All this leads to the conclusion that someone thinks the offense is a little stagnant, and that something must be done to correct the situation.
The question then is could the Badgers change their offensive approach drastically enough for it to make a difference? That means not simply swapping players around, but instead recruiting players differently than the way it is being done now.
The first way to judge the Badgers' ability to recruit is to look at the type of players they have historically recruited on offense. Well, it's obvious that Wisconsin has always been a running team - from Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema – each year the offense can successfully run the ball. Its fundamentals are stressed by the coaching staff, perfected by the players and expected by the opposition.
Now that that basic tenant has been established, it's on to evaluating past players.
The depth and talent of past and current Badger running backs is unbelievable, starting with Heisman winner Ron Dayne to the last highly acclaimed runner, P.J. Hill, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The list continues with studs that are or were playing in the NFL such as Anthony Davis, Michael Bennett and Brian Calhoun, and that trend will surely continue once Clay has played his last game at Camp Randall. Simply, running backs want to come to Wisconsin because they know that they will do well there.
The other group most responsible for the running success is the offensive line, which every year is just a meaty, strong and wide bunch. Whether it's due to their geographic location or the type of players they recruit, the Badgers always have one of the heaviest lines in college football. But what is not questioned is their quality of linemen in the past. By producing some of the best linemen in the country (see Joe Thomas), recruits know that Wisconsin has had success and experience in developing them, and therefore would more easily consider it a wise choice to attend there.
So that's why Wisconsin does well in recruiting players that can carry the ball and block, whereas getting the recruits that can pass and catch the ball is an entirely different matter.
To start with the positive, Wisconsin has done well with producing quality tight ends and wide receivers. In fact, some have gone to have fantastic careers at not only Wisconsin, but also the NFL with Lee Evans, Chris Chambers and Owen Daniels. Even more recently, the receiving core was explosive and productive when Paul Hubbard, Luke Swan and Travis Beckum roamed the field in 2007.
But the success of that year overshadows the recruitment process that took place prior to them coming to Wisconsin. Beckum was a sensational high school stud, but he was recruited to be a linebacker, not a tight end. Hubbard's first contact with Wisconsin was for his track skills, not his receiving skills. Even Swan, who ended up becoming a sensational receiver, was not highly thought of coming out of high school. Those three players formed a great receiving core, but not because Wisconsin recruited them as great receiving prospects.
Even more important for the passing game are successful quarterbacks. But before any analysis is made about that position, answer one question: has there ever been a time where Wisconsin was considered to have a top quarterback?
More than likely the answer is no. Sure, John Stocco at one time came close, but Wisconsin has just never had someone to be considered among the cream of college football quarterbacks. Each potential candidate either had lead feet (Jim Sorgi), lacked arm strength (Tyler Donovan) or didn't pass enough (Brooks Bollinger). No one has been able to take what once was a running team and transform them, at least partly, into a passing team.
When you combine the fact that Wisconsin never has had an elite quarterback with their history of being known exclusively as a running team, it spells problems for recruiting high school quarterbacks.
While looking at the patterns of offensive players Wisconsin has historically recruited, it becomes obvious that certain patterns have developed. Some positions have historically been strong; others have had their ups and downs. But you know who especially notices those patterns? High school senior quarterbacks deciding which college to attend. And what they see in Wisconsin is a program that has never produced an elite player at their position and isn't known to focus on their talents.
It's possible that because the Badgers have started to produce elite wide receivers that maybe someday the program will be able to successfully recruit some of the nation's best quarterbacks. But those days haven't come yet. Moreover, probably the only way for Wisconsin to have an elite quarterback is to find a diamond in the rough; someone that other schools underestimated and didn't spend much time recruiting. That's because a top quarterback who wishes to play in a passing offense might do better to choose another school, which in turn means that Wisconsin doesn't get those recruits.
So the lesson to be learned is, if a team historically recruits halfbacks and has running teams, then that's probably going to be the type of recruits and offense the school will continue to get. And the main reason why Wisconsin will have difficulty trying to drastically change its offense is because it can't recruit what it needs most – elite quarterbacks.