When the University of Wisconsin football team landed an oral commitment from highly regarded offensive tackle Kyle Dodson back in June, the recruiting world was buzzing about the school’s hot start.
UW had five commitments at the time and all were given four stars by one of the two major recruiting websites, Scout or Rivals.
“When we were talking about Wisconsin recruiting (last summer), we were talking about how much potential this class had, how outstanding it looked and how great they were doing,” said Josh Helmholdt, the Midwest analyst for Rivals.
“Right now, I think (UW) coach (Bret) Bielema just wants to get to Feb. 2.”
Much has changed for the Badgers heading into signing day on Wednesday.
Dodson, a U.S. Army All-American from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, has opened up his recruitment again and is expected to make a decision this weekend. Many recruiting analysts expect him to switch his commitment to Ohio State, which has been after him hard since Urban Meyer became the Buckeyes’ coach.
“I would be surprised — just knowing Urban Meyer — if (Dodson) didn’t end up at Ohio State,” said Mike Farrell, the national analyst for Rivals. “(Meyer) gets whatever he wants.”
If that happens, Dodson would be the second four-star offensive tackle to bolt UW in a week.
J.J. Denman, from Fairless Hills, Pa., changed his commitment from UW to Rutgers, citing the departure of several UW assistant coaches as a factor in his decision. Since then, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano left to become the coach of the Miami Dolphins, though it seems unlikely Denman would switch back to UW.
“Obviously, they haven’t been able to sustain that momentum and it has just kind of gone downhill,” Helmholdt said of the Badgers’ close to the recruiting season. “It’s been a tough deal for them late in the process.”
The Badgers have 12 known commitments and will likely add a couple more by signing day.
The two factors that conspired to derail UW’s early momentum are a shortage of available scholarships and the departure of six assistant coaches.
“(UW) got off to a real strong start,” Farrell said. “It looked like it was going to be, arguably, the best quality recruiting class that Wisconsin has put together in a long time.
“When you do have changes like that, it can affect a lot of different things — especially when other schools are coming hard at your kids and you’ve got quality kids in the class.”
The class is ranked No. 47 by Rivals and No. 53 by Scout. UW is tied for fewest number of commitments in Rivals’ top 50 teams with Southern California, which is ranked 17th.
UW’s average star rating of 3.17 is 25th-best among Rivals’ top 50 teams, though that will drop if Dodson decommits.
“It’s going to be a real small class and a bit of a disappointing finish to a great start,” Farrell said. “But I don’t think it takes away from what Wisconsin does.
“They take kids other people overlook or undervalue and they make them into great football players. They’ve had so many three-stars that have played like five-stars. If I’m a Wisconsin fan, I’m fine with what I see.”
The key to this class will likely be quarterback Bart Houston from high school powerhouse De La Salle in Concord, Calif. UW didn’t give a scholarship to a quarterback last year and injuries have threatened the careers of senior Curt Phillips (knee) and junior Jon Budmayr (elbow).
Scout gives Houston four stars and ranks him as the No. 7 quarterback nationally. Rivals gives him three stars and ranks him as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback.
Houston didn’t put up big numbers, completing 99 of 171 passes (57.9 percent) for 1,999 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions as a senior. But he gets high marks for intangibles, comes from a top program and was 38-1 as a starter, with three state championships at the highest level of prep football in California.
“I think he’s a guy that can come in and really fit the Wisconsin mold of being the orchestrator and the guy who sets up everybody else to make plays and be a very solid quarterback for them,” Helmholdt said.
The play of quarterback Russell Wilson as a senior last season for the Badgers is expected to help in changing the national perception of UW’s offense. But that could be tempered somewhat by the departure of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Paul Chryst, who became the coach at Pittsburgh.
Wilson showed UW quarterbacks could be dynamic playmakers and not just “system” guys who get overlooked in a run-first offense. Farrell said he believes the impact from Wilson will be felt starting in the 2013 class.
“I think that will help them show to quarterbacks who are athletic, ‘Hey, this isn’t just an offense where you turn around and hand the ball off 45 times,’ ” Farrell said.
“Bart Houston is not that (dual-threat) guy. But maybe next year they could get that guy. It just made Wisconsin’s offense a lot more exciting and that can never hurt you in recruiting.”