Don’t expect University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen to jump into the discussion when it comes to evaluating where his 2014 recruiting class ranks.
Andersen let his feelings be known about recruiting rankings in December during bowl practices.
“I will never look at one of those recruiting rankings as long as I live,” Andersen said. “No one’s going to tell me who a three-star or four-star athlete is. We’ll evaluate it.”
As usual, those rankings are left up to the recruiting analysts who make a living evaluating football prospects and attaching stars to their names, all to determine who “wins” today’s signing day.
For much of the fall, it appeared Andersen’s first full class, after his hire in December of 2012, might be one of the highest-ranked in many years at UW.
That changed a bit over the past couple of weeks, as a class that has been in almost constant flux suffered some losses.
The biggest setback in terms of rankings was the departure of four-star Sun Prairie defensive tackle Craig Evans, who decommitted and announced he would sign with Michigan State. But given the academic issues that plagued Evans, he may have never made it on the field for the Badgers.
Just to show how fickle the rankings can be, UW tumbled from No. 19 nationally to No. 26 according to Scout.com, and from second in the Big Ten Conference to fourth — just on the basis of Evans’ departure.
“In terms of the paper rankings, it hurts them,” said Allen Trieu, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com who focuses on the Midwest. “I think he’s obviously a talented player, so you hate to lose a guy like that. But it is just one kid in a class that’s still (at) 25.”
Where the class winds up remains up in the air, a fitting end to a crazy recruiting cycle that included enough commits and decommits to make anybody’s head spin.
Chalk that up to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who is still shaking up the conference with his aggressive approach to recruiting.
“Urban Meyer brought a whole new attitude to the Big Ten,” said Mike Farrell, a national analyst for Rivals.com.
“It’s the way recruiting is done everywhere else in the country. ... The Big Ten isn’t used to this. It drives the coaches nuts, but Urban Meyer brought in that cutthroat, ‘I’m going to go after anybody’ (attitude). He ticked off a lot of the coaches, and now they’re all going after everybody. One coach can change the entire feel of a conference. That’s what he did.”
UW is likely to lose cornerback Cornelius Sturghill, from Memphis, Tenn., who committed less than two weeks earlier. He is expected to sign with Louisville.
But the Badgers certainly gained more than they lost, getting several commits to “flip” in their direction. That’s why coaches must continue to recruit players, even those who have committed, until their names are on the letters of intent.
Some school presidents have been pushing for years for an early signing period, but Farrell doesn’t believe that will ever happen.
“You’ve got to understand. The big dogs don’t want an early signing period,” Farrell said “Because at the last second, if they strike out on their big five-star target, they want to steal somebody from someone else.
“You’re going to have to recruit these kids as if they’re not committed.”
Another issue is players being recruited earlier and giving earlier commitments, which can lead to more players flipping.
“The younger they are and the earlier they commit, without educating themselves, without getting out there and seeing all there is to offer, those are the guys who have the highest percentage of flipping,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director.
This is an important recruiting class for the Badgers because of the large number of recruits and all the areas on the team that need replenishing. Andersen went in wanting to improve the speed and athleticism on both sides of the football.
“The focus is clearly to improve overall team speed, become more athletic at the quarterback spot, which is where a guy like D.J. Gillins comes into play,” Luginbill said of the dual-threat quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla., who is already enrolled. “We all know the success (Andersen) had with (quarterback) Chuckie Keaton at Utah State. ...
“I think they’ve added more playmakers at wide receiver, guys that can create some plays in space than maybe they’ve had in the past. They’ve become a little bit more explosive on the edge.”
The Badgers currently have five wide receivers in this class, addressing a big area of need. To find that speed, they ventured into some recruiting areas that were either new or had not been explored in a while, such as Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, while also still hitting Florida hard.
“They’ve really done a nice job, in my opinion, of going into some areas where they feel like there’s an upgrade in athleticism ... that they don’t currently have within their roster,” Luginbill said. “It doesn’t mean you deviate from the plan and who you are as an identity, but it doesn’t also mean you don’t get faster and more athletic at every turn.”
But Farrell said the Badgers had better luck upgrading their speed on offense than defense.
They were late in addressing the need at cornerback, which is why losing Sturghill stings. That would leave them with two cornerbacks in the class: Lubern Figaro, from Everett, Mass., and Derrick Tindal, from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., both of whom are two-star recruits, according to Rivals.com.
“When you’re in the two-star range, you’re sort of a guy we don’t expect to be an immediate contributor,” Farrell said. “These guys are going to have to surprise in the defensive backfield for that athleticism on defense to be addressed.”
In addition to the wide receivers, this class is highlighted by the offensive and defensive linemen.
“I think they benefited from a really good class in the state on both the offensive and defensive lines,” Trieu said.
While the class appears to be solid overall, the Badgers were close to breaking new ground. They were in it until the end for two highly ranked players — running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Jamil Kamara.
Both made their decisions on television at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. While there are no prizes in recruiting for second place, seeing Badgers hats at the table when those two players made their choices could be viewed as progress. Mixon chose Oklahoma and Kamara picked Virginia.
“I think it helps when they do it on TV and there’s the hat up there,” Farrell said. “Kids see that, and you get a little buzz when you get a Joe Mixon on campus and Jamil Kamara comes out and says you’re the leader, even though we knew that wasn’t true.
“Let’s put it this way, it’s better to finish second for guys like that than it is to finish second for guys no one’s heard of.”