MADISON – As he unveiled what wound up being his final signing class as Wisconsin football’s head coach, Bret Bielema believed he was able to limit the amount of recruiting unrest with his staff going through a major upheaval, largely due to the Badgers having only a 12-member class.
Problem was Bielema’s seventh and final signing class massively misfired.
While three of the five members ranked in the Scout 300 delivered for Wisconsin, a combination of injuries, failed development and plain bad scouting resulted in a class that ranked 69th in the country by Scout.com appear pretty close to being on the money. Eight of the 14 players didn’t finish their eligibility at Wisconsin, one didn’t even make it to Wisconsin and only three started double-digit games.
The fails don’t end there. UW was unable to hold on to offensive line commitments J.J. Denman (Rutgers) and Kyle Dodson (Ohio State) in the final month before signing day. And while Dodson had to give up football because of a neck condition as a redshirt sophomore after playing in only four games, Denman played in 31 games (20 starts) for the Scarlet Knights.
Even a majority of the walk-ons Bielema signed didn’t plan out, although a quarterback from Darlington named Alex Erickson turned out to be a savior for the Badgers at wide receiver after the scholarship players recruited failed to contribute. Erickson led UW in receptions in his final two seasons (2014-15).
In our pre-signing day tradition, we look back five years and evaluate the product.
A U.S. Army All-American, Vince Biegel (four stars, No.23 OLB in country, No.223 overall prospect) committed to Wisconsin over BYU prior to UW’s spring game. He also had offers from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford among others. Biegel lived up to the lofty accolades he accrued for himself at Wisconsin Rapids High.
Matching school record by playing in 54 games, including 40 starts, Biegel tallied 191 total tackles, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. A four-team Academic All-Big Ten selection who was part of the winningest senior class in school history, posting a record of 41-13 (.759), including a 26-7 (.788) mark in Big Ten play, Biegel finished his career ranked No. 7 all-time at UW with 21.5 sacks and ranked No. 10 with 39.5 tackles for loss.
Biegel was twice a second-team All-Big Ten selection (2014 and 2016) and a third-team All-Big Ten pick in 2015. He led the Badgers with 16.5 tackles for loss and ranked second on team with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore, helped Wisconsin rank No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (13.7 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (268.5 ypg) as a junior and captained a defense that navigated a challenging schedule to finish No. 4 nationally in scoring defense (15.6 ppg), No. 7 in total defense (301.4 ypg) and No. 3 in rushing defense (98.8 ypg) this past season.
Although Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, UCLA and Washington made a push for him, Bart Houston (four stars, No.7 QB in country, No.155 overall prospect) fell in love with Madison when he visited. He loved it so much that he committed in early May, three months ahead of his original timeline. Houston was the biggest high school quarterback Wisconsin has ever received a commitment from, as he led his team to three California Open Division state championships and was 38-1 with him under center. A member of the coveted Elite 11 quarterbacks and a Semper Fidelis All-American, Houston never wavered when offensive coordinator/recruiting contact Paul Chryst left to be the head coach at Pitt.
His first four seasons were short on successes, as the most he saw the field under former head coach Gary Andersen was the team’s rugby punter (it wasn’t very impressive).
He finally showed fans what he could do when he replaced an injured Joel Stave and went 22-for-33 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a road win at Illinois, setting up high expectations entering his final season.
Houston earned the starting job out of fall camp and led UW to a critical opening win over then-No.5 LSU. And while inconsistent play lost him his starting job for the conference opener, Houston stuck with it and eventually found a niche in a two-quarterback system.
His final two games were arguably the best of his career. He completed 76.2 percent of his passes in the Big Ten championship game and went 11 of 12 (91.7 percent) in the Cotton Bowl. He finished his senior season throwing for 1,245 yards, completing 68.1 percent of his passes, throwing five touchdowns, three interceptions and being a running threat on the ground.
One of three two-star athletes in the class (largely because it was hard to project his college position and his size), Leo Musso (not ranked nationally) massively out performed his rankings. A pure athlete who led Waunakee High to undefeated seasons as a junior and senior, Musso was nothing more than a spot starter and a role player his first three seasons, although he did show a knack for playmaking with a two-interception game against Miami (OH) his junior year. Musso took it a step forward in 2016.
Starting all 14 games his senior season, Musso combined with strong safety D’Cota Dixon to form a formidable safety duo. Musso had 74 tackles (second on the team), a team-high five interceptions and a 66-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown at Michigan State. He ended his career with a stellar performance in the victory over Western Michigan with nine tackles, tying a career high.
A theme of this signing class is injuries, and onlookers will never know how good Dan Voltz (four stars, No.7 OG in country, No.99 overall prospect) would have been had injuries not got the better of him. An Army All-American, the Badgers’ first verbal commitment of the class turned down offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford.
Voltz played in 32 games, with 27 starts at center, his best year being a part of the 2014 offensive line that paved way for a school-record 320.1 rushing yards per game. Injuries started to pop up at the end of that season however. Voltz left both the Big Ten championship game and the Outback Bowl early, the latter because of a serious leg injury.
He started the 2015 strong and was playing well until another knee injury cost him six games, including the final five games of season. Dealing with constant pain, Voltz tried to give it a go this past fall but ultimately decided to retire after his body could no longer handle the physical demands of the sport. He stayed on to consul the offensive line, something the young group pointed to as a big benefit.
Picking Wisconsin over Pittsburgh and a handful of other offers, Arthur Goldberg (three stars, No.54 DT in country) earned his scholarship offer after performing admirably during Wisconsin’s high school summer camp. I predicted when he signed that he’d be serviceable for Wisconsin and he was.
Goldberg started six games at nose guard as a redshirt sophomore in 2014 and was a key starter for a strong UW defensive line unit in 2015, starting eight games and finishing with 17 tackles in UW’s defensive line rotation. Unfortunately a head injury caused Goldberg to walk away prior to the 2016 season.
A Semper Fidelis All-American, Walker Williams (three stars No.40 OG in country) listed Wisconsin as his favorite program since watching the Badgers in the 2011 Rose Bowl, a main reason he sent film to the UW coaches to evaluate him and flew out to Madison twice at his own cost to see the program. He committed over offers from Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah and Washington.
After playing in six games his first two seasons, Williams started the first two games of the 2015 season before an injury sidelined him for four games. He returned to start five games in Big Ten play until a head injury ended his season and eventually, like Goldberg, his career.
Picking Wisconsin over Kansas, Wake Forest and West Virginia among others, Hugs Etienne (two stars, NR) fit the billing as an aggressive cornerback who had a knack for making plays. He enrolled early to get a jump on the playbook but a neck injury prevented him from ever seeing the field. He took a medical scholarship after the 2013 season, finished school and runs his own media production company in Florida.
Picking Wisconsin over finalists Michigan State and Northwestern, Vonte Jackson (four stars, No.28 RB in country, No.297 overall prospect) was touted to be as talented, if not more explosive than, prep teammate Melvin Gordon. Unfortunately his knees couldn’t hold up. Jackson’s high school senior season was cut short after tearing his ACL with 16 seconds left in the first half of the season opener. He suffered two more ACL tears in the next 22 months and a fourth injury suffered at the start of the 2014 fall camp convinced Jackson is was time to be done. In all he endured five knee surgeries, including four on his right, all related to torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
Despite never playing a down for UW, Jackson made the most of his medical scholarship by graduating this past year and will pursue a dental degree.
Choosing Wisconsin namely over Boston College, Reggie Love (three stars, No.174 WR in country) was a basketball player until being talked into giving football a try for his senior year. Bielema loved Love’s size, presence, athleticism and upside. Unfortunately those skill traits never materialized at UW.
He played in five games as a true freshman and hauled in one catch (a 19-yard completion against Andersen’s Utah State team) before decided to redshirt in 2013. He scored a 45-yard touchdown on his first rushing attempt of his career in season opener vs. LSU in 2014 but then vanished, having only two catches for 15 yards the rest of the season.
The fresh start under a new coaching staff appeared to give him a slight boost (four catches for 55 yards, seven runs for 55), but after playing all 27 games in 2014 and 2015, Love didn’t play in any games in 2016.
A one-time commit to Ole Miss, Jake Meador (three stars, No.67 OT in country) committed to Wisconsin in large part to his long time relationship with Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson, who was hired by Bielema to replace long-time offensive line coach Bob Bostad. The Badgers extended an offer to Meador soon after, and he committed over Florida and Missouri following an official visit to Madison. Much like Markuson, Meador didn’t last long at Wisconsin, as injuries ended his career without him playing a game. He has remained in Madison and roomed with Biegel, Goldberg and a few others this past year.
Earning his first BCS offer after performing well at Wisconsin’s high school summer camp, Reggie Mitchell (two stars, No.130 CB in country) committed less than 12 hours after receiving the offer, knowing that UW was short on scholarships. A former prep quarterback, Mitchell was a cornerback his first season and played one game on special teams as a true freshman. He moved to safety after the season and was projected to be the teams’ starting free safety in 2013. By the time spring football ended, Mitchell was homesick. He asked for his release and transferred to Pittsburgh.
He started 13 games in 2014 (eight at corner, five at strong safety) and totaled 62 tackles, three TFLs, one sack and a team-best seven PBUs. After being limited to six games (two starts) due to a foot injury last season and finished this past year with 56 tackles and three pass breakups in 13 games.
Named to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, D.J. Singleton (four stars, No.14 safety in country, No.185 overall prospect) picked the Badgers over Miami, Michigan State, Rutgers and Tennessee (the other schools in his top four) because he fell in love with the campus after his first trip to Madison for the UW spring game. Although he was announced as part of the signing class, Singleton narrowly missed meeting N.C.A.A. eligibility requirements because of a low test score.
Rather than enrolling in a prep school, he took the SAT again and achieved a qualifying score. He also took classes at a community college so he could transfer credits to Wisconsin when he enrolled in January 2013. When Bielema left for Arkansas, however, Singleton was not contacted by the new Wisconsin staff and he decided to change course.
Singleton ended up committing to Nebraska, redshirted in 2013 and played on special teams in 2014. He then transferred to Northern Iowa and has played in eight games the last two years. He will be a senior this season.