On Jan. 1, 2007, Wisconsin defeated Arkansas 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl, making Bret Bielema the third rookie coach to win 12 games in NCAA history, as the Badgers finished the campaign 12-1.
Bielema has a keen eye for identifying talent and developing players. Two things that will work at Arkansas and in the SEC.
Over the next seven seasons, Bielema amassed a 68-24 record in Madison, and has guided his program to what will be a third-straight BCS Bowl/Rose Bowl appearance this coming January.
How did Bielema do it?
With the same recruiting recipe that could be successful as the new head coach at Arkansas.
The first thing that stands out about Bielema and why he can win big in Fayetteville, is that like Wisconsin, Arkansas is a state that isn’t exactly loaded with BCS high school football talent. However, Bielema and his staff have always had a keen eye for diamonds in the rough, and perhaps more importantly, they’re able to develop the football players in their program. To add onto that, Wisconsin has a tremendous strength and conditioning program and Bielema will demand the same with the Razorbacks. He will also have better facilities to work with at his new gig.
A glance at a few of the under-the-radar or overlooked prospects that were recruited by Bielema, or added as a walk-on, or players that transferred to Wisconsin and were developed under his regime.
*J.J. Watt, DE, transferred from Central Michigan as a walk-on, was drafted in the first round.
*Gabe Carmini, OT, lightly recruited out of Lake Forest , Ill., was drafted in the first round.
*Peter Konz, C, lightly recruited out of Neenah, Wis., was drafted in the second round.
*DeAndre Levy, LB, lightly recruited out of Milwaukee, Wis., was drafted in the third round.
*Matt Shaugnessy, DE, lightly recruited out of Norwich, Conn., was drafted in the third round.
*Kraig Urbik, OG, lightly recruited out of Chicago, was drafted in the third round.
*Garrett Graham, TE, lightly recruited out of Brick Township, N.J., was drafted in the fourth round.
*O’Brien Schofield, LB, lightly recruited out of Chicago, was drafted in the fourth round.
*Bradie Ewing, FB, former walk-on out of Richland Center, Wis., was drafted in the fifth round.
*Chris Maragos, S, transferred from Western Michigan as a walk-on, current three-year NFL veteran.
Bielema has a track record for sending guys to the NFL. Others he can point to are Cleveland Browns All-Pro offensive tackle Joe Thomas and Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback sensation Russell Wilson. You don’t think offensive line recruits won’t like hearing about the five players drafted out of Wisconsin the last two years with Travis Frederick and Rick Wagner on track to make it six and seven in the upcoming draft? How about a running back prospect thinking about playing for a coach that fed the rock to Montee Ball, the NCAA all-time touchdown leader.
The recipe for Bielema is he likes to red-shirt and develop kids. That’s his strength on top of being able to identify players that fit what his team runs from a scheme perspective. Over the years, Bielema has gone out and recruited his fair share of highly-touted prospects, but he’s definitely not one to get caught up in star rankings and high school hype.
Bielema is a proven national recruiter that’s landed players from the Southeast, to the Northeast to the West Coast. He has ties and relationships with high school coaches across the country. Arkansas currently has just one player on its roster from Florida. It’s being reported that assistant coach Charlie Partridge will join Bielema, and he was the lead recruiter on all 11 Florida prospects on the Badgers roster and they have another Sunshine State standout in Sojourn Shelton committed in 2013. To compete in the SEC it’s important to have a presence in Florida and with Bielema they'll have it. Bielema has also recruited Texas, another state that is important to the Razorback’s future success.
Sure, the SEC is a different beast than the Big Ten, but football is still football if you can consistently identify and develop capable talent. In regards to that, there isn’t many better in the country than Bret Bielema.