I have, on more than one occasion, been accused of being overly hyperbolic. I usually embrace this but I also try to be as realistic as possible. My coverage of the Wisconsin football program roughly coincides with Luke Fickell’s hiring. I even wrote my audition piece on why the hiring was a good one.
As we move into the third month of the hire, I thought now would be a good time to step back and objectively look at things that Fickell has done with and for the program.
Maintain your house
The air of uncertainty oftentimes makes incoming recruits skittish and potentially leave. That’s why a new coaches first order of business is usually to reach out to the recruiting class and let them know where they stand. In an article written by The Athletics Jesse Temple, Fickell did just that by calling QB commit Cole LaCrue.
Of course there was some loss, as incoming recruits often develop relationships with the coaches that recruit them. Wisconsin football had commitments from 14 players and were able to maintain 8 of them, providing a solid foundation for Fickell as he added onto his house.
Assemble a quality staff
Many Wisconsin football fans were disappointed when Jim Leonhard decided to cut ties with the program after Fickell was hired. Had they known the all-star staff that he would be assembling, I’m certain most feelings would have been assuaged.
Every successful organization has a rock-solid base. Fickell created his base by bringing over the best coaches from his staff at Cincinnati. One of those hires that is widely overlooked but critical to the overall team’s success is the hiring of Brady Collins as the Director the Strength and Conditioning department. Any top-flight program has a world-class strength and conditioning department and Wisconsin football just upgraded theirs.
Wisconsin football has a new defensive coordinator in Mike Tressel. The nephew of ex-Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, Mike is a valuable addition for many reasons. He knows the Big Ten landscape, having coached at Michigan State for 13 years, first as a linebacker/special teams and then linebacker/co-defensive coordinator for 3 seasons before assuming full control over the defense for 2 seasons. He joined Fickell’s staff at Cincinnati as DC/LB in 2021 and now follows him to UW. His prior experience in the Big Ten will be invaluable for recruiting and knowing tendencies of the different programs.
The star of this list is bringing in Phil Longo as offensive coordinator/quarterback coach. Much has already been written about this particular hire but this key addition could possibly be the best assistant coaching hire in the off-season.
Start constructing the Wisconsin football roster
To say Luke Fickell has been active in the transfer portal would be an understatement of epic proportions. Not only has he managed to keep the majority of the players already committed, he has brought in multiple former 4-star recruits from other programs. Programs that undergo a coaching change are often labeled as unstable. The fact that Luke has been able to draw such a large number of highly talented players speaks volumes of the way he’s perceived in the football community.
Next year’s quarterback room will have so many stars that it’ll look like a mini-galaxy for meetings. Former 4-star QB Tanner Mordecai, who threw for over 7,000 yards and 70 TDs in just 2 seasons as a starter at SMU, comes to Wisconsin football for his final year of eligibility.
Another former 4-star QB joining an already talented room is Nick Evers, coming in from Oklahoma. Evers is a true dual-threat QB and arrives with 4 years of eligibility remaining. The last highly touted transfer is former 4-star QB Braedyn Locke, coming to Madison from Mississippi State and also has 4 years of eligibility remaining. The addition of Evers and Locke gives Wisconsin the #9 and #22 QB recruits from the recruiting class of 2022. Not even mentioned was the fact that Chase Wolf is coming back for his 6th year.
The wide-receiving corps recently got a huge boost when former 4-star USC’s C.J. Williams announced he was coming to the Wisconsin football program. Oklahoma State’s Bryson Green left Stilwell to come to Madison. In 2 years of playing for Ok. State, he hauled in 48 catches for 723 yards and 7 TDs. Following Fickell from Cincinnati are WRs Will Pauling and Quincy Burroughs.
Excitement and conclusion
During a 3 week stretch at the end of December through the first two weeks of January, the Wisconsin football program was getting so much press that the uninformed could easily have thought that the Badgers were in the college football playoffs. Colorado got the high-profile hire of “Neon Deion” Sanders, yet the only QB to move to Boulder was Deion’s son, Shedeur.
Luke Fickell’s hiring is a beautiful example of substance over glitz. This is shown in the number of high-quality transfers since the Fickell took over the program. Deciding what college football program they want to play for is often these young men’s first important decision in their lives. Deciding that they want to have their skills molded by Luke and his staff shows just how highly the Wisconsin football coaches are thought of.
A wise man said that these moves are meaningless if they don’t produce victories on the field. That statement is 100% accurate. But part of the off-season is about generating excitement about the upcoming campaign.
As a fanatical follower for college football for 4 decades, I can honestly say that the last time I remember Wisconsin football garnering this much media attention, and love, was during the days when Ron Dayne was shredding Big Ten defenses.
I’m making my second bold prediction (the first was that Steven Crowl would get a double-double against Penn State in their most recent match-up which came true) is that Wisconsin football makes the CFB playoffs in the next 3 years. What a great time for a Badger fan!!
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