When this year's recruiting class is formally unveiled Wednesday afternoon (Wisconsin has scheduled a 4 p.m. press conference) the Badgers will have at least 22 athletes to unveil. That number includes two greyshirts (Joe Walker and Jack Ikegwuonu), two walk-ons (Bill Rentmeester and Josh Neal) and 19 scholarship recruits for the 2004 season—two of which, quarterback Sean Lewis and cornerback Jameson Davis, are already on campus.
A few questions, though, remain to be answered:
Emmanuel Spann—He was quoted in a West Virginia newspaper as saying that he has changed his commitment and will attend Marshall. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, however, wrote in an article Sunday that Spann was leaning toward Wisconsin. The article, though, was written about Emmanuel and his brother, Tay, a highly-touted junior basketball player and may have been written for the Sunday edition before the Marshall commitment came to light.
Walk-ons—It seems more than a little odd that only two walk-ons have come to light thus far and Rentmeester is expected to receive a scholarship beginning fall 2005. That leaves Josh Neal, a linebacker from Nashville, Tenn., as the only true walk-on thus far. A number of good in-state players that the Badgers likely targeted as potential walk-ons, such as Mike Klepatz and Zach Davidson, have made other plans. Certainly, though, there must be more out there…
The ones that got away
Spann and Creamer will rank prominently on this list if, as expected, they sign elsewhere on Wednesday, but a few other names spring to life when considering the biggest catches that could have been.
Tim Jamison—Wisconsin was tantalizingly close to locking down Jamison, considered by many the top prospect in Illinois. A big-time pass rusher, the Badgers are not likely to enjoy becoming reacquainted with him down the road as he dons the Maize and Blue.
Rhyan Anderson—Not the best player in Wisconsin, but likely the one with the greatest potential. The Badgers locked up all four in-state players that earned a Player of the Year honor—Green Bay Notre Dame's Walker, Wausau East's Andy Crooks, Ladysmith's Mike Newkirk and Arrowhead's Nick Hayden—but effectively had little to no chance with Anderson. Wisconsin has four very talented defensive linemen coming in and the position may be its deepest in 2004, but landing Anderson or Jamison would have been the icing on the cake that could have made the Badgers' crop a nationally ranked group. There can never be too many pass rushers around.
Terrence Nunn—the receiver originally committed to Nebraska then switched to Wisconsin after Frank Solich was fired. This week, he switched back to Nebraska, ending a few weeks of speculation. With only one receiver in the class this hurts, though the Badgers still have plenty in stock at the position after bringing in two scholarship and three walk-on receivers last fall.
Corey Spells—The top-notch Atlanta cornerback had a good visit to Wisconsin but then committed to Auburn, though he told Chris Pool that he was not that comfortable with the Tigers. Sure enough, he is expected to sign with Mississippi State Wednesday. A corner with good size and speed who was extremely productive (he and his Mays High School teammates completely locked down on receivers), he was a big one to lose. He had five interceptions and nine fumble recoveries this year and runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash. Certainly the type that could have helped the Badgers' depth in the secondary.
Wisconsin appears to have done a solid job bringing in players in major areas of concern.
QB—The team had just three scholarship quarterbacks when the 2003 season ended—three more are set to sign Wednesday and add to the competition at the most important, and most wide open, position on the roster.
LB—Wisconsin needed to bring in players who could compete for playing time immediately at linebacker, despite have 12 linebackers returning in 2004 (scholarship and walk-on). With starters Alex Lewis and Jeff Mack and top reserve Kyle McCorison all departing, and enigmatic performances from incumbent drop linebackers LaMarr Watkins and Kareem Timbers, the Badgers were in need of quality players. They bring in four scholarship linebackers, none of whom will arrive with national fanfare. However, they were all highly productive and are very athletic players. Crooks could play at any position and Jammar Crane (Garland, Texas) will likely be right in the thick of things at eagle linebacker and rush end.
DB—Two of the potential linebackers—Walker and Nick Sutton (Detroit, Mich.)—could also end up at safety. The Badgers are also bringing in four cornerbacks, all exceptional athletes, but, then again, anything less at corner would be a disappointment. Wisconsin was obviously in need here after playing receiver Brandon Williams at corner in key situations and juggling other receivers on the roster— including Enrique Cook and Zach Hampton—over to defensive back, though neither played at the position. Brandon White and others were also tried defense during bowl practices.
DL—Yes, this is a very deep position, but the likely top six players next season are all seniors. The complete line coming in—tackles Gino Cruse and Nick Hayden, ends Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman—certainly has potential.
Ah, yes, potential. It will be the most used word in the English language Wednesday. Just about every coach in the nation will be excited about and pleased with his class. Time, of course, will tell just how good the players are. How they were ranked as high school juniors and seniors is completely meaningless once they arrive on campus.
As is customary, few members of this year's class will avoid a redshirt this fall. The most likely to contribute right away:
Taylor Mehlhaff—As soon as he signs on the dotted line, he becomes the team's No. 1 kickoff man and will have a chance to earn the place kicking duties.
Jammar Crane—Linebacker will be a wide open derby and he has the speed and talent to at least contribute on special teams. The x-factor is his foot injury. If there is any hint of hesitation, he will redshirt in a heartbeat. But this kid is tough—he played throughout his sophomore year despite breaking his wrist three times.
Bryan Savage/Sean Lewis—They each have stated they want to win the starting quarterback job as freshman (a forthcoming story on Lewis will quote him as saying that his goal is to win it by the end of the year). If that desire and confidence is still there a few weeks into practice, things could get interesting.
Allen Langford/Jameson Davis/Antonio Freeman—Any player who can run and hit has a chance to fill a role early, as Johnny White and Roderick Rogers did last season, providing depth at defensive back and help on special teams. Ideally, a player in that situation would be redshirted, but any of these athletes could fill a need. Again, the team was obviously uncomfortable with its cornerback play last year. If Brett Bell does not come back completely healthy and Chuckie Cowans and Levonne Rowan do not exhibit improvement, the door will be wide open.
Any player, of course, can rise up and win a spot, especially if they have a skill that can be used immediately—say Marcus Randle El as a spot player at quarterback or receiver or Dave Peck as a long snapper if Matt Katula gets hurt? The defensive linemen would stand a chance to be productive as freshmen, but linemen in particular could use the extra time in the weight room, especially with so much talent in front of them.
Plenty of talent, plenty of expectations, but this is recruiting after all.
Only one thing is for certain—the best judge is time.