at UW.
The 2022 class was long pegged as “the best in-state recruiting class in history” and Wisconsin may only end up with three of the six top players. Back when their recruitment started heating up, many people said getting four of the six should be considered a failure and there was talk for a while that all six would team up in Madison. The six for six talk ended pretty quickly as Cross picked Penn State, but Allen chose Wisconsin and then the remaining four players were linemen. That’s extremely Wisconsin’s shit!
The Badgers were also coming off of three straight classes that were Wisconsin’s “best ever” in the online recruiting rankings era. They were getting 5-stars out of Pennsylvania! They were No. 3 in the Big Ten for the 2021 class!! Things were looking up!!! But then the recruiting department fell apart and on his way out, Khalif mentioned that there wasn’t enough investment in it from Wisconsin (in another excellent interview ($) with Jesse Temple at The Athletic) and that they were complacent.
Wisconsin has zero commitments for the 2023 class currently. They, along with Northwestern and Illinois, are the only three teams in the conference to not have a verbal pledge for the next cycle. Again, this isn’t a death knell for the program (PSU leads the Big Ten with four commitments in ‘23, so Wisconsin isn’t dead and buried) it’s just another data point in a concerning, downward-heading line.
It would be nice to actually hear from Chryst about his recruiting strategy. He never discusses it publicly and in all of that dead space, fans (and bloggers) are able to fill in the blanks with their own thoughts. And, well, a lot of it has been negative recently.
What are his goals in recruiting? Where does he want this team to go? If he wants to occasionally win a Big Ten West title and go to the Rose Bowl once a decade (if everything lines up) then he’s doing a great job. There’ll be more seven and eight win seasons than 10 and 11 win ones with this route, but at least we’d know what he’s trying to do.
If he wants to regularly compete for Big Ten titles, let alone try and make it to the next level after that, a wholesale change in recruiting is going to have to take place and, quite frankly, I don’t know if he’s fully equipped to embrace that. Paul Chryst very clearly cares about the University of Wisconsin and his football team. No one questions that. The question I do have is this: does he care enough to make big changes?
Right now, both on and off the field, it looks like the answer is “no.”