One of my biggest pet peeves during the “Brett Bielema Era” of Wisconsin Badgers football was that the man couldn’t recruit to save his soul. While Ohio State and Michigan were constantly reloading (until “Big Blue” was derailed by the Rich Rodriguez experiment) with studs from across the country, Wisconsin couldn’t find anyone beyond a battering ram running back to fill the Badgers’ needs.
And let’s not forget other oversights — some of them due to the way the Badgers played, some due to his own decisions — of how top Wisconsin high school talent was overlooked.
(Did you know that Pewaukee’s J.J. Watt — a top NFL Draft pick in 2011 — transferred as a walk-on after spending some years playing at Central Michigan?)
Sports Illustrated has a piece online right now highlighting the perils Bielema now faces as the head coach of Arkansas. Mostly, it’s about how his move from the Big Ten to the SEC has brought to light a lot of his faults as a coach. Chief among them, his arrogance, his swagger that he can’t back up (Current lifetime record in the SEC: 0-8), and at the end he can’t recruit with the big boys.
So says SI.
The bad news, though, is that even with the three league titles that Bielema won with the Badgers, his Wisconsin teams rarely beat opponents with more touted high school talent. Under Bielema, the Badgers went 1-5 against Ohio State, 2-3 against Penn State and 2-4 in bowl games. In a study that strongly correlates recruiting rankings with victories, SB Nation’s Matt Hinton divided the major-conference FBS programs into five tiers (five-stars, four-stars, etc.) based on their recruiting rankings from 2010 to ’13. Wisconsin fell into the two-star group, alongside the likes of USF and Purdue, yet did not overachieve to the extent that one might assume. “They were actually very ordinary in that span against blue-chip competition, putting up losing records against five-star (2-3), four-star (3-6) and even three-star (5-6) opponents,” wrote Hinton. “Much of Wisconsin’s success is based on thorough, consistent dominance of its two-star peers in the Big Ten — Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue — against whom the Badgers have won 17 in a row.”
That trend does not bode well for Arkansas, considering five of its six SEC West opponents (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M) fell into Hinton’s four- or five-star tiers. Yet, so, too, did the Razorbacks, so theoretically they’re not that far behind their competition. But there aren’t many Indianas on the schedule to help boost their record.
Any Badgers football fan already knows all these stats, I just don’t believe many wanted to believe them while “the Cardinal and Cream” were going to back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowls (losing all of them by the way…) and the Big Ten title plaques kept going up at Camp Randall. The truth of the matter is, Wisconsin under Bielema wasn’t much of a national powerhouse. It was a just the big kid on the block beating up on all the smaller children in the neighborhood.
Perhaps that will change in the new “East / West” divisional format starting next year in Big Ten football (now encompassing 14 teams) and with a Badgers team that will now be much more the product of Gary Andersen’s than it was Brett Bielema’s. Oh, I still have my issues with Wisconsin playing nothing but cupcakes for its non-conference games, but that too appears to be changing.
Bucky will be taking on a number of SEC teams in the coming years, many of them at NFL stadiums to fulfill the demands of the public’s interest.
There are many things to dislike about Brett Bielema post-Wisconsin — such as the comparison to Andersen personally calling all of his players to inform them he was leaving Utah for Wisconsin, while most in Wisconsin found out about Bielema as he was cleaning out his desk at Camp Randall — but for me, it was always his recruiting and the inability to make Wisconsin Badgers football something more.
Good luck with that attitude in the SEC, coach. You clearly look like you’re going to need it if you’re going to make it past this season still employed.
Until then, #KARMA.