Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin football program got a facelift when athletic director Chris McIntosh made the splash hiring of the offseason, bringing in former Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to lead the Badgers.
With that hiring has come a slew of changes ranging from air raid offense installation to landing high-end transfer portal talents, and more recently, we’ve seen the program undergo significant changes on the recruiting front.
Today, BadgerNotes examines three major recruiting trends we’ve observed in coach Fickell’s first seven months as head coach.
Luke Fickell Certainly Has a Type at Cornerback
One of the most notable trends is Wisconsin football coaches’ emphasis on size and length at the defensive back position.
A defensive-minded coach like Fickell understands the importance of having tall, athletic players in the secondary who can disrupt passing lanes and make plays on the ball.
In many cases, the defensive back play has been the difference in Wisconsin taking the next step as a program during the prime Paul Chryst years.
It’s not as though this is the first time in college football history someone has thought of this concept (having height/length thresholds), but if UW misses on the first wave of defensive back recruits on their board, finding athletes with special tools to mold is a heck of a place to fall back on. Because if they can develop a few of them into meaningful contributors, those defensive backs have a clear advantage in both man and zone coverage.
The idea is that it’ll make already tight throwing windows even tighter and allow the defense’s playmakers to ball out on the backend.
Cornerback Jay Harper and safeties Kahmir Prescott and Raphael Dunn all meet the 6-foot threshold and make for an intriguing, high-upside group to develop for the secondary in the future.
Wisconsin Football Will Still Be a Running Team, But…
Another change in thinking I’ve observed from Luke Fickell in his first seven months on the job is his preference in running back recruits.
Wisconsin football has a long, rich history of bell-cow tailbacks that can carry a heavy workload. Now, I’m not saying the players he’s after now couldn’t handle that either, but I am saying that Fickell prefers one cut — pass-catching running backs.
Given the spread style concepts UW will run in the coming years, it’s easy to understand why. Having RBs that can make quick, decisive cuts and catch the ball out of the backfield will have tremendous value in Phil Longo’s air raid system.
With the college game shifting towards a more pass/spread-centric approach, having true three-down weapons in the RB room is more important than ever.
Outside of three-star RB commit Gideon Ituka, the top-of-the-board targets for Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin football staff, such as Jordan Marshall, Darrion Dupree, Dillin Jones, and Jaedon Matthews, represented this type of tailback.
Hopefully, the tradition of talented running backs at Wisconsin will help the Badgers land some dynamic, home-run hitters in the coming years.
Wisconsin Football Shifting Philosophy in Offensive Line Recruiting
Finally, after years of Wisconsin football recruiting top-tier offensive tackles and finding a way to get their best five linemen on the field, Luke Fickell and his staff are going in another, slightly more traditional direction.
The new coaching staff essentially evaluates offensive line recruits as offensive tackles or guards – not both, which isn’t some earth-shattering philosophy. It’s just different than the previous regime.
Wisconsin rarely, if ever, took interior offensive linemen in the latter portion of Paul Chryst’s tenure (again, not saying this is a bad thing). But Fickell clearly has a vision for body types best suited for playing in his style of offense, and he’s sticking to it.
It’s worth noting that the new coaching staff has already offered twice as many interior offensive line recruits in 2024 as Chryst’s staff did in 2023.
Thus far, Wisconsin football has committed offensive tackles Collin Cubberly, Derek Jensen, and interior offensive lineman Ryan Cory in the fold–with an eye on adding another guard prospect in the 2024 cycle.
There is plenty of talent in UW’s O-line room, but most people would argue the quality of play has dropped slightly in recent years. It’ll be interesting to see if there is a noticeable difference under Fickell.
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