When Barry Alvarez took over the task of turning around Wisconsin football program, he made a point to emphasize the importance of keeping the most talented in-state prospects home. The Badgers have a somewhat unique advantage of being the only Division I football program in Wisconsin, and keeping the best high school players in the state has been part of the program’s blueprint the last 30 years.

Bret Bielema continued this strategy when he took over, and despite Gary Andersen going away from it during his brief tenure, the philosophy of building a wall around the state returned with Paul Chryst. He started out nearly perfect in landing the top Wisconsin high school prospects, but the Badgers won’t be able to boast that same success in the Class of 2022 as the Early Signing Period approaches on Wednesday.

In the first 7 recruiting cycles since Chryst was hired, the state produced 8 4-star prospects, and Wisconsin landed 7 of them, including going 5-for-5 over the previous 2 classes. The Badgers set a program record for their highest recruiting class ranking in each of the past 3 years, but a loaded in-state Class of 2022 hasn’t gone the way Wisconsin’s coaching staff would’ve liked.

After producing just 8 blue chip recruits in 7 years, the state of Wisconsin has 5 high school prospects rated as blue chip recruits in the 2022 class alone, and it was originally 6 until Braelon Allen re-classified to 2021. Of the 5, only 1 has committed to the Badgers so far, 2 have committed elsewhere and 2 more are still deciding.

Wisconsin landed the top in-state recruit with offensive tackle Jon Brunner (currently the only 4-star committed to Wisconsin), who had offers from plenty of the top programs, including Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU. However, the Badgers lost out on tight end Jerry Cross to Penn State and interior offensive lineman Billy Schrauth to Notre Dame. Wisconsin is still recruiting interior offensive lineman Carson Hinzman and defensive lineman Isaac Hamm. As for Hinzman, he is likely to decide between Ohio State and Wisconsin; Hamm’s top 4 include the Badgers, Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame, but he posted that update in November 2020.

When the 4- and 5-stars arise from inside the state, it’s important the Badgers take full advantage, because the Class of 2022 is a rarity, especially when you look ahead to 2023, which currently does not have a single in-state prospect rated at all on the 247Sports Composite. In 2022, the best the Badgers can do is sign 3 out of 5, and even that isn’t a sure thing.

It’s impossible to know how things would’ve played out had this not been an incredibly unusual recruiting cycle. The NCAA instituted an extremely long dead period that put a ban on on-campus recruiting visits for 15 months, and the Badgers had their own set of unique obstacles. On the day the dead period was lifted, Wisconsin’s director of player personnel Saeed Khalif left to run the recruiting department at Michigan State. Given the recent success the Badgers have had landing prospects with him leading the recruiting efforts, losing Khalif on Day 1 of open recruiting was less than ideal.

Here’s where things stood on the eve of Day 1 of the Early Signing Period:

By the numbers

Overall rank: 44th
B1G rank: 11th
5-stars: 0
4-stars: 1

What’s the impact?

As we await the final decisions from Hinzman and Hamm, losing out on a few in-state prospects will likely not have a major impact in the short term, especially considering 3 of the 5 prospects are on the offensive line where the Badgers have proven to be among the best in the country in developing NFL players regardless of star ranking.

After 3 consecutive years of producing the top recruiting class in program history, fans will not be thrilled with the final team ranking for this class. The Badgers finished with the 16th highest rated class last year but are currently at No. 43 nationally and 11th in the B1G for 2022.

Part of that is because this is a smaller class than usual (13 players as of Dec. 14) with seniors taking advantage of an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19, but that could’ve been negated quite a bit if the Badgers would’ve pulled off the incredibly impressive feat of locking down all 5 in-state prospects. If Wisconsin lands Hinzman and Hamm, it would rank near the top 25 with the potential to finish higher if the Badgers make good on the finishing touches of this class.

While missing out on a few key in-state recruits is not an immediate reason to panic, where this could become a problem is if it develops into a trend. Let’s say the worst-case scenario happens, and the Badgers end up going 1-for-5 on in-state prospects in this class. Future Wisconsin high school players could point to the Class of 2022 if they watch this group break the mold by going elsewhere and thriving.

Notre Dame has tried to land some of Wisconsin’s best high school players by offering 10 of the state’s 13 blue chip recruits since Chryst arrived, and the Irish finally broke through and earned a commitment. If Ohio State lands Hinzman, the Buckeyes could also become more active in Wisconsin whenever the state produces a player good enough to compete on one of the best programs in the country. It’s not a great position to be in when teams with more resources think they can come into Wisconsin to pluck the top talent.

Commitment to recruiting

Khalif criticized Wisconsin’s commitment to recruiting on his way out in an interview with The Athletic, and it’s hard to blame him. According to Khalif, the Badgers had 2 full-time recruiting staffers when he left, whereas Michigan State had 12 full-timers at the time of that Q&A, which was in August 2021.

In the most recent data from Athletic Director U, it revealed Wisconsin spent the least amount of money on recruiting of every public Power 5 school in 2019. It’s worth noting the way each university does its accounting could vary, according to the article, but it seems clear the Badgers’ operating costs are low when it comes to acquiring talent.

Without a huge commitment to recruiting, it’s impressive how many games Wisconsin typically wins every year and that falling a game short of contending for a Big Ten championship is considered a massive disappointment.

There hasn’t been a media report or announcement that says Wisconsin is willing to open up the checkbook to increase recruiting spending, so it’s tough to suggest a substantial change is coming. Without that additional backing, the program needs to continue to be extremely resourceful and work inside-out by locking down the area’s best high school prospects quickly so it can identify the best fits around the country to shape the next class.

As more than 25 years of consistent success for Wisconsin football has taught us, it all starts with keeping the in-state talent in Madison.