The impressive start to the University of Wisconsin football team's 2012 recruiting class has yet to make a big splash on the national scene.
Blame that on its consistent success over the years, despite recruiting classes that rarely finish in the top 25 nationally.
"I don't really care how Wisconsin is recruiting — is the easiest way I can put it," said Scott Kennedy, the national director of scouting for Scout.com." They're going to be good.
"They've got a system in place right now where they are as good at evaluating talent as there is. They do a great job of developing those players and getting players they know they're going to keep for four or five years and winning big."
Still, its been an enticing thought for Badgers fans: What if you took that same proven system and plugged in a higher caliber of recruit at the start?
While it's early in the process, UW coach Bret Bielema has a chance to do that with his seventh recruiting class.
The Badgers have five oral commitments and four rate four stars (out of five) on Scout.com's rating system: offensive tackle Kyle Dodson from Cleveland Heights (Ohio) High School; quarterback Bart Houston from De La Salle in Concord, Calif.; guard Dan Voltz from Barrington (Ill.); and outside linebacker Vince Biegel from Wisconsin Rapids.
The other recruit, running back Vonte Jackson from Kenosha Bradford, rates three stars.
Rivals.com also gives four stars to four of the recruits, though it includes Jackson in that group and gives three stars to Houston.
Even with the expected bump that comes after going to the Rose Bowl last season, it's an unprecedented start for Bielema in recruiting. His first six classes included nine four-star players, according to Scout.com. Rivals.com rated 17 recruits as four stars and one, offensive tackle Josh Oglesby, as five stars.
"For them, usually a full class is about four four-star guys," said Mike Farrell, national analyst for Rivals.com. "What Wisconsin is known for doing is finding kids that are under-recruited, three-star kids that they turn into college football players and potential NFL guys."
Steady as they go
Does that mean the Badgers are about to blow their cover as recruiting overachievers? Kennedy points to UW and Iowa as programs that traditionally prove recruiting rankings are not everything.
"I kind of hold them up as a standard that you don't always have to win the recruiting battles in order to win the games," Kennedy said.
Even with the never-ending debate over the importance of the number of stars attached to a recruit's name, the Badgers' early success is notable on several fronts.
Pulling a four-star quarterback out of California is a major coup, especially for a program not known for attracting high-profile recruits at the position.
"They've done very well to develop the quarterbacks they've found," said Allen Trieu, Midwest director of scouting for Scout.com. "Now you've got a guy coming in with (Houston's) talent, I can only assume they're going to develop him the same way.
"You always want to get a quarterback early. He's a centerpiece, he helps you be able to recruit receivers and other offensive players around him."
Getting Dodson was a sign Ohio State could be vulnerable due to the ongoing NCAA investigation. Dodson grew up a Buckeyes fan and was waiting for an Ohio State offer. He got it, then committed to the Badgers 24 hours later.
"In years past, I think he would have jumped on that (Ohio State) offer," Farrell said. "It's a different Big Ten nowadays. You've got Nebraska in there now and Ohio State with all the problems and Wisconsin is one of those steady programs, always wins football games, goes to bowl games and in contention for the Big Ten (title). I think kids are starting to realize, sometimes steady is a little better than flashy."
Six of the nine four-star recruits Bielema has signed (in Scout.com's ratings) were state products. If these non-binding commitments hold, he would at least match his previous total with three out-of-state four-star recruits in one class.
Two of them are offensive linemen from the Midwest. That's no surprise, given UW's reputation for developing linemen and sending them to the NFL. It's a position where the Badgers can match up against any program.
"If I'm an offensive lineman in the Midwest, why wouldn't I want to go play at Wisconsin?" Kennedy said.
Taking on the big boys
But not only is UW winning battles for top recruits, it's doing it against top schools. Voltz had offers from Auburn and Alabama. Ohio State and Michigan wanted Dodson.
"To beat some of those schools out for these kids, I think that's just as significant as getting them out of state," Trieu said.
At the current pace, this could be Bielema's highest-ranked class ever, beating the No. 26 spot Scout.com gave the 2008 class. Yet the final rankings often reflect quantity as much as quality, depending on how many scholarships are available.
Also, if former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson transfers to UW, perhaps the most important recruit would not even be a part of the recruiting class.
"He'd be a four-star type of guy ... one of your talking points in discussing Wisconsin's class," Kennedy said.
The recruiting analysts contacted said it's too small a sample to determine whether this is a lasting uptick in the quality of players the Badgers can attract. These players have similar traits to past recruits, just more stars.
"They want hard-nosed kids," Farrell said. "It doesn't change (who they are after). Vince Biegel is a Wisconsin type of kid, regardless of how many stars he has next to his name."