On the Recruiting Cusp

Yes, Wisconsin finished third in the race for coveted four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Although obviously disappointed in the result, the Badgers can take solace in the fact that they were in it to the end, and never compromised their integrity in the process ... two things that show UW is gaining nation-wide appeal.

MADISON -After all the delayed announcements and head-spinning reports out of West Palm Beach Fla., prep All-American quarterback Jacoby Brissett – who narrowed his list to Miami, Florida, Wisconsin and Washington – chose UF.

We were told he had the strongest connection with the Wisconsin coaches, who recruited him for two years. We were told Brissett wanted early playing time.

Brissett chose a school that had recruited him as a scholarship quarterback for about two weeks. A school with a new head coach and offensive coordinator that had already signed Jeff Driskel – arguably the top-rated signal caller in the incoming class. A curious decision to say the least.

In the end, it became clear Brissett wanted to stay close to home, close to his friends and family. After an announcement at his basketball game it's finally official. It's finally over. Brissett is a Gator.

The decision is surprising considering most figured Brissett would choose Miami (his mother's wish) if distance from home became a factor. But this is the way recruiting works. It can be a slimy business and we'll never know all the details.

For Wisconsin, this is a shot to the gut. The Badgers made a fantastic impression on Brissett, identifying him one as their few scholarship quarterback target in the 2011 class. UW stayed in the hunt until the bitter end and at times it looked like Brissett was heading to Madison.

That, in it of itself, is pretty amazing.

The Brissett recruitment signals two things for the Badgers: One – The UW program is gaining more nation-wide appeal. Two – that appeal will eventually lead to a challenging program adjustment.

Just take a gander at these offers: In addition to Florida, Miami and Washington, Brissett held offers from Alabama, LSU, Florida State, Tennessee and South Carolina among others.

Wisconsin battled college football's recruiting giants and nearly won the fight. Fans are understandably disappointed that a top-flight quarterback slipped away, but Brissett's interest in the Badgers signals a rise in UW's profile.

The Badgers' run to the Rose Bowl created a ton of buzz for the program and recruiting gained steam. In the latest cycle, UW was in on more high profile prospects with more big-name offers than ever before under head coach Bret Bielema. Many of these targets were from out-of-state, proving that kids outside Wisconsin are starting to recognize all that UW has to offer.

Jesse Hayes, Austin Traylor, James Adeyanju and several others chose UW over some of the country's most prestigious programs. Brissett is in a different class, but he came close to doing the same.

Brissett and two of his nationally ranked teammates from Dwyer High School (linebacker Curt Maggitt and tight end Nick O'Leary) made the trip to Madison for the Ohio State game and saw one of the most electric atmospheres in all of college football. Like Brissett, Maggitt had UW in his final three before signing elsewhere.

Still, word is getting out. Wisconsin can compete with the nation's top schools and three kids who grew up in the heart of SEC country saw that firsthand.

The Badgers didn't get that blue-chip commitment this year, but if the wins and BCS appearances keep coming, a kid like Brissett will find his way to Wisconsin.

UW went to a BCS game and won a conference title for the first time in 11 years and nearly snagged Brissett in the process. A string of successful seasons will undoubtedly create more interest leading to more opportunities that UW will try to capitalize on.

Now keep in mind, UW has a proud history of winning with the best the state of Wisconsin has to offer along with unheralded, under-the-radar prospects from around the Midwest (you've heard this before) but what happens when that foundation joins forces with a Brissett type?

Fans can't wait for the day when the Badgers reel in that top out-of-state prospect (ideally at QB) to help UW take that proverbial next step as a program but when that day comes, an adjustment will take place.

That adjustment won't be easy.

Part of what makes Wisconsin so successful despite the top rated recruiting classes is the shared mindset. The roster filled with overlooked kids who play with a chip on their shoulder, play with a motivation to prove the doubters wrong. They want to contribute and help the team any way they can. They are taught to out-will and out- tough their opponents.

And the stars from within the state, guys like John Clay and Josh Oglesby, may have the impressive offer sheet, but the pride for their home state exists. Wisconsin kids have a special attachment to UW and playing in Madison isn't just a stop on the way to the pros.

There is a different mindset for guys like Brissett.

Brissett and the rest of the top players in the country are constantly told how good they are. They're treated like celebrities. Brissett may very well be a hardworking, tough kid, but he comes from a starkly different environment.

When Brissett, Maggitt and O'Leary came to Madison for their visit their star status was obvious. From my vantage points, they were separated from the other recruits, they had the unceasing attention of the coaches and they were given the red carpet treatment.

It may have just been one recruiting visit, but that doesn't really fit the Wisconsin way.

At UW nobody is supposed to be bigger than the team. Everyone is supposed to be in the same boat, proving themselves daily for their spot on the field.

So a question lingers: could the potential starting quarterback lead a team made up of players who are so distinctly different than him? How would a guy like Brissett fit?

You see at Florida or Miami, Brissett is just another one of the guys with offers from every team under the sun. Everyone there has been showered with attention, everyone wants to play in the NFL and become a star. That's the culture that exists.

Wisconsin is different. A large portion of the players grew up Badger fans and are thrilled to wear the cardinal and white – playing whatever role they earn. Some of the out-of-staters may be highly sought after, some may have been barely recruited, but all of them need to understand, and better yet, appreciate the way it works at UW.

So would the incorporation of elite talent lead the Badgers to greater achievements? Or would it crumble the program's unique identity?

If the Badgers keep winning, sooner than later we'll find out.

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