Recruiting has never been a strong suit of the Wisconsin Badgers. The Big Ten's footprint produces less high school talent than the obscene riches found in SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 country.
Ohio and Pennsylvania are the most talented states in Big Ten country, yet both states are laughably talent thin when one realizes that a high school all-star team from Texas, California or Florida could probably go .500 in the MAC. Furthermore, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin is usually competing for the table scraps left by Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Yet Wisconsin has remained very competitive in the Big Ten. It has gone to three straight Rose Bowls, is often nationally ranked and routinely sends players to the NFL. These accomplishments have not enabled the Badgers to pull in better recruiting classes. The Badgers may have just gained a secret recruiting weapon, though—this year's NFL playoffs.
The media often leads us to believe that high school football players care about tradition, proximity to family, academics and coaching when they select a school. While high school football players may or may not care about any of the above things, there is one factor that reigns supreme: the chance to play in the NFL.
This year Russell Wilson has made it clear that while Wisconsin is a power running team, a QB that leads the Badgers through a dominant campaign will get a shot at starting on an NFL squad. While Wilson did begin his career playing at NC State, it was his final year at Wisconsin that shot him up draft boards (the phrase "shot up" being relative; Wilson somehow managed to last till the third round).
While career Manning brother backup Jim Sorgi was drafted and played in the NFL for about a decade, Wilson's success (in the regular season and the playoffs) allows, for arguably the first time ever, a Wisconsin head coach to enter the living room of a top-five high school QB and tell him why being a Badger is the best way to get noticed by an NFL team.
Wilson is not the only Badger whose face is being plastered on NFL playoff commercials. Wisconsin product J.J Watt is arguably the most dominant player on one of the AFC's best teams (the Houston Texans). Watt and Wilson being the face of two franchises that played on the second week of the NFL playoffs may be the key to breaking Wisconsin's recruiting slump.
It takes a lot for a top recruit from a warm sunny state to abandon climatic paradise for the numbing cold of Camp Randall. It takes even more to lure that recruit away from a warm sunny state if he has an offer to play at a closer university that has a national pedigree that surpasses Wisconsin's (a program with exactly zero national championships). Being the face of an NFL playoff team, however, is a hell of a lot.