Bielema's third class at Wisconsin was ranked 26th in the country by Fox Sports Next – his only class in the 20s – and was fourth in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's 24 members represented a 15-spot increase from the season before.
But while Wisconsin got full use out of the defensive players it signed in the class, Wisconsin missed on a lot of players, including a large number of prospects who left after barely one season in the program.
Rank this class today, it's safe to say Wisconsin's class didn't live up to expectations.
Antonio Fenelus, ** 145 CB, Boca Raton, Fla. – Only getting offered by Florida Atlantic, Fenelus might be the steal of the class. As a first-team All-Big Ten honoree by the media and an honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree by the coaches, co-winner of UW's Team MVP, an Academic All-Big Ten player, it's hard to say cornerback Fenelus didn't get the most out of his experience at Wisconsin. A three-time team defensive player of the week winner as a senior, Fenelus finished fifth on the team with 51 tackles, led the team with nine pass breakups and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Fenelus averaged 47.3 tackles and three interceptions his last three seasons.
Shelton Johnson, ** 115 S, Lewisville, TX. – Not highly ranked but highly effective after picking UW over Utah, Johnson made 110 tackles in 22 starts his final two seasons at the safety position. His best season was his junior year when he finished with 54 tackles, six tackles for loss, eight passes defenses and four interceptions. Johnson missed only three games this past season after breaking his arm and was one of UW's six team captains.
Brendan Kelly, *** 72 DE, Richfield, MN – After his first three years were plagued by injuries, Kelly finally got healthy and started to show his potential. After 35 tackles in 2011, Kelly set career high in tackles for loss (six), sacks (five) and passes defended (two). He was granted a sixth year of eligibility for 2013 and will be a key part of UW's veteran defensive line.
Peter Konz, *** 38 OT, Neenah, Wis. – A Rimington Trophy finalist, Konz was named first-team All-American by AFCA and Pro Football Weekly after he started 11 games his junior season. In three years at Wisconsin, he started 31 of the 32 games he played in. He missed time during each season due to injury, including a scary heart program as a redshirt freshman, but was one of the most athletic linemen Bielema ever recruited. He left following his junior year for the NFL and was a second-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons.
Brad Nortman, ** 4 P, Brookfield, Wis. - A staple for Wisconsin's special teams over the past four years, Nortman ranked third in school history with a career punting average of 42.1 yards per punt (min. 100 attempts), is fourth in UW history with 8,383 career punting yards and fifth in UW history with 199 career punts, but he likely will be remembered for two other reasons. The first was running for 17 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-four during the game-winning drive at Iowa in 2010, and the second was drawing a running-into-the-kicker penalty against Michigan State that clinched Wisconsin's trip back to Pasadena in December. He was a sixth-round draft pick of Carolina in 2012.
Curt Phillips, *** 42 QB, Kingsport, TN – His story is well known (three ACL surgeries in three years), and his 2012 season was special. He became the fifth-straight starting quarterback to win his opener at Wisconsin (at Indiana), threw game-tying touchdown passes in the final seconds of the fourth quarter in back-to-back weeks and led Wisconsin to a victory in the Big Ten championship game over Nebraska.
Phillips threw for a career-high 191 yards against Penn State and completed 10 of 16 passes for a touchdown and interception in the Rose Bowl. He was granted a six year of eligibility by the NCAA and will compete in 2013.
Devin Smith, *** 83 CB, Coppell, TX – Redshirting in 2011 after breaking his foot in week two, Smith's senior year exceeded his expectations. Not only did Smith finish fifth on the team with 57 tackles, he ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 17 passes defended and finished three interceptions. He added to that with his interception on Nebraska's first series of the second half during the Big Ten championship game, adding another nail into the Cornhuskers' coffin. For his career, Smith ranked in the top 10 in school history with 31 passes defended and started 30 games over his final four seasons.
Mike Taylor, *** 40 WLB, Green Bay, Wis. – A first-team All-Big Ten selection his last two seasons, Taylor recorded more tackles (273) than any player in the Football Bowl Subdivision over the past two seasons. With 115 tackles in the regular season, Taylor tied for 24th nationally after ranking third with 150 stops in 2011. Taylor averaged 9.75 tackles per game over the past two seasons (28 games) and posted double-digit tackles in 13 games (six in 2012). He was incredibly effective and efficient for UW, especially after coming back from a torn ACL his redshirt freshman season.
Kevin Zeitler, *** 22 OG, Milwaukee – A first-team All-American by AFCA and a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection his senior year, Zeitler – who turned down Michigan to play at UW - was part of two outstanding offensive lines at Wisconsin in 2011 and 2010. He played in his final 40 games at Wisconsin, including starting all 14 at right guard in 2011. He was a first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2012 draft.
Jake Byrne, *** 42 TE, Byrne, Ark. – One of the unsung players on Wisconsin's roster, Byrne, who enrolled early in January 2008 after turning down Arkansas, Kansas and Mississippi State, played four seasons without redshirting and developed into one of the key cogs in the blocking game. A kid who contacted UW from Arkansas because his grandparents and parents are from Wisconsin, Byrne was UW's co-winner of the Badger Power Award (given for strength and conditioning) this year, played in 51 games with 22 starts (including all 14 this year), and caught his only career touchdown against Indiana in 2010.
Kevin Claxton, *** 65 S, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. – Overshadowed because of the huge success of fellow linebackers Chris Borland and Taylor, Claxton was one of the more versatile linebackers for UW. A converted safety who could cover a lot of ground, Claxton had his best season in 2011, starting 12 of 14 games and finishing with a career-high 47 tackles, sixth best on the team, and 6.5 tackles for loss.
Marcus Cromartie, *** 56 CB, Arlington, TX - A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree for the first time as a senior, Cromartie started 27 games in his final two seasons, including all 14 last season. He registered 62 tackles (37 solo) during the 2012 campaign and recorded his first interception and touchdown on Nebraska's first offensive play in the Big Ten championship game. Picking UW over Florida and others, Cromartie was a late bloomer, but a good player.
Jake Current, *** OG 25, Troy, OH – Playing in 35 games in his career, including eight in 2011, Current was one of the first Ohio players to leave his state and come to Madison, picking UW over offers from Cincinnati, Maryland, Oklahoma State and others. A knee injury early in his career stunted his ability to break into the starting lineup, but Current, who graduated December 2012, has been a valuable commodity on specials teams and as a backup.
Dan Moore, *** JC DT, O'Fallon, Ill. - After two years at Joliet Junior College, Moore's opportunity at the Division 1 level almost ended as quickly as it started when his future was put in jeopardy after his knee was wrecked in a post-drill altercation during spring football. Moore recovered, playing in all 13 games and totaled 19 tackles in 2008. Moore was part of the great eight-man rotation Wisconsin displayed on the defensive line in 2009. He started 11 games and recorded 21 tackles, 2.5 TFL's and two sacks.
Eriks Briedis, ** 91 DT, Miami – Briedis enjoyed his best season as a sophomore by playing in 10 games on Wisconsin's defensive line. He played in only one game in 2011, as injuries (particularly his neck) forced him to quit the team.
Zach Davison, NR TE, Waukee, IA – Projected to be a tight end or fullback for Wisconsin, Davison quit the team after three seasons suffering chronic back problems. He never played.
Chris Garner, ** NR OL, Augusta, Wis. – Garner committed on signing day, never did an interview, no pictures exist and never attended a practice at Wisconsin. Needless to say, Manti Te'o girlfriend was more real than Garner.
Leonard Hubbard, *** 19 MLB, Springfield, Ill. – Picking Wisconsin over Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, Hubbard played in six games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and made two tackles and forced one fumble against Wofford in his debut. But after falling from second to fourth on the depth chart, Hubbard transferred to Illinois State for "personal reasons." He played in 10 games as a reserved linebacker in 2010 and missed 2011 with a medical condition.
Dex Jones, *** 32 SLB, Lombard, Ill. – Brought in to be a fullback at Wisconsin, Jones only lasted one season until he dropped to third on the depth chart until he transferred to Western Michigan to play linebacker. That never materialized either.
Anthony Mains, *** 68 DT, Naples, Fla. – Picking Wisconsin over Louisville, South Florida, Stanford and Vanderbilt, Mains was in the program three seasons before graduating. He played in two games in 2009 and registered four tackles.
Joe Schafer, ***54 OT, St. Paul, MN – Picking Wisconsin over Minnesota, Schafer spent two seasons in Madison and was buried on the depth chart in the process. He transferred to St. Thomas following his redshirt freshman year.
Erik Smith, *** 73 RB, Bolingbrook, Ill. – Has 16 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown during his 2009 redshirt freshman season. Not liking the depth chart in front of him, Smith transferred to Illinois State. After earning a spot on the conference's all-newcomer team when he led the team with 656 yards rushing on 142 carries and scored four touchdowns on the ground in 2010, Smith played in only five games in 2011, carrying the ball just 10 times.
Tyler Westphal, **** 10 DE, Menasha, Wis. – The highest-rated recruit in the signing class, Westphal – who picked UW over Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Virginia - never materialized because of two shoulder surgeries (one on each shoulder) stunted his development and his conditioning. Getting passes up on the depth chart, Westphal eventually headed to North Dakota State, but then went to UW-Oshkosh after only a week with the Bison.
T.J. Williams, *** 125 WR, Kenosha, Wis. – A track athlete who was recruited to be a deep threat for Wisconsin, Williams played in two games as a redshirt freshman before his passion for football ended. He left the program following the 2009 season.