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Bielema’s recruiting woes are finally catching up with Badgers

Just when we all thought we could move on from the man who jumped ship when things were getting good, we’ve been smacked in the face with the ramifications of Bret Bielema’s tenure all over again.

Some thought he was crazy for leaving after the heights Wisconsin reached in his final three years at UW. Either that, or Bielema was the smartest man in the room and he jumped ship at the exact right time.

As we sit here today contemplating another quarterback situation that is less than ideal and a pass game that is devoid of any real threat down field, most are want to blame an offensive coordinator for some interesting play calling at times.

Some are even want to question whether head coach Gary Andersen is the right man for the job at Wisconsin.

Yet, the real culprit for the problems facing the Badgers football program is the very man who jumped ship nearly two years ago to begin with. If Bielema hadn’t failed so hard on recruiting quarterbacks who could stay healthy or on wide receivers of any quality…well, frankly, the Badgers would be in great shape right now.

It’s also becoming increasingly hard to blame Bielema for wanting to jump ship and not deal with a public who wasn’t adoring his every move either, especially with some comparing Gary Andersen to Don Morton after one season of semi-struggles on offense.

Side note…if you weren’t alive to be around for or possibly have a memory of the Don Morton era, just shut up with the comparisons between him and Gary Andersen. One actually has results to back up what he’s doing and the other didn’t. Besides, it’s a lazy comparison and reality is, this offense smacks of the offenses UW had early in Bielema’s era more than anything Morton put out there.

I mean, if you’re Bielema why deal with a mess at quarterback, a black hole of talent at wide receiver and a team that could be on the decline because of it? It’s not as if he was turning back-to-back-to-back Big Ten championships in to a gig with an SEC school or anything….oh wait, he was?

Anywho, the fact remains that putting the mess that was created by Bielema at the feet of a head coach who has barely had a chance to change it is a bit crazy.

Instead, one just needs to look at the recruitment of quarterbacks and wide receivers during the Bielema era to find out exactly how the Badgers got from three-time Rose Bowl representatives to struggling to find anything in the pass game at all.

Let’s take a look at the quarterback recruiting during Bielema’s time at Wisconsin:

Year
Player
Result
2006Scott TolzienLed Wisconsin to a Big Ten title (2010), leads Badger QBs in career comp. percentage & passer efficiency rating
2007James Stallons2 years at UW before transferring
2008Curt PhillipsMultiple knee injuries, saw time as starter in 2012 after Stave's broken collarbone.
Career numbers: 642 yards, 5 TDs, 5 INTs
2009Jon BudmayrSaw limited action in 2010, but injuries forced him to end career in 2013.
2010Joe Brennan2 years at UW, transferred in 2012
2011No scholarship QBN/A
2012Bart Houstonredshirted freshman season, has seen limited action as backup QB

That’s not exactly confidence-building material at a position where you need to hit a home run at least once every other year. It’s not too much to ask to recruit a competent QB or two over a seven-year tenure, yet that never happened under Bielema and Andersen’s coaching staff has been left to pick up the pieces and try to move forward in a new direction.

We all know that injuries and horrible recruiting misses necessitated the Badgers having to swing for the fences in the spring of 2011. It just so happened that UW hit its home run in getting a once in a lifetime quarterback named Russell Wilson.

Give Bielema credit for identifying one of the big problems in his tenure as head coach and finding a once in a lifetime quarterback to answer said problem. Being able to land Wilson was an absolute Hail Mary, one that paid off with a Hail Mary of its own courtesy of Wilson in the Big Ten championship game.

The problem is, that was a band-aid and Wisconsin still had the same issues the very next year. Wisconsin was failing to develop a top-level quarterback in house, and that meant going the transfer route once again.

Only, it was a swing and miss this time with Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. Missing on O’Brien led to the start of the Joel Stave era…and here we are today, in the middle of a mess until Andersen can get his true quarterback recruits in there.

So, as Wisconsin searches for answers to its missing passing game, let’s remember the struggles of Bielema to recruit enough talent to get the job done.

Then there’s the matter of a wide receiver corp that desperately needed all three freshman to be home runs from the second they stepped on campus in 2014. Not exactly fair expectations to put on the young men, but the reality that the previous coaching staff left Andersen and Co. with.

In the seven classes that Bielema had at UW, can you name a player who had a major impact on UW’s passing game that isn’t named Nick Toon?

Outside of Toon’s record-setting years at Wisconsin, one could argue there was only one other wide receiver to write home about in Bielema’s seven recruiting classes — David Gilreath.

There were guys with plenty of potential, but many more who failed or are failing to live up to that potential. Names like Jeff Duckworth, A.J. Jordan and Reggie Love are a few that come to mind.

Currently, only Alex Erickson (who was a grey shirt) is making an impact in the pass game for the Badgers from the Bielema era and that’s a major problem.

So, if you’re looking to place blame on how bad Wisconsin’s pass game has gotten…just remember the mess Bielema made of recruiting and developing talent at those positions for years while at UW, and place some of the blame directly on his shoulders.

Leaving the cupboard bare before leaving has left the current Wisconsin coaching staff scrambling to fix a mess it didn’t create.

Just remember that the next time you want to jump to the Gary Andersen = Don Morton argument. Come this time two years from now and Wisconsin is still struggling in these areas…well, then the comparison may be warranted.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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