The Wisconsin Badgers won their third straight Big Ten championship in 2012, but all was not right in Madison. The Badgers lost five games during the regular season and one of the main culprits was their lack of balance. Montee Ball headlined one of the best running games in the country, but the passing game wasn’t up to par, finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th in the country. There are plenty of places you can look to explain the lackluster air attack, but the biggest culprit is recruiting.
Or, more specifically, the lack of recruiting. The Badgers have been unable to recruit an impact receiver since 2007, and that was a special circumstance where they didn’t have to do much. Nick Toon, one of only two Wisconsin wide receivers selected in the last six NFL Drafts, was a local product and the son of a former Wisconsin standout, Al Toon. The Badgers didn’t have to do much more than offer to get the younger Toon on campus.
Getting other great receiver prospects to Madison has been a bigger struggle. From 2008 to 2012, Wisconsin signed 12 scholarship receivers, none of whom have given promising returns. Four of those players left the football team after one or two seasons, meaning that a third of the receivers brought into the program washed out early. Some of the younger receivers need more time to develop before telling whether or not they’ll pan out, but none of them are lighting the field on fire with their potential.
Even the single bright spot in Wisconsin’s passing game last season, Jared Abbrederis (49 catches, 837 yards, five touchdowns), is an indictment of the Badgers’ ability to recruit. The incoming senior is a former walk-on who has been as good (and most of the time better) than any of the receivers the Badgers’ have actively recruited to campus. He almost didn’t get the chance to walk on, as then-head coach Bret Bielema resisted the idea initially and nearly pushed the wide receiver to a track career instead.
The 2013 recruiting class doesn’t look like it will have many answers. The Badgers signed just two wide receivers for next fall in a pair of three-star recruits. Robert Wheelright, the No. 70 rated wide receiver in the class, has the potential to break out with great hands and a excellent route running, but has serious work to do in the weight room before he’ll carry the passing attack.
The other wide receiver in the class, Jazz Peavy, is the No. 178 rated wide receiver in the 2013 class. He has raw ability that will need to be harnessed because his route running and fluidity as a pass catcher leave some to be desired. Even if he develops and adds some bulk to his wiry frame, Peavy’s ceiling is considered as a serviceable slot receiver, not a number one go-to guy.
If new head coach Gary Anderson hopes to find lasting success at Wisconsin, he will either need to land the next Ball to carry the offense or improve the caliber of wide receivers the Badgers recruit.