Times used to be tough for Wisconsin football and its supporters. As in a 30-year Rose Bowl appearance drought from 1963 to 1993, a stretch in which the Badgers only reached three bowl games.
Now back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowl defeats don’t sound all that bad, do they?
Needless to say, with Wisconsin failing to become relevant until the early '90s, it took a while for the Badgers to bring in some top recruits to help turn the program around. The college football recruiting scene has also picked up steam over the past decade, and when we take a look at the best players Wisconsin has ever recruited, we'll almost solely base it off hype and ratings.
Wisconsin has had some awful luck when it comes to its top recruits, whether it be poor performance, injuries derailing their careers or off-the-field trouble. Perhaps some of these instances will surface on this list.
Some picks will feature familiar names, but others won't exactly jump off the page at you. Feel free to chime in and offer your opinion in the comments section after mulling over the all-time best recruits at each position for the Badgers.
From the class of 2012, current redshirt freshman Bart Houston is possibly the most-hyped quarterback recruit to ever commit to Wisconsin. He was given a 4-star rating by 247sports and came out of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif.
Because he played in an option-based offense, Houston wasn't recruited by many big-named schools, but he caught the eye of then-Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Before committing to play in Madison, Houston received offers from Arizona, California, Colorado and Big Ten rival Iowa.
As the No. 7-ranked pro-style quarterback recruit from the class of 2012, Houston showed he knows how to win after bringing home two state championships.
His mental toughness, leadership and poise were just a few of the intangibles that made him desirable coming out of high school (via Scout.com):
Houston has that "it-factor" that college coaches want in their quarterback, all the intangibles, the pocket poise and leadership as well as the mental toughness. He has a rifle on him and gets rid of the ball as quick as anyone.
After redshirting due to shoulder surgery last season, Houston is amongst a crowded quarterback group that will only get more crowded after the arrival of Tanner McEvoy this summer. Still, with four years of eligibility remaining, Houston still has a shot to leave his imprint on the University of Wisconsin.
Keeping Melvin Gordon in-state was a huge win for Wisconsin back in 2011, as the 4-star recruit (per 247sports) had originally committed to the University of Iowa. The Badgers had to fight to keep him away from other Big Ten schools like Illinois and Indiana as well as Cincinnati.
Wisconsin is notorious for developing running backs, but rarely does it actually bring in a highly touted back out of high school.
You would think the perennial success of the Badger running game would attract big-name recruits, but only recently is that becoming the case, first with Gordon and now with 2013 commit Corey Clement, another 4-star recruit per 247sports.
Gordon was rated as the No. 6 running back in the '11 class, according to 247sports, and was considered a running back/wide receiver hybrid coming out of high school (via ESPN):
He is a slasher with great feet and smooth hips. He has a nice blend of speed and quickness, he has very good elusiveness in the open field, he has nice vision as a running back, and he is deceptively good in space. He is a decisive runner that squares shoulders quickly and makes one jab and gets downhill.
Former head coach Bret Bielema went as far as saying that Gordon "might have the most talent of any kid I've ever signed at that position" when Montee Ball said Gordon possessed more natural ability than he did (h/t ESPN).
That's high praise for the sophomore, who had to fight to earn carries in a crowded backfield last season. However, Gordon eventually broke through and rushed for 216 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Gordon will split carries in 2013 with senior tailback James White.
Wait a minute—doesn't Lance Kendricks currently play tight end for the NFL's St. Louis Rams? Yes indeed, but the Milwaukee native was recruited as a wide receiver by Wisconsin back in 2006, where he was given a 4-star rating by 247sports.
It was a heck of a pickup for first-year head coach Bret Bielema, who had to fend off SEC schools like South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas (where he now coaches) for the services of Kendricks.
247sports had Kendricks listed as the 16th-best receiver in the '06 class, and it was his great size and vertical threat that made him attractive at the next level (via ESPN):
Even if he is covered, quarterbacks have the confidence to throw the ball up and take a chance with him. Is a real mismatch versus most cornerbacks and a huge red zone playmaker. Will catch the ball over the middle and is a tough receiver in traffic. One of the most impressive attributes Kendricks possesses is his burst and ability to make big plays after the catch.
What the Badgers realized was the advantage of moving Kendricks from wide receiver to tight end because of his ability to split the defense and make plays in the middle of the field. The result was Kendricks breaking out in his senior season for 43 catches, 663 yards and five touchdowns, helping him become one of the most sought-after tight ends in the 2011 NFL draft.
Kendricks was selected in the second round with the 47th pick by the St. Louis Rams, where he is slowly developing into one of quarterback Sam Bradford's favorite targets.
Bear with us, here, but we're going to bend the rules a bit. Admittedly, Travis Beckum was recruited as a linebacker out of Oak Creek High School in Wisconsin, and a darn good one at that—247sports listed him as the No. 3 linebacker in the class of 2005.
Several prestigious schools, including Miami (FL), Florida State, Oklahoma and Ohio State recruited Beckum, but he chose to stay in-state, and the Badgers benefited greatly from this decision. The list of highly touted high school tight ends that came to Wisconsin leaves a lot to be desired, as Wisconsin often uses converted players at the position.
Just like at running back and offensive line, Wisconsin has churned out several NFL tight ends. Owen Daniels (recruited as a quarterback), Kendricks (receiver) Jake Byrne and Garrett Graham (3-star recruits per Rivals) all play in the NFL, and yet all were either recruited at other positions or not very hyped coming out of high school.
Beckum earns the nod here because of an incredible two-year stretch at Wisconsin where he topped 900 yards receiving. What makes that performance even more mind-numbing was how raw Beckum was at tight end after switching from linebacker his freshman season.
Unfortunately, Beckum broke his leg midway through his senior season, hurting his stock for the 2009 NFL draft.
He was selected in the third round with the 100th pick by the New York Giants, where he has been hindered by injury throughout his four-year NFL career.
The first 5-star recruit to crack the list (via 247sports), offensive tackle Josh Oglesby had his mind set on Wisconsin all along as a homegrown talent from the city of Milwaukee. He was recruited by then-offensive line coach Bob Bostad and also garnered the interest of Florida State, Iowa, USC and Michigan.
At 6'7" and 335 pounds coming out of high school, Oglesby appeared ready for the college level right off the bat and was the No. 1 offensive tackle in the '07 class, according to 247sports.
Playing at St. Francis High School, there were concerns about the level of competition Oglesby faced prior to coming to Madison, but his ceiling still appeared high (via Mike Farrell of Rivals):
Oglesby has great feet and is very athletic for his size. He plays physical, extends his arms well and is quick enough to get to the next level. Oglesby has a great frame and long arms and is solid in both run and pass blocking. He gets out of his stance well in pass protection and uses his wingspan to keep pass rushers to the outside.
During his time at Wisconsin, Oglesby suffered knee injury after knee injury, throwing a wrench in his development and forcing him to compete in his fifth year for a starting job. He originally earned the right tackle spot in his sophomore season, but he lost it during his junior season after three games due to his knee giving way yet again.
He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Washington Redskins following the 2012 NFL draft.
You know you must be good when you crack recruiting guru Tom Lemming's Top 10, and that's exactly what defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne did (No. 9) back in 2001 (via ESPN).
That would make Hawthorne one of the most, if not the the most prized commit in Wisconsin history, at least in recent times with the various recruiting databases available to the public. According to Lemming, Hawthorne was the second-best defensive lineman available in the '01 class, behind only USC’s Shaun Cody.
Hawthorne played in the inaugural U.S. Army All-American Bowl game following his senior season after playing at Hamden High School in Connecticut. Following his tenure at Wisconsin, then-head coach Barry Alvarez called Hawthorne "the best defensive lineman I ever coached" (via USA Today):
He has an explosive initial step to get advantage coming off the snap. Anttaj is a good program player with quick hand reaction to shock and jolt and outstanding instincts working down the line. Anttaj also shows good instincts, awareness and ball recognition ability. When working in one-on-one situations, he will consistently penetrate and disrupt the plays.
Despite an excellent college career in which Hawthorne started 41 games, earned third-team All-American honors his senior season and became sixth on Wisconsin's all-time list with 42 tackles for a loss, he wasn't selected in the 2005 NFL draft until the sixth round by the Oakland Raiders.
Hawthorne only spent two years in the NFL and currently plays for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.
While Travis Beckum was a helluva linebacker recruit in his own right, he earned recognition at tight end, so that leaves 2012 commit and 4-star recruit (via 247sports) Vince Biegel as the most hyped recruit ever at linebacker for Wisconsin.
247sports also listed Biegel as the No. 18 linebacker in the '12 class (Rivals had him at No. 3), and he received offers from Brigham Young (where his father played football) along with three Big Ten schools—Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.
Ultimately, Biegel, who went to Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, chose to remain in his home state.
According to Scout.com, Biegel's strengths are his aggressiveness along with his speed and tackling technique, while an area for concern is his ability to shed blockers.
He can run for a kid of his size and he attacks with little hesitation and good closing burst. He's a good tackler that hits hard and wraps up. His athleticism allows him to play in space and in coverage. Based on the competition he's seen in high school, he will have to adjust to shedding blocks from bigger, stronger linemen at the next level.
Forced to redshirt in 2012 because of a foot injury, Biegel should benefit from new head coach Gary Andersen's decision to implement a 3-4 defense. Biegel envisioned himself as a 3-4 linebacker coming out of high school (via Madison.com), and after a strong showing in the spring game, Biegel could be in line to start in his first eligible season.
The Badgers have a rich history of strong cornerback play dating back to the days of Troy Vincent, Scott Starks and Jamar Fletcher. While how those players were rated coming out of high school is unknown, one thing is for sure—Wisconsin hasn't recruited a standout defensive back for some time.
Enter Sojourn Shelton, a 3-star recruit per 247sports from the class of 2013 out of Plantation High School in Florida. Recruited by cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland and defensive backs coach Bill Busch, Shelton was also offered by Akron, Cincinnati and Iowa State, and he decommitted from Florida State.
It may be hard to believe that Shelton is the most hyped recruit Wisconsin has ever had in the defensive backfield, but that's what history indicates. His small stature allows him to recover quickly in coverage, and he has great ball skills to boot (via ESPN).
He lacks height, but makes up for it with good leaping ability and competitiveness on the jump ball. He reacts quickly in all situations, is savvy in his reads and awareness and doesn't get faked out versus double moves despite his aggressive nature. He has great quickness and can smoothly transition from backpedal to full stride without losing speed.
Shelton made the decision to enroll early, and it couldn't have paid off more.
Following spring practice, Shelton was in the No. 2 cornerback unit, but after his stellar performance in the spring game, the true freshman might be in line to start if he can continue to learn on the fly, improve his strength and outperform those with more experience on the roster.