The biggest challenge for a program when there is a changing of the guard at head coach—something Wisconsin football recently experienced—arguably comes off the football field.
Forget about earning the trust of your players, getting them to buy into your style of play and finding a way to win football games. Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen inherited dozens of high school recruits that had verbally committed to play for the Badgers during Bret Bielema's tenure.
It has been up to Andersen and his fellow coaches—a few of which are holdovers from Bielema's staff—to not only cling onto those previous commits, but to go out and continue adding to that total.
Overall, you couldn't have asked for much more from Andersen and his staff, as nearly everyone has decided to stay on board. It's a true testament to Andersen's dedication to selling the University of Wisconsin all over again to these young men, as well as coaches like Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland who coached under Bielema and worked tirelessly to retain these commits.
Now that the transition period has just about come to a close on the recruiting front for Wisconsin, let's update you on where the Badgers currently stand and some of their most important targets.
Key Needs: WR, TE, LB, DL
The Badgers will be losing 22 seniors following the 2013 season, 16 of which have starting experience or are currently in Andersen's 'rotation,' to borrow a basketball term. The entire starting front seven on defense is made up of seniors, although there is still pretty solid depth at linebacker, and two of Wisconsin's top recruits from the 2013 class played defensive line in high school.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jared Abbrederis, James White, Jacob Pedersen and Ryan Groy will all see their college careers come to a close. In all, three tight ends will graduate, but the Badgers will only lose one starting offensive lineman.
Losing White and Groy, as talented as they are, won't hurt as much as the departure of both Abbrederis and Pedersen, who are far and away the top two threats in the Badgers' passing game.
And of course, Chris Borland is virtually irreplaceable in the middle of that Wisconsin defense. Nose tackle Beau Allen is also a vital contributor, and both can expect to hear their names called during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Most Important Commits
|Craig Evans (soft commit)||4||DT||6'3"||305|
|Austin Kafentzis (2015)||3||QB||6'1"||200|
Gary Andersen and the Wisconsin faithful exhaled a huge sigh of relief when Jaden Gault, the Badgers' most prized recruit of the 2014 class, said he was 100 percent committed following a visit to Madison on Nov. 9.
Gault had been weighing his options recently, including Arkansas, as he was originally recruited by Bielema, but the four-star offensive tackle will remain in-state. He should help to continue the reign of dominance the Badgers have had on the offensive line along with George Panos, another 2014 graduate who plays high school football in Wisconsin.
Aside from Gault, it's been the quarterback position garnering the most buzz since Andersen took over. Wisconsin's lone 2015 commitment, Austin Kafentzis is a dual-threat quarterback that plays for Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah.
Remember—Andersen is familiar with recruiting out west from his time coaching in Utah, and he went back to his home state to snatch up Kafentzis. Despite being two years away from Madison, he's already the talk of the town, but let's not get ahead of ourselves—D.J. Gillins' arrival comes a season before that of Kafentzis, and he could be in the mix to start for the Badgers right off the bat.
Gillins is a dual-threat quarterback himself, which fits more of the read-option look Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig would eventually like to try implementing. According to 247sports, Gillins is the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback from the 2014 class, and he has been doing some recruiting for Wisconsin himself down in Florida—more on that in a bit.
Overall, it's a pretty stellar "first" class for Andersen, but considering who he is targeting down the road, the first-year Wisconsin coach might only be scratching the surface.
Most Important Targets
|Tim Settle (2015)||5||DT||6'3"||305|
|Martez Ivey (2015)||5||OT||6'6"||280|
|Jashon Cornell (2015)||5||DE||6'4"||245|
|Iman Marshall (2015)||5||CB||6'1"||190|
|Jacob Daniel (2015)||5||DT||6'4"||298|
|John Plattenburg Jr.||4||CB||5'10"||179|
|Jordan Scarlett (2015)||4||RB||5'10"||197|
|Minkah Fitzpatrick (2015)||4||CB||6'0"||185|
|Jacques Patrick (2015)||4||RB||6'1"||220|
|Jalen Christian (2015)||4||CB/WR||5'10"||165|
|Hale Hentges (2015)||4||DE/TE||6'4"||230|
|Osa Masina (2015)||4||RB/OLB||6'4"||207|
There isn't much work left to be done regarding the 2014 class for the Badgers, but there is one name that would give Wisconsin perhaps its most prestigious commitment in school history—Joe Mixon.
A five-star recruit out of California and the No. 1 listed running back, Mixon visited Madison back on Oct. 12. That visit may have vaulted Wisconsin to the top of his list, as he has it in his final group after watching the Badgers run wild for 286 yards against Northwestern and spending some time with Melvin Gordon afterwards.
An official announcement from Mixon will come at the Army Bowl. Hold onto your butts, Badger fans.
Of course, Mixon isn't the only high-profile target of Andersen. Jamil Kamara also bumped Wisconsin up to the top of his list following an Oct. 12 visit. He could be the guy to step up and give the Badgers a true threat at receiver next season following the departure of Abbrederis.
On the defensive side of the ball, three-star safety Andre Godfrey made his official visit back on—you guessed it—Oct. 12, and he has Wisconsin among his final three schools. The Badgers' dismantling of the then-ranked Northwestern Wildcats apparently worked wonders, as it could very well net them three impressive commits and bump their 2014 recruiting class from good to great.