Checking In: California

Despite a small recruiting class, the University of Wisconsin is going after some big names on the West Coast, offering prospects on each side of the football. Badger Nation finds out more in our popular feature for our subscribers.

MADISON - While the state of California had been a dead zone for Badgers recruiting for the last decade, former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst gave the University of Wisconsin a big present before leaving for Pittsburgh.

Using old contacts from his time at Oregon State, Chryst was able to convince four-star San Francisco area quarterback Bart Houston that the Badgers' pro-style offense was right for him, a decision Houston never wavered from after Chryst left.

Now in his first season at Wisconsin, linebackers coach Andy Buh is utilizing his experience having recruiting the West Coast for years during his time at Nevada and Stanford. In just a few months on the job, Buh has made numerous offers in California and has even gone out to Hawaii to extend a scholarship.

To learn more about the prospects of the Golden State, Badger Nation checks in with West Coast recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman to get insight on some of the region's top uncommitted prospects.

Before talking about this year's crop, I want to ask you about Houston who you absolutely love. Talk about what you liked about him growing up and what do you forecast his upside to be over the next five years?

Huffman: I think the one thing that is impressive is he is a winner. He lost one game as a starter at De La Salle and won three state championships at the highest division. He took over the starting job when the team lost two straight and they didn't lose another game in almost two full calendar years. He makes plays. He is a cool, calm, collected guy and he just has that winning mentality. De La Salle has a lot of talent, but not a lot of elite talent year in and year out. They are well coached, but Houston took them to another level the last couple years just in terms of the caliber of teams Houston was helping them beat. His stats were never that impressive because he just played a half a game a number of times.

Since Wisconsin got Houston last spring, they've been really active recruiting in California for the first time in a number of years. Is that due to the Badgers getting a major recruit like Houston or more to Buh now being on the staff?

Huffman: I think it's a little bit of both. Andy is a big reason for that because he is very aware of the Bay Area and southern California and the West Coast. Obviously having the best player on the best team in the state is great PR for your school the way Bart was. Every time De La Salle is on TV and they are talking about Bart Houston, they are talking about him going to Wisconsin. You have a West Coast kid with a bunch of West Coast offers leaving all that to go to the Big Ten. With the success Wisconsin has had the last couple of years, they have a lot of things working in its favor with recruiting these players.

Wisconsin has been trying to get another quarterback out of the West Coast but missed on Max Browns and Troy Williams. The Badgers have been looking at Conner Manning (El Toro HS) but haven't offered. What are your thoughts on him?

Huffman: I think Manning just has to prove he is not a system quarterback. He threw for a ton of yards last year and the majority of that was because they threw 60-plus times a game. There is a little bit of question if he is a product of the system, but it's been a good 20 years since El Toro was really significant. For Manning to come in and take them to a championship game last year, he is really rejuvenated that program. He broke Matt Barkley's single-season passing record in Orange County. System quarterback or not, that's still really impressive because Barkley has turned out to be a pretty good quarterback.

Manning isn't the biggest guy in the world. Bart Houston is a legit 6-4 while Manning is 6-1 and not as filled out as Bart is. Manning has tremendous arm strength but Wisconsin showed last year with Russell Wilson that ideal size doesn't always matter. Manning has to show off his strength and that he is more than just a system guy.

Wisconsin has had its eye on Francis Owusu for a long time and he says he is going to visit Madison. It doesn't appear the Badgers are going to be his final destination, so where do you see his recruitment going?

Huffman: I think when it's all said and done that he'll end up at Stanford. If there is a dark horse, although I really wouldn't call them a dark horse, I think UCLA has a good chance for him because it's much closer to home and provides a nice academic experience. His family values academics. He has family at Harvard, Stanford and Columbia. Wisconsin was the first school to offer him and getting on him early shows Wisconsin is being really proactive with guys early on, even if conventional wisdom says they aren't going to have much of a chance with them in the long run; Owusu especially because of the ties to Stanford.

Of all the kids Wisconsin has offered in California, it appears they have the best chance with Scott Quessenberry. Where do you see his recruitment going from this point forward?

Huffman: I think it's going to be like those old 1990s Rose Bowls battles between UCLA and Wisconsin for him. UCLA has the hometown flavor, plays in a bigger conference and have made him a priority. What is going to help Wisconsin ironically is the fact that Erik Magnuson, his teammate last year, is going to Michigan and Kenny Stills is a junior at Oklahoma. If there has been a school that has sent players out of the region despite having offers from southern California it's been La Costa Canyon. Leaving home won't be a big stretch for him.

I know he was blown away by his unofficial visit out to Wisconsin and the fact that Wisconsin really emphasizes its history and tradition of linemen and coaching those linemen, that's a big deal to Quessenberry. With him having a very close friend leave the West Coast and go to the Big Ten conference known for linemen, I really like Wisconsin's chances.

What do you like about Quessenberry as an athlete and what side of the ball do you see him on?

Huffman: I think he is an offensive linemen and he is a punishing offensive linemen. I think he could play defensive line but I think he is an ideal left guard. He is pretty athletic, but I could also see him playing center because he is a pretty bright guy and would be able to make all the calls. Long term, I think he is suited for the interior because he has got the strength, the mass and the smarts.

Where do you think Sean Harlow fits into the equation with Wisconsin and other schools? It seems like Quessenberry is option one and Harlow is option two.

Huffman: Yeah, I think that is a fair assessment. I think with Harlow, the big thing for him will be this weekend when he camps at USC. He hasn't been offered yet and USC has only offered one offensive lineman on the West Coast. Harlow has offers from the entire Pac 12 except Stanford and USC. I think if USC offers him, he'll jump on it. I really think that the family pull with his dad having played there will make him go there if they offer. Now USC is still limited with its scholarships and they are recruiting some offensive linemen nationally. He made be forced out of the equation. He does have some good Pac 12 offers, and says he does like Wisconsin. He's going out to Nebraska for a junior day, and I think he has plans to go to Wisconsin, as well. The fact that he is going to make his way out there shows there's legitimate interest.

It seems like Los Angeles cornerback Cameron Walker – another kid impressed with Wisconsin but has a lot of Pac 12 offers – is another guy the Badgers are going to miss out on, but what is your impression of him?

Huffman: You have a kid with a lot of Pac 12 offers from that part of the country and you naturally think that they will have the edge, but I think Walker will take a legitimate look at Michigan and Wisconsin. Michigan might not have room for him, but he is intrigued with the idea of leaving the West Coast. If UCLA or USC offer him, I can see him staying because they are the local school, but I got the impression from talking to him for awhile that he's not sold on southern California. He plans to take some visits. A school to watch is Boise State because they have signed two of his teammates the last two years and guys he played in the secondary with. Boise State has a lot to offer him because of that.

Out of Francis, Scott, Cameron and Sean, it seems that Quessenberry is the most likely to commit to Wisconsin. Who would you say is number two on that list, if there is one?

Huffman: I would say at this juncture it's probably a long shot to list a number two. If either of them takes an official visit to Wisconsin, I would say it's a whole different outlook. I would think Harlow is going to stay in the Pac 12 because he's a southern California kid. Walker would be a better possibly at this point than Harlow.

Wisconsin has also shown interest in Aaron Cochran and Jack Powers, but hasn't offered yet. With the Badgers short on scholarships, it appears they are waiting to see the decisions of others first. Where are these two kids in their recruitments?

Huffman: If you want to talk about a guy that fits what Wisconsin does with its offensive linemen, Cochran is probably the carbon copy. He's a big massive individual who is a legit 6-7, 340 pounds. He's not the most agile guy in the world, but he reminds me a lot of what Walker Williams was the summer before his junior year.

Walker was big, but he wasn't that athletic. He was able to build up his body and his athleticism. I think Wisconsin is going to be like a lot of other schools where they want to watch a little bit more of him, maybe the first few games of the season, and see how he has developed his body. He certainly has the size. He just needs to improve his footwork. I see him as a guard in college because he is a little limited athletically, but he has good size and strength. California signed his brother in February and it was rumored that he was a silent commitment last winter and just wants to go through the process.

Jack is another guy that's pretty intriguing. He's going to jump up in the next rankings since I saw him compete at the Nike Camp. He's a nice, long, lean athlete. He reminds me a little bit of Craig Roh, who is at Michigan now. He is a little bit thicker than what Roh was in high school, and plays really low and has a real good get up. He just needs to weight to really compete at the BCS level. I know he likes Stanford a lot being close to home and he plans to visit Wisconsin. He's a guy that is still looking to develop and not be a tweener guy between defensive end and linebacker.


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