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Leonard Fournette

LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was named a five-star recruit by Rivals, and ESPN tabbed him as the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2014.

Based strictly on the recruiting scoreboard, this looks like a mismatch.

Since 2002, the University of Wisconsin football program has landed two five-star prospects, according to rankings compiled by the folks at Rivals: defensive end Justin Ostrowski in 2003 and offensive tackle Josh Oglesby in ’07.

During that stretch, spanning the coaching tenures of Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and now Gary Andersen, UW has never been rated higher than 33rd nationally, according to a point system used by Rivals to assess and rank its best recruiting classes in the country.

LSU, meanwhile, has brought in 24 players judged to be five-star recruits since 2002 and has been ranked in the top 10 nine times, according to Rivals.

Those ratings have some merit when it comes to on-field success, but how much is difficult to quantify. Some insight in that regard will come Saturday night in Houston when the 14th-ranked Badgers open the season facing the 13th-ranked Tigers at sold-out NRG Stadium.

Over the 12 seasons in question, LSU won two national titles (2003 and ’07), three Southeastern Conference championships and compiled a .791 winning percentage overall (125-33).

Meanwhile, the Badgers have won three Big Ten Conference titles and put together a .702 winning percentage (111-47).

Woven into those details is the fact UW finished in the top 10 of the now defunct Bowl Championship Series rankings three times, one fewer than the Tigers.

The Badgers finished ahead of LSU in the final BCS standings as recently as 2009 and ’10.

Like Alvarez and Bielema before him, Andersen maintains the recruiting rankings — whether it’s Rivals, ESPN or Scout — have no bearing on who he tries to bring to UW.

“I respect what those guys do,” Andersen said of the evaluation services. “But as coaches, we can’t put stock in that. We have to evaluate them our way.

“You can’t build your football team, or our football team, on what other people are saying. It’s the people that are in our offices and understand the student-athletes that we’re trying to go out and recruit that make the difference for Wisconsin.”

Since 2002, the Badgers have brought in 34 recruits deemed four-star talents by Rivals, with junior tailback Melvin Gordon, sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel and sophomore center Dan Voltz among a group of 12 that are on the current roster. LSU has landed 161 four-star prospects during that time.

“Our evaluation may or may not be different than what other people perceive,” said Chris Beatty, the UW wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. “But we have things that we look for and check off on certain players and certain skill sets. We trust our own ratings.

“It’s all about believing what you see and not what you read and we believe what we see.”

The Badgers have long been known as a developmental program. Their approach has been to keep the best recruits from the state, augment them with good quality prospects from the Midwest and carefully mine what they can from the California, Florida and New Jersey area codes.

As worthwhile as these prospect rankings can be sometimes, there are lots of cracks for recruits to slip through.

A lot of standout players for UW over this 12-year period weren’t highly rated by Rivals. Defensive end J.J. Watt, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year with Houston in 2012, was a two-star prospect coming out of high school. So was veteran quarterback Scott Tolzien, now with Green Bay, and tailback P.J. Hill, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Badgers. So was NFL veteran fullback Chris Pressley and safety Dezmen Southward, a third-round NFL draft pick of Atlanta earlier this year.

Among the list of recent three-star recruits at UW were linebacker Chris Borland, the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten in 2013, and NFL offensive linemen Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy.

Beatty said every school worth its salt is a developmental program, including LSU, which routinely loses underclassmen to the NFL and must reload. The Tigers do that by mining the fertile areas of Louisiana (64 players on the current roster), Texas (15) and Georgia (five).

“LSU has got all those guys that go to the (NFL),” Beatty said. “The next group’s got to develop at one point.”

According to Beatty, the recruiting to-do list for UW is the same as it is for LSU coach Les Miles and his staff.

“I think everyone wants to take care of home,” Beatty said. “They do a great job taking care of Louisiana and they’ve got great players down there.”


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