Some things are givens in Wisconsin.
The state is known for producing cheese, brats and enough gigantic young men to supply the University of Wisconsin football team with all of the offensive linemen it ever needs.
This season is no different, with the Badgers starting five offensive linemen who average 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds — and are all state products.
It's almost blasphemy to bring it up, like imagining Saudi Arabia without its vast oil reserves, but what if the state's pipeline of Big Ten Conference-caliber offensive linemen suddenly dried up?
It's too early to panic, but a trend is developing that has caused a few headaches for UW offensive line coach Bob Bostad.
The Badgers have signed just four scholarship offensive linemen in the past two classes and three have been from out of state. With scholarship levels dangerously low in the line, the 2012 recruiting class will be vital to restore depth at such an important position.
So far, UW has oral commitments from four offensive line prospects and all are from out of state — meaning seven of the past eight over three years have come from outside state lines.
"To be honest with you, it's been tough," offensive line coach Bob Bostad said. "We haven't had a lot of in-state kids. That's been the biggest hit."
The Badgers have only 12 scholarship offensive linemen in the program after backup left tackle Casey Dehn recently left the program.
By comparison, there are 16 scholarship defensive linemen, not counting sophomore Ethan Hemer, a starting tackle who will go on scholarship next semester. There are 15 scholarship defensive backs.
The offensive line is unique because it's the only position in football that requires five players just to play the game.
It's a credit to Bostad's work developing players who can fill in at multiple positions and the players' ability to stay relatively healthy that it hasn't yet affected the starters.
Asked if he feels fortunate to have so far endured with no catastrophes, Bostad said, "Fortunate, I would say, is an understatement. It's playing Russian Roulette."
Losses still mean gains
Despite losing three players who earned starting jobs as rookies in the NFL — left tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard John Moffitt and reserve guard Bill Nagy — the line has hardly skipped a beat.
The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring (47 points a game), total offense (503.2 yards per game) and rushing offense (246.4 ypg), eclipsing last year's offense in each category.
Bostad is only starting to get the acclaim for the job he has done the past four years.
"I've said, I don't know if he's the best, because I haven't been around every one," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "But I know there's none better. Just meticulous, smart. ... He's as good as there is."
The Badgers have some quality backups in redshirt freshman tackle Rob Havenstein and sophomore center-guard Ryan Groy and Bostad is doing what he can to bring along the other young players.
Redshirt freshman guard Dallas Lewallen recently underwent surgery for an issue with a knee cap and could be out until after next spring. Redshirt freshman walk-on Riki Kodanko has been sidelined by concussion issues, leaving 13 healthy bodies.
Thanks to seven blowout victories, Bostad has given his backups as many game snaps as possible.
Fortunately, the linemen are not only willing to play through minor injuries, but practice through them as well.
"I give them credit for being out on the practice field," Bostad said. "Anybody can show up on game day. But they're out there on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, grinding through those heavy days."
Low on locals
While the lack of depth is a short-term issue, the diminishing number of state recruits could be a much bigger one.
Lewallen, from Berlin, is the only in-state offensive lineman the Badgers have signed the past two years. He was a little-known prospect, but Bostad got a chance to work with him enough in summer camps to see his potential.
Because of the low number of scholarships in the line, UW can hardly afford the recruiting mistakes that have hurt other positions, notably wide receiver.
"That's why having kids in state, where you can get them into camp, is so important," Bostad said. "I think Dallas is a great example. Dallas had no offers, nothing, but he came to camp as a sophomore and he was OK, we liked some of the things he did, we liked his size.
"Then he came back the next year and really showed a conscientious effort to get better. I feel terrible he hasn't been able to play, but I do feel like he's a guy we thoroughly researched and at the end of the day, you think you're going to have a kid you can develop."
On the offensive
Given the team's standards for size and athleticism, it's hard to find an abundance of legitimate prospects, even in Wisconsin. Bostad hopes it's a brief downturn and sees reason for hope down the road.
"The last two years have been really tough trying to find the kind of kid we want, just the size," Bostad said. "We just haven't had that. It's cycles, it comes and goes. I see some young big kids coming up."
The one thing Bostad won't do is compromise his standards just to fill a spot.
"You don't take a guy to take a guy," he said. "There's nothing worse than coaching a guy, you look at him and think, 'You can't win with this guy.' "
That means finding more linemen out of state, which the Badgers have done for 2012: The four line recruits are J.J. Denman (Fairless Hills, Pa.), Kyle Dodson (University Heights, Ohio), Dan Voltz (Barrington, Ill.) and Walker Williams (Tacoma, Wash.).
UW's reputation for developing offensive linemen certainly helps out of state, though Bostad said he didn't notice a big benefit until this year.
"When you go outside the state, it's tough," Bostad said. "You get six inches outside the state, you're in a knock-down drag-out (fight).
"I think this year, (the reputation) has carried very well, but the last two years, when I think we were doing good things, I don't think we were able to use that."