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What is Wisconsin Football’s Recruiting Ceiling Under Luke Fickell?



Wisconsin football head coach Luke Fickell
Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second half of the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. – After an underwhelming 2022 campaign, Athletic Director Chris McIntosh went out and made the splash hire of the offseason – bringing in Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell to become the next head coach of the Wisconsin football program.

Since taking over, Fickell and his staff have been working overtime on the recruiting trail to re-tool this roster and provide a much-needed influx of talent at several key positions.

And the early returns have been promising, to say the least – landing a top 10 transfer portal class headlined by three talented QBs, a former top 10 WR, and a plug-and-play starting center.

Next, UW’s new regime salvaged the 2023 recruiting class that held just eight commits when they took over. In a short period of time, the Badgers landed several four-star prospects and brought two de-commits back into the fold that previously re-opened their recruitments.

“The same blueprint that they’ve had here is really what we built, I think, at Cincinnati and it’s been a philosophy,” Fickell told UW reporters. “I’m not saying you don’t have to continue to evolve, because you do. I think the big thing about us coming in here is we want to embrace and grasp all the incredible things that they’ve done and the way that which they’ve done them.”

Lastly, he and Phil Longo earned early commitments from 2024 four-star QB Mabrey Mettauer – the highest-rated TE in school history – and a promising in-state prospect – giving Wisconsin football a strong foundation to build its next cycle around.

Which begs the question, what is Wisconsin’s recruiting ceiling under Luke Fickell?

Luke Fickell’s Recruiting History at Cincinnati

Luke Fickell will forever be a legend at Cincinnati, considering his laundry list of accomplishments at the university.

In six seasons with the Bearcats, Fickell compiled a 57-18 overall record, winning two AAC Championships (2020, 2021), took UC to an NY6 bowl in 2020, and led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoffs in 2021, becoming the first Group of Five program to claim a CFP berth.

What helps make that even more impressive is that he accomplished those feats without a cupboard full of four and five-star recruits.

During the last five recruiting cycles, Fickell had an average class ranking of No. 48, according to the 247Sports composite. However, it is worth noting that in four of the five cycles, Cincinnati had the top recruiting class in the AAC.

Following their CFP appearance, the Bearcats had nine players selected in the 2022 NFL draft, which was third behind only LSU and Georgia that season. This class featured notable players such as Sauce Gardner, Alec Pierce, Bryan Cook, Desmond Riddler, and Myjai Sanders.

The former Buckeye acknowledged that his recruiting philosophy is about “getting the right ones” and trusting their eyes more than the recruiting rankings if they like the player and think they’d be a good systematic fit.

Between his recruiting track record and the emphasis on development through the weight room, we have no reason to believe Fickell and his staff won’t continue developing players into high-level contributors + NFL draft picks.

Wisconsin Football Recruiting Department

Wisconsin football had various problems in the recruiting department under the previous regime that needn’t be re-hashed. Instead, let’s appreciate that Luke Fickell brought over his lead recruiting heads, Pat Lambert and Max Steinecker, from Cincinnati.

The duo already has an established working relationship, a proven system, and, more importantly, a track record of success in their respective positions.

Lambert and Steinecker come from a department with only three staffers at Cincinnati. For reference, Wisconsin football had eight people in its department last season. So — it’s safe to assume they’ll have a few more helping hands at UW.

Now, Fickell’s new recruiting department with the Wisconsin Football program will have considerably more resources at their disposal—which, in theory, should allow them to build on what already works and take things to new heights.

Realistic Expectations for the Wisconsin Football Program

Luke Fickell and his coaching staff have given hope to the Badger faithful by putting together a top-10 transfer portal class and relentlessly pursuing several key targets.

They’ve also managed to market the Wisconsin football program in new and exciting ways – if nothing else, the new coaching staff has shown they’re more willing to get with the times and embrace the new CFB landscape.

Because of those things, and Phil Longo’s air raid offense, I absolutely expect the Badgers to improve in the recruiting rankings, but I want to temper expectations.

Fickell and his staff intend to build the program’s core within a 350-mile radius—a perfectly reasonable strategy. And while there are some prominent cities and hotbeds in those parameters, the quality of talent that comes from in-state will ultimately dictate “success” in the recruiting rankings.

Let’s Put a Number on It

Given the hard work that coach Fickell and his staff put in to build relationships with in-state programs, I have little to no doubt they’ll keep a fence around the state of Wisconsin – much like in the past.

Wisconsin football may even keep more of the blue-chippers home that snuck out in recent seasons. Because of that, I think UW can routinely produce top-30 classes each season, occasionally appearing in the top-15 when the in-state talent is ripe for the picking – falling behind Big Ten schools like Ohio State and Michigan.

I see no reason why UW can’t recruit on the same level or even surpass schools like Penn State, Nebraska, and Michigan State moving forward—as long as there is success on the field.

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Dillon Graff is a Substack newsletter best-selling author, publisher of AllBadgers, and the owner of, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today's BadgersWire, Athlon Sports, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and FanSided.